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Best Gaming CPU: $50-$100

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August '09
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Best gaming CPU for $55:

Athlon 64 X2 5200+ (Check Prices)

Athlon 64 X2 5200+
Codename: Brisbane
Process: 65nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 2.7 GHz
Socket: AM2
L1 Cache: 2 x 128KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 512KB
HyperTransport: 2,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

For about $50, the Athlon 64 X2 5200+ is a great gaming baseline. Performance results show us that two CPU cores are the minimum for a respectable gaming machine, and the 2.7 GHz clock speed allows this CPU to deliver playable performance in all but the most demanding titles.


Best gaming CPU for $70:

Dual-Core Pentium E5300 (Check Prices)

Dual-Core Pentium E5300
Codename: Wolfdale-2M
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 2.6 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2MB
Front Side Bus:   800 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

Intel and its 45nm process make a first showing on the recommended list with the Pentium E5300.

This processor is based on the Core 2 Duo architecture. The Wolfdale-2M core is essentially a Wolfdale-based Core 2 Duo CPU with one third of the cache and a slower front side bus (FSB). Even with these handicaps, Intel's CPU is an impressive performer for the cost.


Best gaming CPU for $80: Tie

Athlon II X2 250 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X2 250
Codename: Regor
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed:   3.0 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 2 x 64KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 1MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

For $70, you can buy the Athlon II X2 250, based on the new newer Phenom II architecture instead of the older Athlon designs. The Athlon II X2 250 sports a solid 3 GHz clock speed, so despite the lack of shared L3 cache this CPU performs very well for the price.


Pentium Dual-Core E6300 (Check Prices)

Pentium Dual-Core E6300
Codename: Wolfdale-2M
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 2.8 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2MB
Front Side Bus: 1066 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

Not to be mistaken for the older Core 2 Duo E6300, the Pentium E6300 is similar to the E5300, but offers a higher clock speed as well as a faster front side bus speed.


Best gaming CPU for $90:

Phenom II X2 545

Phenom II X2 545
Codename: Callisto
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3 GHz
Socket: AM2+
L1 Cache: 2 x 64KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 1MB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
80W

The Phenom II X2 545 gives the sub-$100 CPU market a full 6MB of L3 cache combined with a 3.0 GHz core clock speed. There's not much more to say except that this is a deadly fast CPU for this price.

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    cleeve , September 1, 2009 7:00 AM
    falchardI fail to see the point of a gaming CPU. Beyond a certain point the difference in performance is under 1 frame.


    Not true at all. Depends on the game, and wether or not that game is bottlenecked by the graphics card or CPU.

    Frankly, I've been seeing a *lot* more CPU-limited games during my benchmarking over the past year.
  • 11 Hide
    Anonymous , September 1, 2009 10:57 AM
    Some people think every one lives next to a Microcenter.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    Proximon , September 1, 2009 6:18 AM
    Brave :) 

    I thought the flames might have scared you off.
    Correction: you have E6300 in the gray area of the table for the E5300.

  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , September 1, 2009 6:31 AM
    Heheh. Nah, I don't frighten easy. :) 

    Thanks, I'll look into that.
  • 0 Hide
    megamanx00 , September 1, 2009 6:51 AM
    I like that the E8500 made a showing. I wonder how this picture will change once the LGA1156 CPUs are widely available. It's too bad that AMD can't really compete in the +$200 market right now.
  • 14 Hide
    cleeve , September 1, 2009 7:00 AM
    falchardI fail to see the point of a gaming CPU. Beyond a certain point the difference in performance is under 1 frame.


    Not true at all. Depends on the game, and wether or not that game is bottlenecked by the graphics card or CPU.

    Frankly, I've been seeing a *lot* more CPU-limited games during my benchmarking over the past year.
  • 9 Hide
    FallenSniper , September 1, 2009 7:17 AM
    Man I wish the Core 2 Quad prices were just a little lower
  • 6 Hide
    rambo117 , September 1, 2009 7:22 AM
    great review! much better than the first one IMO.
    i liked that you thought about us OCers this time ;) 
  • 3 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 1, 2009 7:55 AM
    Yup, great review, good job.
  • -7 Hide
    barmaley , September 1, 2009 8:54 AM
    So, not quite sure why they have i7 920 for ~$280. I just bought mine @ Microcenter last week for $199.99 plus tax, $210 total. So, ok I had driven there so $5 for the gas, $215 total. They have loads of them in stock, and they will get you the D0 stepping if asked (First one they tried to sell me was a C0, but I asked them for D0 and they got me one no questions asked). I can see how some people may not have a Microcenter nearby, but hey, for a lot of people there is! I thought that should've been reflected in the article somehow, that's all...
  • 0 Hide
    sudeshc , September 1, 2009 9:00 AM
    Nice review, need i thought phenom 2 965 could be compared to Core 2 Quad Q9650 but seems i was wrong.
  • 0 Hide
    alikum , September 1, 2009 9:23 AM
    I like the fact that you mention LGA775 chips, and perhaps that would be the last time they're up on the list as they are getting phased out.
  • 0 Hide
    eddieroolz , September 1, 2009 10:09 AM
    Too bad Core 2 Quads are still rather expensive for the performance. I guess my E7200 will just have to live on for another two years.

    Good article, by the way!
  • 1 Hide
    masterjaw , September 1, 2009 10:20 AM
    The results are far better than the first one. Taking overclock-ability into consideration is good especially for the enthusiasts. Kudos!
  • 0 Hide
    enewmen , September 1, 2009 10:45 AM
    "The motherboards and DDR3 RAM that the i7 architecture requires will bring the total platform cost higher than other systems, but the resulting performance should be worth the purchase price."

    Agree.
    I was hoping the author will focus a little more on the total system cost than just the CPU cost. This is the main reason why I got the q9550 and not the i7. But that was 6 months ago, maybe now the motherboard and DDR3 isn't as big a factor anymore. I'm also guessing min specs of games and apps in 4 years won't specify C2Q and i7 - just something like Min specs: Intel or AMD Quad/Hex/Oct core - 2.5+ Ghz.

    my
  • 11 Hide
    Anonymous , September 1, 2009 10:57 AM
    Some people think every one lives next to a Microcenter.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 1, 2009 11:09 AM
    Even though theese processors have been tested thoroughly before, but not necessarily against each other with latest drives, patches and whatnot, so some charts with a few game tests would make the article much more informative.
  • -8 Hide
    snotling , September 1, 2009 12:22 PM
    prices do not account for the fact that AMD mobos usually cost 30-60$ less than their intel equivalent.
  • 3 Hide
    Pei-chen , September 1, 2009 12:34 PM
    The monthly update of the same thing is getting bored. Thanks god next gen is just around the corner and we'll see some big performance gain.

    Can you believe what computer gaming would be like if that that crack from id's opinion is real; graphic hardware hit a wall and future improvement is on console.
  • 0 Hide
    wicko , September 1, 2009 1:05 PM
    Why did you guys not wait for the Lynnfield NDA to lift when it is being released in < 1 week?
  • 3 Hide
    joesapp37 , September 1, 2009 1:29 PM
    wickoWhy did you guys not wait for the Lynnfield NDA to lift when it is being released in < 1 week?


    Because we like to party every end of the month!
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