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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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Top Comments
  • 25 Hide
    IronRyan21 , October 5, 2009 6:37 AM
    lemonade4my cpu didn't make the list


    Im sorry......I think Intel stopped making Pentium 4s.........
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    doomtomb , October 5, 2009 6:16 AM
    Good mix, AMD CPUs are earning the recommendations but what's this? i7 920 is "Past the point of reason"?
  • 6 Hide
    lemonade4 , October 5, 2009 6:21 AM
    This is especially the case since the Core i7-750 can be overclocked to great effect if more performance is desired,
  • -9 Hide
    lemonade4 , October 5, 2009 6:28 AM
    my cpu didn't make the list :( 
  • 25 Hide
    IronRyan21 , October 5, 2009 6:37 AM
    lemonade4my cpu didn't make the list


    Im sorry......I think Intel stopped making Pentium 4s.........
  • 3 Hide
    tacoslave , October 5, 2009 6:42 AM
    my opinion is that instead of best cpu for X amount of money i think they should make it best cpu for x pricerange or at least include it somewhere.
    what i mean by that is if you have x dollars to spend on a new build you buy the cpu meant for x pricerange.
  • 0 Hide
    anamaniac , October 5, 2009 7:02 AM
    tacoslavemy opinion is that instead of best cpu for X amount of money i think they should make it best cpu for x pricerange or at least include it somewhere.what i mean by that is if you have x dollars to spend on a new build you buy the cpu meant for x pricerange.

    Interesting idea, but I know myself I wanted a i7, and was willing to sacrifice elsewere.
    A i7 was no were near my budget... don't regret it at all though.
  • 1 Hide
    drealar , October 5, 2009 7:05 AM
    But tacoslave, wouldn't that be harder to define? A gaming new build can be for multi-threading gaming (WiC, GTA4), super heavy graphics gaming (Crysis), or gaming while multi-tasking.

    Given that each build have different main purposes, the 'ingredients' will vary too. Like, a $500 gaming build should have X CPU if doing multi-threading/tasking or Y CPU with better GPU for gaming.

    Since other parts; PSU, GPU, RAM, Mobo, etc, have their individual spec, it'll be more like which CPU can fit in the budget left for it e.g budget = $500, other components = $400, CPU budget = $100

    Well, just my personal opinion :) 
  • 0 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , October 5, 2009 8:03 AM
    Still glad to see the E7500 and E8500 as I have an E7400 and am waiting for Generation 2 Core i7 1366 chips. This chart has always been a useful indicator for gamers.

    Although it would be nice to see different categories for instance Video/audiophiles would enjoy a different platform and not necessarily a gaming CPU, it would be nice to see charts for that segment of PC user.
    Also it would great to see some graphs to directly compare cpus.
  • 6 Hide
    bujcri , October 5, 2009 8:35 AM
    You obviously wrote Core i7 850 instead of Core i7 860 in the Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart. Anyways, I think that Core i7 860 should not be forgotten even for recommendation (at least honorable mention) because, while it performs at the same level with i7 920 and it even costs the same, i7 860 is more power efficient not to mention that the 860's platform as a whole, costs less than 920's platform (P55 against X58).
  • 3 Hide
    h83 , October 5, 2009 10:06 AM

    Man, my E6400 is starting to show his age... Gonna start saving for the 750...

    Good article and very useful. I just think that should be some diferences between recomending for example an Q9550 and an 750 because the first only costs the price of the CPU, because there is a lot of 775 MBs out there, while the second costs the price of the CPU and the MB and RAM, so maybe it´s not worth the price diference.

    Just a thought...
  • 6 Hide
    jeff_c , October 5, 2009 11:28 AM
    The Atom CPU would not be a good choice for gaming; It is not very powerful and also I believe only comes built-in to the motherboard.
  • 7 Hide
    Anonymous , October 5, 2009 11:38 AM
    The Atom might not be, but I think the Sempron 140 with the 2nd core unlocked holds up against 5200+ and it's cheaper.
  • 4 Hide
    jj463rd , October 5, 2009 11:40 AM
    You just can't go wrong with an i5-750.Low TPD,insane over clocks,low system motherboard,memory,CPU cost it should be the most popular new platform out there especially for gamers.Pair it up with 2 Radeon 5850 cards and you have a stacked deck of cards (bang per buck with lots of bang.You can go the i7 route though but you're paying up the *ss for it.
  • 6 Hide
    osse , October 5, 2009 12:08 PM
    what i really wish toms would do when it comes to its recomandation of gaming cpu's is.

    Let me see how to explain.

    say the athlon 250, yes its an ok cpu for its money, but when considering building a gaming rig u need to know how powerful gpu solution can that cpu support.

    can it drive a gtx 275 or 4890 without beeing a bottelneck, can it drive a 5850 and so on. In order to do the best and best bang for buck build u need to know where the limits for a cpu goes when it comes to feed the graphic cards with input.

    I really wish Toms would do a test like that for cpu/gpu combination. Because that really would settel the best gaming cpu in all classes.
  • -2 Hide
    wicko , October 5, 2009 12:24 PM
    X3 720 only an honourable mention? Not if you're a gamer, it doesn't make sense to go with the X4 620 which has no L3 Cache, compared to the X3 720 with has 6MB. It makes a big difference.
  • 1 Hide
    soo-nah-mee , October 5, 2009 12:29 PM
    RE: the $190 category:
    Quote:
    Now that the Core i5-750 is available at $200, there is very little reason to consider these formerly class-leading processors. ...so we'll keep them here as honorable mentions with that application in mind:
    Honorable Mentions:
    Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition

    Very little reason?!?!? It is absolutely ridiculous not to list the 955 as the best CPU @ $190.
  • 3 Hide
    scurvywombat , October 5, 2009 12:30 PM
    I've owned the x3 720 (destroyed by USPS) and currently own the x2 550, very pleased with both, great performance vs. price and overclocking.
  • 1 Hide
    ryanegeiger , October 5, 2009 1:02 PM
    Why would anyone with any real-world experience knock the E8500? Easily overclockable to 3.6Ghz, for the price it's one of the best CPU's out there if you're making a gaming rig. Go TH for sticking to your guns on this one.
  • 2 Hide
    scooterlibby , October 5, 2009 1:04 PM
    AMD Athlon II X2 240 Regor 2.8GHz Socket AM3 65W Dual-Core Processor Model ADX240OCGQBOX - Retail $62.99

    Look, the 5200 was a great CPU, but why in God's name you would recommend the $60 5200 over the $63 45nm Athlon II x2 is beyond me. That's not even a fluke price, it's been that way for weeks.
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