Intel CPU: Core 2 Duo E6850 (3.0 GHz)
Current Cost: $300
Consecutive Guides: 0
Price Change: N/A
Intel finally dropped the prices on its upper range, leaving only the "Quad Extreme" processors with questionable value to high-end buyers. And while quad-cores have also dropped in price, this is an Extreme Gaming PC Buyer's Guide, and games that properly support more than two cores are still just a dream. From a pure gaming perspective, the 3.0 GHz Core 2 Duo E6850 beats all but the $1,000+ QX6850.
The Core 2 6x50 series all use Intel's new FSB1333, which will require additional consideration for which memory best suits these processors. But most if not all of these also use Intel's new G0 stepping revision, which makes the QX6850 a great choice for anyone thinking of overclocking to get even better game performance.
Buyers who want their gaming system for additional uses might instead consider the slightly-slower but better-multitasking Core 2 Quad Q6700, with four 2.66 GHz cores, and a higher but still-reasonable $600 price tag.
AMD CPU: Athlon 64 X2 6000+ (3.0 GHz)
Current Cost: $180
Consecutive Guides: 2
Price Change: -$280
At this budget range, it is hard to recommend an AMD processor for gaming any longer, with Intel's Core 2 series eating these for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Yet there is some good news for AMD buyers: Athlon X2 prices have fallen through the floor.
The 3.0 GHz Athlon 64 X2 6000+ may not be able to compete with the Core 2 Duo E6850, but it's the fastest AMD desktop processor, and is priced at under $200. Unfortunately, its fastest processors still rely on old 90nm core technology, and AMD's only hope is that it can soon deliver faster 65nm cores, and provide a bridge to the upcoming Phenom dual and quad-core line.
CPU Heat Sink: Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme
Current Cost: $60 (+$7 for AM2 Mounting Kit)
Consecutive Guides: None
Price Change: N/A
Thermalright has produced a successor to its leading Ultra 120 air cooler, the Ultra 120 Extreme. Its class-leading performance led us to choose the Ultra 120 for two previous guides, and the Extreme version's increase in heat pipe count makes the new version more of a great thing.
The new kit contains all the hardware needed to mount it to any modern (or even semi-modern) AMD or Intel desktop processor, but like all of Thermalright heatsinks, it requires buyers to pick their own fan.
Cooling Fans: Three Scythe S-Flex SFF21E
Current Cost: $45 ($15 each)
Consecutive Guides: 3
Price Change: $0
Originally chosen for its moderate 49CFM airflow at a nearly-silent 20.1 decibels, the Scythe S-Flex SFF21E 1200RPM cooling fan remains our choice for "bare" Thermalright coolers. We added two more for the ATX case this month, to be used in the two side panel locations for feeding cool air to the CPU and graphics coolers. The extra airflow is especially useful to overclockers, but anyone not overclocking may wish to forgo the additional $30 expense.