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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August '09

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August '09
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If you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right processor for your next gaming machine, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming CPUs offered for the money.

Our Second Gaming CPU for the Money Article

In our first Best Gaming CPU for the Money article, we tried to keep things as objective as possible by basing recommendations completely on comparison data instead of our opinions. Unfortunately, the best data we could muster was a fairly small sample size of four games run continuously in our own labs. In addition, it appears that our Athlon II X2 CPU performance data was a little pessimistic.

As a result, we'll be opening this month's column up to more subjective opinion and experience. Hopefully, this counterbalances the possibility of recommendations based on apps highly optimized for one architecture or another. Thus, you'll see us adding to and modifying some of the picks. Having said that, if you purchased a CPU using last month's article, then fear not. Those choices remain valid and defensible. This time around we're simply adding some price points and making extra recommendations for outstanding overclockers.

With regard to new additions, the past month saw AMD introduce its Phenom II 965 BE, though it doesn't offer too much excitement other than a slight clock speed bump over the 955 model in the company's Phenom II series. More interesting are the lowered prices across the rest of the Phenom II X4 line, making the Phenom II X4 955 and 945 models more attractive from a value standpoint.

As far as Intel, everyone is waiting for the new Core i5 CPUs to show up, which look like they are going to give the existing Core 2 Quad and Phenom IIs a good run for their money. We've already wrapped up our performance testing and are comfortable recommending that performance enthusiasts with mid-range budgets will want to see what Intel's latest efforts yield. It'll only be a week's wait, we promise!

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the CPUs on this list may not be suitable for your particular needs.

The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that there are other factors that come into play, such as platform price or CPU overclockability, but we're not going to complicate things by factoring in motherboard costs. We may add honorable mentions for outstanding products in the future, though. For now, our recommendations are based on stock clock speeds and performance at that price.

Cost and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information in the text, but we can list some good chips that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest (and our PriceGrabber-based engine will help track down some of the best prices for you).

The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices while we do not list used or OEM CPUs.

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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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