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Best Gaming CPU: $50-$100

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October '09
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Best gaming CPU for $60:

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 roughly 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.

AMD's Athlon 64 X2 5200+ is a good starting point for people who want to put together a budget machine on the AM2+ platform, and then maybe upgrade to a Phenom II processor later.

Best gaming CPU for $75: 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 its lack of shared L3 cache, this CPU performs very well for the price.

Pentium 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 actually similar to the E5300. However, it offers a higher clock speed as well as a faster front side bus speed. The Pentium E6300 costs a few dollars more than the Athlon II X2 250, but it almost certainly has higher overclocking potential for tweakers.

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 in addition to 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. The only downside is that this isn't a Black Edition processor, so it's clock multiplier is locked.

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