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Best Gaming CPU: $100-$150

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October '09
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Best gaming CPU for $100:  Tie

Athlon II X4 620

Athlon II X4 620
Codename: Propus
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.6 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

AMD has introduced a solid quad-core processor for the masses with its Athlon II X4 620. On paper, this CPU is similar to a Phenom II X4 810, stripped of it's L3 cache and given a slight HyperTransport speed boost (of course, we know it centers on a smaller, more economical Propus die). In our testing, the Athlon II X4 620 demonstrated clear dominance over comparably-priced CPUs in apps and games that can take advantage of multiple threads.

Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition
Codename: Callisto
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.1 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 2 x 128KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
80W

Although the dual-core Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition might be a bit slower than the comparably-priced Phenom II X3 710 when it comes to gaming, it offers something that the 710 doesn't have: an unlocked multiplier. Like all of AMD's Black Edition processors, the Phenom II X2 550 can be effortlessly overclocked by simply upping the multiplier, earning this CPU a place on our recommended list for overclocking fans. 

Best gaming CPU for $120:  None

With the Athlon II X4 640 and Phenom II X2 550 BE offering great performace at the $100 price point, there's little benefit offered from the following $120 CPUs. However, these models can provide extra headroom for overclockers willing to massage them a bit:

Honorable Mentions:

Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
Codename: Heka
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 2.8 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 128KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

Is the mere 200 MHz clock speed increase over the Phenom II X3 710 worth $20? Maybe, but the unlocked multiplier feature that AMD's Black Edition processors sport is worth a lot more to overclockers who want easy access to the headroom available in AMD's Deneb die.

Core 2 Duo E7500 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Duo E7500
Codename: Wolfdale-3M
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache:   3MB
Front Side Bus: 1,066 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

At 2.93 GHz, the Core 2 Duo E7500 is a good match-up against the Phenom II X3 720. Even without an unlocked multiplier, the E7500 is an excellent overclocker and won't disappoint. It has a slight clock rate advantage over AMD's contender, but its dual-core design won't be as nimble in threaded apps. The direction you go at this price level will really depend on the type of software you run.

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