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Best Gaming CPU: $150-$200

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August '09
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Best gaming CPU for $170:

Phenom II X4 945

Phenom II X4 945
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
125W

With the introduction of the Phenom II X4 965 BE, we've seen the rest of the Phenom II X4 family drop in price. Happily, the Phenom II X4 945 is now $170 and makes for an easy recommendation with its four CPU cores and high operating frequency.

Best gaming CPU for $190: 3-way Tie

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.2 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
125W

The former flagship of AMD's Phenom II line, the Phenom II X4 955 BE has been relegated to second place status by the new Phenom II X4 965 BE model. However, it's hard to recommend the Phenom II X4 965 when the 955 sports the same unlocked multiplier and a $50 cheaper price tag.


Core 2 Quad Q9400 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Quad Q9400
Codename: Yorkfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2 x 3MB
Front Side Bus: 1,333 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

The Core 2 Quad line is no slouch either, and tends to perform a little better than the Phenom II X4 when compared clock-for-clock. The Core 2 Quad Q9400 is a strong competitor for the Phenom II X4 955, and will overclock well despite its locked CPU multiplier.

Be careful once you get to this point, though. Intel's lone Core i5 processor is due in just a week and will purportedly be priced to compete under $200. If you're serious about performance, you might be better served by waiting to see how Intel's Lynnfield design fares.


Core 2 Duo E8500 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Duo E8500
Codename: Wolfdale
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.16 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 6MB
Front Side Bus: 1,333 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

We got a lot of negative feedback for this recommendation last month, but we re-checked the data and even found more reason to support this CPU's inclusion. The Core 2 Duo E8500 is, in fact, a powerful gaming processor. Any handicaps that this CPU might have by only offering two cores is compensated for by a very high 3.16 clock speed and 6MB of L2 cache. While a quad-core CPU is probably a better bet for multi-purpose use, this Wolfdale-based processor sports a low 65 watt thermal envelope, which makes the E8500 a good choice for a low-power gaming PC or gaming HTPC.

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