Why the rambling sidebar on gaming? Because Intel sees its brand new Core i7-980X Extreme Edition—previously referred to as Gulftown—as a sweet gaming processor. And it will become the fastest processor you can buy (it’s technically not available yet), so it’d naturally be great in a gaming box. However, at $1,000, you’re spending an extra $800 or so that’d be better invested into a pair of Radeon HD 5870s. As a result, before we show you any benchmarks, I’ll say that this probably isn’t the processor you need for a solid gaming experience. A Phenom II X4 or Core i7-920 is still plenty potent there. With that said, if money is no object and you want a six-core CPU and a pair of high-end graphics cards, you certainly can’t go wrong.
The fact of the matter is that Intel currently sells the fastest CPUs. Its quad-core Core i5 and Core i7s are unmatched in the desktop space—and that’s precisely the reason you pay more for them than the dual-core, Clarkdale-based Core i3 and Core i5 processors (not to mention AMD’s entire Phenom II lineup, including its flagship X4 965 Black Edition).
Of course, “being the fastest” assumes that you’re looking at the right benchmarks. Intel’s dominance is most evident in video encoding apps, threaded compression/decompression workloads, and content creation tools like 3ds Max. If you’re gaming, AMD is perfectly capable of standing right up to Intel.
Now, sure, you’ll see those folks who run their benchmarks at 640×480 in an effort to demonstrate the differences between one processor and another. Truth be told, even as high as 1920×1200, there are measurable performance gaps between CPUs. But at the end of the day, your graphics card, more than anything, determines how well your games run.