It's official: Intel's fourth-generation Core processors, code-named Haswell, are loose in the market. Like the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge microarchitectures that preceded it, Haswell is a big step forward for Intel's Core family, simultaneously maximizing CPU and GPU performance while consuming less power.
Who needs Haswell
Haswell isn't for everyone. For now, older Sandy Bridge-E Core i7 processors that use Intel's LGA 2011 socket remain Intel's flagship products for hardcore PC gamers. But the fourth generation of Intel Core CPUs are where it's at for mainstream power users who crave Intel's most advanced technology.
Unfortunately, unlike second-gen Sandy Bridge and third-gen Ivy Bridge processors--which use the same LGA 1155 socket and hence play well with a broad range of new and existing motherboards--Haswell-based processors use a new socket, LGA 1150, and thus require motherboards built around Intel's 8-series chipsets. But that problem is also an opportunity: Since you can't just drop a Haswell CPU into your current PC, now is the perfect time to build a new, killer Haswell-based rig. And you can do it yourself for less than a grand--if you know where to look.
Typically, you get the best value in desktop processors a bin or two below the top-of-the-line products. For example, a Core i7-3770 costs about $40 (or 15 percent) less than a Core i7-3770K ($289 vs. $329), but it delivers roughly 98 percent of the latter's performance. The same holds true for most Core i5 and Core i3 processors, albeit with smaller price differentials. The only differences between a Core i7-3770 and a Core i7-3770K are a 100MHz base clock deficit on the standard 3770, and the 3770's inability to alter multipliers freely. The more expensive "K-SKU" is fully unlocked and lets users alter the CPU multipliers for easier and more flexible overclocking.
With Haswell-based CPUs, we're in a similar situation, though the price delta is a bit smaller. The top-of-the-line, fully unlocked (and thus overclockable) Core i7-4770K is priced at $339. A non-K Core i7-4770 with a 100MHz lower base clock costs $309. The performance difference is small, and you could easily spend the $30 you'd save on the plain 4770 on other components. With this build I wanted the best that Haswell had to offer, so I didn't mind spending the additional 10 percent to score the Core i7-4770K. Besides, if I ever decided to overclock the rig, the unlocked multipliers would come in handy.
Because Haswell requires a new socket and motherboard based on Intel's 8-series chipset, choosing a motherboard to go with my Core i7-4770K was the next logical step. Thankfully, a tidal wave of motherboards with 8-series chipsets is about to hit the market at virtually every price point. I wanted a board with a full complement of enthusiast-class features, but I didn't want to spend a ton of money for extras that would likely go unused. I settled on Gigabyte's $185 Z87-UD3H. As its name suggests, this board features Intel's Z87 Express chipset, but Gigabyte doesn't overload it with ports and third-party controllers that would ratchet up the price. The board's accessory bundle focuses on the basics too, which helps keep costs down, and Gigabyte itself is a well-respected company that has been building high-quality motherboards for ages.
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