Intel is in the enviable position of having the enthusiast CPU market all to itself right now. AMD’s competition is increasingly focused on the fusion of GPU and CPU, but this has come at the cost of raw CPU performance. For those who use a dedicated graphics card there’s only been one choice for months, and Ivy Bridge only underlines this.
Minor performance improvements across the board in comparison to the previous generation of Sandy Bridge processors, a drop in power consumption and a like-for-like price make Ivy Bridge, without doubt, a worthwhile replacement, albeit not an earth-shattering one. If you opted for a Sandy Bridge CPU and its P67 or Z68 platform in the last year, there’s little reason to regret your purchase (unless you play lots of Shogun 2) and as such, no real reason to upgrade, especially if you’ve overclocked your CPU.
However, for new-builds and for those who skipped the Sandy Bridge last year it’s a simple choice: the i7-3770K is far, far quicker than an Intel Core i7-920 or any other preceding quad-core chip. It's also an absolute doddle to overclock to 4.4GHz and beyond. A decent Z77 motherboard requires you to literally only adjust the Vcore and multiplier to achieve stable overclocks. So long as you’ve got a cooler to keep up, clock speeds of 4.8GHz on air are perfectly achievable.
However, as you’ll no doubt have spotted throughout our performance graphs, the £160 i5-3570K is never far behind, and overclocks just as well (and in our case, better) than the i7-3770K. Here we see a case of history repeating itself: while the i7-3770K is faster at stock, the i5-3750K is far better value, and unless you’re making extensive use of applications that can take advantage of Hyper-threading such as rendering or video encoding, the i5-3750K is the better choice.
It’s the same dilemma that i7-2600K/i5-2500K buyers faced, and frankly, neither is wrong. Both represent a small, but meaningful step forward for Intel, and unless you require the brute power of the much more expensive X79 platform, offer all the performance you could need.