With Intel switching up socket compatibility for their CPUs almost every single generation, it can be hard to keep up with which hardware can be paired. It’s not particularly Intel being fickle for the sake of it. Unlike AMD who integrates much of the chipset functionality into their dies, Intel’s tech is almost completely reliant on the motherboard itself, which means each time they make alterations to improve CPU performance, motherboards must evolve to accommodate them.
This is just the way Intel has always done things. It can be infuriating at times, especially as tech moves so fast. You save for years for some hardware, and in the blink of an eye, it’s superseded by newer models; however, it doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with other compatibles. So, if you’re ready for a new CPU, but you’re perfectly happy keeping your LGA 1150 motherboard, let’s consider your options.
How We Picked
Even though it’s nice to play around with the latest and greatest CPUs, we’re not always living the silicone high life that you would expect. We’re constantly evaluating newer tech’s performance by comparing it with older models, so we know all about the best CPUs for LGA 1150 motherboards, and even their predecessors, LGA 1155 and LGA 1156.
Another reason you can count on the legitimacy of our choices is that we’ve done our time with these CPUs, not just in a professional capacity, but a personal capacity as well. In 2013, these were state-of-the-art CPUs, and we were falling all over ourselves to put them to test in our own personal gaming rigs. We don’t just have a quick glance of the specs, scope the price tag, and assume a product is fit for purpose. We know which products are the best because they were and are our favorites of the bunch, and now we get to share them with you!
Best LGA 1150 CPU in 2021
High powered quad-core processor
Hyperthreading gives you 8 threads
Fantastic clock speeds
Plenty of thermal headroom for overclocking
It’s quite pricey for an older CPU
There are no two ways about it. If you’re looking for the best of the best, then the i7-4790K is the CPU for you. This is Intel’s premium quad-core LGA 1150 processor, and even though it’s a little long in the silicone tooth these days, it still packs a punch during modern gaming! With a hyperthreaded quad-core matrix boasting AI deep learning and super-efficient rendering, this CPU enables parallelizing workflows, immersive gameplay, and seamless professional use.
The Intel Core i7-4790K is the cream of the quad-core crop, and it’s a match made in heaven with a quality Z97 motherboard. Paring these top-tier bits of gear will give you the most impressive gaming performance you can possibly achieve with an LGA 1150 socket setup.
Four cores may not sound like much these days, but it’s really all you need to run pretty much any game, and thanks to hyperthreading technology, you can enjoy 8 threads in total. This means multitasking will be a breeze, and modern AAA games can stretch out their instructional roots to maximize performance
What’s perhaps even more impressive is that this beast only draws 88 watts, runs cool as a winter stream, and is prime for some manual overclocking. That said, with a stock base clock speed of 4GHz and a boosted rate of 4.4GHz, whether you’d even need to dabble with OC-ing is debatable.
The only issue with the 4790K is that it’s so good, by which we mean that even though it’s an older card, it outperforms many of its successors and has retained its price exceptionally well. Now discontinued by Intel, it doesn’t look like prices will be dropping any time soon either.
Powerful quad-core processor
8 threads handle multitasking really well
Versatile – great for gaming and work
Slower clock speeds
If the i7-4790K is a little rich for your blood, that’s understandable, so the original 4790 chip may be a little more suited to your budget, and it still offers incredible performance for both gaming, work, and leisure. With slightly reduced clock speeds, you can expect to drop a couple of frame rates as you tear it up in your favorite games, but the Core i7-4790 features the same hyperthreaded quad-core structure and identical DDR3 memory specifications. While it’s just shy of the best of the bunch, the only really significant difference is the price tag.
The Intel Core i7-4790 is just one-half a step down from our top pick and will suit those interested in getting the biggest bang for the buck. It’s still not dirt cheap, but as it’s not quite as revered, it hasn’t held its price so well.
So, what’s the big difference between this and the K-model? Well, actually, very little. They both have the same quad-core, hyperthreaded heart, so if you’re something of a tab hoarder, a consummate live streamer, or a content creator, you can let your creativity run wild and the processes stack up. Memory configurations between the two CPUs are identical and feature DDR3 1600 support, a 32GB capacity, and 25.6GB bandwidth.
The 4790 actually has a few advanced technology features that the 4790K doesn’t, namely, Intel vPro eligibility – a platform for business computing – and SIPP (Stable Image Platform Program) which is mostly an assurance for IT professionals but an extra nonetheless.
With a base rate of 3.6GHz and Intel Boost Technology 2.0 rate of 4GHz, what this CPU doesn’t quite meet its successor blow for blow on is clock speed; however, if you hit it with some overclocks, it’ll be able to push stock 4790K performance levels with no problems at all.
Hyperthreaded for effective multitasking
3.9GHz Intel Turbo Boost Technology
Slower clock speeds
May bottleneck higher-end GPUs
The Intel Core i7-4770 is another notch down in the same CPU family, but once again, the price tag is the biggest difference between them. With those four quality hyperthreaded cores pumping out instruction executions like they were nothing, if you settle for this CPU you’ll be well taken care of. Among other things, the i7-4770 is known for excellent single and multi-core performance and fantastic efficiency. Paired with a good GPU, there’s no reason it wouldn’t facilitate some enjoyable gaming experiences.
Moving down in price by roughly $30, we have the Intel Core i7-4770, a middle-of-the-pack CPU that offers respectable performance and slots right into an LGA 1150 motherboard. Much like its more expensive counterparts, the 4770 is a quad-core processor designed to handle all your gaming needs, and thanks to Intel’s hyperthreading, it has 8 powerful threads that let you mix things up in terms of concurrent applications.
Just like the 4790 before it, it has a slightly reduced clock speed compared to its superior, which may fractionally slow down loading times, but responsiveness is still on point, besides a 3.4GHz base clock and 3.9GHz boost will be plenty fast for everyday gaming scenarios. It might present something of a bottleneck for more powerful GPUs such as the GTX 1080 or GTX 1080 Ti, but if you’ve got something more along the lines of a 1060 Ti or 1070, it should be perfectly capable of facilitating 60fps averages during most titles in 1080p.
It’s not as flashy as some of your other LGA 1150 CPU options, nor is it quite as nimble as the 4790K or 4790, but it’s still lithe enough to shake the dust off and breathe new life into an older motherboard.
Awesome price tag
ECC memory support
Boosted clock speeds are right in the sweet spot for gaming
Base clock is a little low for modern gaming
No integrated Intel graphics facilities
Some claim that Xeon CPUs don’t work on standard motherboards (they do), others posit the theory that they’re not as good as i7 for gaming. It’s all a bit muddled, but if a Xeon has similar specs to its i7 cousins – and this one does – they function in a very similar way.
That’s not to say there aren’t differences between i7 and Xeon; there are, one of them being support for ECC memory which is a type of storage that prevents data errors in CPU memory configs. They’re also designed to offer unparalleled performance per watt, and that’s highlighted in the E3-1230V3 by its insanely low 80-watt pull.
While it can perform on a similar basis as some of the i7’s further up the list, sacrificing a little bit of clock speed and memory bandwidth in favor of energy efficiency and memory stability, this particular Xeon will find it hard to keep up, but it can still run at 3.6GHz when pushed, and anything beyond 3.5 is considered ideal for gaming.
This is a great budget option for those that like a bargain, and while it will ultimately lose in a performance comparison with, say, the i7 4790, the difference may be fairly negligible in actual gameplay.
Awesome clock speeds for this price
Amazing value for money
Single-core functionality offers great gaming performance
3.5 – 3.9GHz clock speeds
No hyperthreading. Poor for multitasking
Not future-proofed by any measure
The Intel core i5-4690 is the first LGA 1150 compatible CPU on our list not to feature Intel’s hyperthreading technology, so if you’re looking for more of an all-rounder that can handle simultaneous applications, it’s not for you. If, on the other hand, you’re searching for a CPU for a standalone gaming rig, you may be surprised what the 4690 brings to the table.
CPUs with single-thread cores are actually more efficient when they’re given individual tasks, and gaming is classed as an individual task. As long as you keep background applications to a minimum, this 3.5GHz CPU will do just fine.
Once you’ve gotten over the fact it’s really just a gaming CPU, the only problem we can find with it is that it’s not particularly future-proofed. Granted none of these products are particularly primed for future gaming titles and hardware, but their hyperthreading will help them support newer AAA titles. In light of this, the i5 might not be the wisest choice. That said, if you’re just looking for something to play your favorite older games and stone-cold classics, this CPU will really fly, and for a fraction of the cost of our other picks.
Things To Consider
AMD vs Intel
Besides a few other smaller companies that mostly produce CPUs for products outside of the mainstream computer market, the two largest manufacturers of CPUs are AMD and Intel. As it stands, AMD produces slightly higher performing CPUs, but it’s a very brittle position. Every new release could tip the scale.
AMD is also considered the more consumer-friendly brand as their CPUs are often backward compatible with old mobos. As you have an LGA 1150 motherboard, you’re confined to Intel CPUs, as most AMD CPUs require an AM4 socket.
Cores and Thread
The cores in a CPU are the workhorses of the whole chip. They’re responsible for handling information and executing instructions. They, along with clock speed, define how efficiently your PC will work and what sort of workflows it’s capable of.
Generally speaking, the more cores your CPU has, the better it will perform and the more versatile it will be. Traditionally cores have a single thread design, meaning they undertake programmed instructions independently, but cores can also be hyperthreaded. Hyperthreading gives each core two threads for concurrent processing. Hyperthreaded cores are more capable of multitasking, while single cores excel when focused on individual applications.
LGA 1150 CPUs are only available in quad-core formats, but the i7 and Xeon models have been given the hyperthreading treatment, meaning they have 8 threads in total.
Clock speed is the second most important factor when it comes to CPU performance. To understand what clock speed really is, let’s first discuss the meaning of ‘cycle’ in this context. A cycle is a pulse emitted by an oscillator. Each cycle may encompass a fraction of, one, or more executed instructions. Measured in GHz, clock speed is a measure of how many cycles your CPU flips in a second. Still confused? We don’t blame you. Essentially, the faster your clock speed, the quicker the general function will be.
The architecture of a CPU refers to its general design, from process size to cache capacity to the functioning of datapaths. Each generation of CPU tends to be built using a different, more advanced microarchitectural blueprint. For example, the CPUs we’ll be taking a look at today are based on Haswell architecture, which was superseded in 2014 by Broadwell, followed by Airmont and Skylake…all the way through to the most recently announced, Lunar Lake.
Unfortunately, if you wanted to hook a more advanced architecture up to your gaming rig, you’d need a newer motherboard as it’s these architectural advancements that render previous sockets incompatible with new CPUs.
Remember earlier when we mentioned that CPUs with hyperthreaded cores are better multitaskers than single-core models? What we meant by that is that they can run multiple applications simultaneously without exhibiting any noticeable dip in performance. What is computational multitasking? Multitasking on a computer is exactly what it sounds like. Let’s say for example that you’re playing a game, but you also want to live-stream as you play, and at the same time you have five or six tabs open, and perhaps you’re downloading media too. This is all multitasking. Who benefits from multitasking? Well, everyone to a certain degree, but efficient multitasking is especially important to content creators.
As you can see from this list, there’s no need to upgrade to a newer motherboard just yet, as any of these CPUs are capable of some surprisingly immersive gaming experiences. Maybe in the next couple of years, you’ll have to bite the bullet and payout, but you’ll have the chance to save up a decent budget before that day arrives.
For maximum gaming power, there’s no question that the i7-4790K is the way to go. It has the highest clock speeds and, mixed with those hyperthreaded cores, is capable of great things. It also offers the most future-proofing, so if you’re planning to ride your motherboard out to the bitter end, the K-model CPU will prolong the inevitable and give you a few more years of LGA 1150 glory.
If you don’t wish to pay that 4790K premium, the logical route is to drop the ‘K’ and get the i7-4790. The difference in performance will be minimal, and if you have a Z87 or Z97, you can overclock your way to K-level performance.
If you wish to go even cheaper, the i7-4770 or the Xeon won’t disappoint, but if gaming is all you have planned for this build, save some money and go with the single-core i5-4690.