Benchmark analysis: It's all about the numbers

Picking some of our benchmarks is easy enough. The x264 HD test is a great guide to video encode performance. It's straight in. Cinebench gives a glimpse of how CPUs perform in professional applications which major on threading. Stick that on the list.

Memory bandwidth is interesting in terms of the insight it gives to platform scalability and, therefore, makes the grade. Then there's power consumption, which will split opinion in terms of its relevance on the desktop. At the very least, it reveals the underlying efficiency of a CPU architecture.

Of course, we're big fans of overclocking so that's a critical benchmark. All of which just leaves the critical matter of gaming. With so many game titles out there, what do you go with?

Well, World in Conflict has several things going for it. It's scales well with CPU performance, for starters. Just as important, it's got a thing for single-threaded grunt. That's not to say extra cores have no impact. But you need beefy cores to get the best from it.

Given that several of the other benchmarks we use give a good guide to multi-threading performance, World in Conflict provides that critical worst-case scenario in terms of games that need strong per-core performance.

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And the winner is… Intel Core i5-3570K

Core i5-3570K

The computer industry has become obsessed with ultra-mobile. Eventually, that's going to do horrible things to the desktop PC. It's already putting a cap on desktop CPU performance.

The good news is that the worst has yet to come. Today's CPUs still offer almost all of what we really care about. There's configurability in terms of sockets. There's overclockability from all of AMD's chips and some of Intel's. And there's no shortage of choice.

This month, we've chips ranging from two cores and sub-£100 all the way up to eight cores, 16 threads and nigh on £1,500. We're still in the golden age of desktop computing, even if it is the dying days.

The joker in this pack is AMD's A10 Fusion chip. It sits alone in this test by virtue of a unique CPU socket that's a function of its integrated graphics. That makes it a very different proposition from a chip that can drop into any old AM3 motherboard and that takes it out of the running. It's an interesting chip for media centre larks. But it's not a serious player in the mainstream desktop game.

As for the rest, the AMD FX-4300 is first up against the wall. That's not because it's a particularly bad processor. It's just not cheap enough in comparison with others.

We're not crazy about the Intel Core i3-3225, either. It's quite pricey for a dual core. And you can't overclock it, which is a major downer.

Then there are the two big-iron chips on the LGA 2011 socket from Intel: the Core i7-3970X and Xeon E5-2687W. They are both absolute beasts. And they're both silly money, unfortunately. If you've money to burn, fair enough, they're spectacular performers.

From here on in, it's very tight indeed. In fact, of the remaining processors you can make a convincing argument for every single one being our overall winner. The Intel Core i7-3770K, for instance, is a monster. It's insanely quick for a quad-core chip. And you can have that performance on the sensible LGA 1155. But if you're a bit game-obsessed, like we are, it's hard to justify the £250-plus price tag. It simply won't deliver more tangible in-game performance than either of the Core i5 chips. So it's goodbye to the 3770K.

Next up is a three-way tie for second place between the AMD FX-6300, the FX-8350 and the Intel Core i5-3470. Depending on your budget and what you like to do with your system, any of these three could be your perfect processor partner.

As ever, we lean towards game performance, so the Core i5 gets our vote. All of which leaves the Intel Core i5-3570K with the spoils of victory. Yup, it's a tediously predictable result. And not one we can justify in objective terms. We know that £30 is a lot to pay for what amounts to an unlocked CPU multiplier. We wish Intel didn't do things that way. But it does, we want that extra control and we're willing to pay for it.