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Gamers: Do You Need More Than An Athlon II X3?

Gamers: Do You Need More Than An Athlon II X3?
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AMD's Athlon II X3 440 is such a capable little chip, and and it costs so little. Is there any real point in spending more money on your gaming machine’s CPU? We explore this question with a head-to-head challenge against Intel's venerable Core i7-920.

Every month, we publish our Best Gaming CPUs For The Money column. This is where we share our picks for the processors that we feel provide the best gaming value for your hard-earned dollar. Our recommendations are based on a lot of testing, and that testing has shown that games respond best to high clock speeds.

However, our benchmarks also show that the number of processor cores is a secondary consideration. There is a large performance jump from single- to dual-core CPUs, but most games only show a slight performance increase when a third core is added. In fact, it is rare to find a game that will take advantage of more than three processor cores and demonstrate a notable performance increase.

Since its release, the Athlon II X3 440 has had a strong impact on our recommended gaming CPU list. When you combine its high 3 GHz clock speed, trio of processor cores, and sub-$90 price tag, you end up with a real force in the gaming arena. On top of that, the third processing core allows the Athlon II X3 to be an especially great processor compared to dual-core models because that extra core can smooth out desktop performance when multitasking.

When it comes to gaming, though, the CPU can only do so much; the graphics subsystem is key. We've received some feedback on the forums suggesting that our recommendation of any processor more expensive than the Athlon II X3 440 is frivolous. The argument is that, while game performance may increase with a costlier CPU, the money is wasted because the Athlon II X3 440 is supplying all the performance that games require to achieve smooth frame rates, and that upgrading the graphics cards is the only way to remove a meaningful game performance bottleneck.

We decided to run a series of tests to really explore whether or not there's any point in investing in a CPU more powerful than the Athlon II X3 440 for gaming duty. First, we need to examine how we measure game performance and get a better understanding of how meaningful the numbers are.

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Top Comments
  • 26 Hide
    retrac1324 , May 27, 2010 7:28 AM
    I like how Opera web browser was mistyped: Oprah
  • 25 Hide
    Jarmo , May 27, 2010 7:17 AM
    tacoslaveshould have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming


    I'd guess at least 90% of users never overclock anything.
    To be fair though, probably 90% of Tom's readers do.
  • 21 Hide
    welshmousepk , May 27, 2010 6:16 AM
    good read, though unsurprising. certainly justifies these lower end processors in gaming rigs.

    the whole thing seems to slightly contradict the 'balanced PC' articles though. why put such a cheap CPU in a system with such a powerful GPU? is the budget really going to be THAT tight?
Other Comments
  • 21 Hide
    welshmousepk , May 27, 2010 6:16 AM
    good read, though unsurprising. certainly justifies these lower end processors in gaming rigs.

    the whole thing seems to slightly contradict the 'balanced PC' articles though. why put such a cheap CPU in a system with such a powerful GPU? is the budget really going to be THAT tight?
  • 17 Hide
    sohei , May 27, 2010 6:20 AM
    good point in this article....if you have money ....you have 1 solution for every application you run on your pc....(high end cpu) folks with money dont have to think...is simple ...but if you have less money to spend ...an AMD cpu is your (my) choice
  • -3 Hide
    Verkil , May 27, 2010 6:48 AM
    Still no GTA4? I'm still having thoughts getting an Athlon II X3 because I'll be playing GTA4 and all your Athlon II X3 gaming benchmark does not include GTA4.
  • 4 Hide
    slinkoguy , May 27, 2010 6:50 AM
    Looks like you guys got a Deneb core. Unlock that thing and let us see those results! :D 
  • 3 Hide
    haplo602 , May 27, 2010 6:52 AM
    hmm ... I see an interesting pattern here. the latest Intel architecture is 3x as expensive yet an AMD cpu on a generation older architecture can still keep up reasonable.

    except very high end gaming, I realy do not see a reason to go after the i7.

    what I am missing from the article is the X3 vs Intel cpus in the same price range. maybe a followup would do some good :-)
  • 8 Hide
    tacoslave , May 27, 2010 7:06 AM
    should have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming
  • 25 Hide
    Jarmo , May 27, 2010 7:17 AM
    tacoslaveshould have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming


    I'd guess at least 90% of users never overclock anything.
    To be fair though, probably 90% of Tom's readers do.
  • -4 Hide
    Stardude82 , May 27, 2010 7:26 AM
    Do it again with a 5750 or a GTS 250..or lower with a 5650 and a GT 240. You know something modern, but not in excess of the cost of the motherboard and CPU. This is my same problem with the G6950/720 article.. I don't think I've ever seen a good article showing differences with difference CPU's in the middle end. With more of a GPU is bottle neck, the CPU should matter even less.
  • 26 Hide
    retrac1324 , May 27, 2010 7:28 AM
    I like how Opera web browser was mistyped: Oprah
  • 6 Hide
    HalfHuman , May 27, 2010 7:34 AM
    nice comparison. seems that the triple core is quite strong enough for gaming. i believe that xfire is crazy technology though and only an almost negligible number of gamers use it. i also do not see the point of using such a strong(expensive) video card with a budget cpu. a money conscious gamer would get a 57xx or something in that zone.

    my thought is that for single card users (not necessarily 58xx type not because it's not good but is for sure not budget friendly) and normal monitors (1680x1050) a triple or even dual core amd is enough.
  • -5 Hide
    gti88 , May 27, 2010 7:35 AM
    Is there many people still playing WiC?
    I tried to play online, and it's pretty boring and repetitive. Uninstalled.
  • 3 Hide
    arkadi , May 27, 2010 7:36 AM
    This is a good article.
    When i build gaming rigs for a kids, i don't want to get the HI end system with somewhat hi price tag for a kids computer. The AMD CPU is a solid choice, with cheaper GPU like the 5770 it will be a good and cheap gaming machine. And if FPS will get bit low, I can lower the game effects to a reasonable point and still have grate experience from a game.
  • -5 Hide
    opmopadop , May 27, 2010 7:41 AM
    A request Tom, can you start using 1920 x 1080 as the main resolution for your benchmarks, and only going higher / lower when the article requires it. Multiple resolutions have always added complexity to the graphs / reviews and I think its time to change.
  • 7 Hide
    cashews , May 27, 2010 8:13 AM
    It would be great to see Battlefield Bad Company 2 tested in these reviews as well.
  • 2 Hide
    dco , May 27, 2010 8:14 AM
    why not pair the x3 athlon with a x4 phenom II, surely would have had the same effect.
  • 1 Hide
    Simple11 , May 27, 2010 8:16 AM
    Yeah I thought people get the triple core to unlock the fourth core. Or is that is some models?
  • 9 Hide
    sonofliberty08 , May 27, 2010 8:31 AM
    if u need powerful cpu more than the Athlon II X3 , go for Phenom II X4 then , still save u alot of good money in the pocket than go for an i7 .
  • 9 Hide
    wasbeer_13 , May 27, 2010 8:34 AM
    Well, I've got the Athlon iix3 in my 'gaming' rig at home and it is paired with a Nvidia 260GTX.

    All I can say that it was a good investment as I can max out everything I play, considering I only have a 19" screen that supports upto 1280*1024.

    It's what I call balance. Not everyone can afford an i7 with SLI or Xfire and 30" screens.
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