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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October '09

What about this other CPU that’s not on the list? How do I know if it’s a good deal or not?

This will happen. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen because availability and prices change quickly. So how do you know if that CPU you’ve got your eye on is a good buy in its price range?

Here is a resource to help you judge if a CPU is a good buy or not: the gaming CPU hierarchy chart, which groups CPUs with similar overall gaming performance levels into tiers. The top tier contains the highest-performing gaming CPUs available and gaming performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there.

However, a word of caution: this hierarchy is based on the average performance each CPU achieved in our charts test suite using only four game titles: Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, World in Conflict, and Supreme Commander. While we feel this represents an acceptable cross-section of typical gaming scenarios, a specific game title will likely perform differently. Some games, for example, will be severely graphics subsystem-limited, while others may react positively to more CPU cores, larger amounts of CPU cache, or even a specific architecture. We also did not have access to every CPU on the market, so some of the CPU performance estimates are based on the numbers similar architectures deliver. Indeed, this hierarchy chart is useful as a general guideline, but certainly not as a gospel one-size-fits-all perfect CPU comparison resource.

You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two processors, to see which one is a better deal, and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I don’t recommend upgrading your CPU unless the potential replacement is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel and you may not notice a worthwhile difference in game performance.

Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart
Core i7 Extreme 965, 975
Core i7 860, 870, 920, 940, 950,
Core i5 750
Core 2 Extreme QX9775, QX9770, QX9650
Core 2 Quad Q9650

Core 2 Extreme QX6850, QX6800
Core 2 Quad Q9550, Q9450, Q9400
Core 2 Duo E8600, E8500
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 955, 965
Core 2 Extreme QX6700
Core 2 Quad Q6700, Q9300, Q8400, Q6600, Q8300
Core 2 Duo E8400, E8300, E8190, E8200, E7600, E7500, E6850
Phenom X4 945, 940, 920, 810
Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
Athlon II X4 630
Core 2 Quad Q8200, E7400, E6750
Core 2 Extreme X6800
Phenom II X4 910, 805, 905e
Phenom II X3 710, 705e
Phenom II X2 545, 550 Black Edition
Phenom X4 9950
Athlon II X4 620
Core 2 Duo E7200, E6550, E7300, E6540, E6700
Pentium Dual-Core E6300, E6500
Phenom X4 9850, 9750, 9650, 9600
Phenom X3 8850, 8750
Athlon 64 X2 6400+
Core 2 Duo E4700, E4600, E6600, E4500, E6420
Pentium Dual-Core E5400, E5300, E5200
Phenom X4 9500, 9550, 9450e, 9350e
Phenom X3 8650, 8600, 8550, 8450e, 8450, 8400, 8250e
Athlon II X2 250
Athlon X2 7850, 7750
Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 5600+
Core 2 Duo E4400, E4300, E6400, E6320
Phenom X4 9150e, 9100e
Athlon X2 7550, 7450, 5050e, 4850e/b
Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 5200+, 5000+, 4800+
Core 2 Duo E6300
Pentium Dual-Core E2220, E2200, E2210
Athlon X2 6550, 6500, 4450e/b,
Athlon X2 4600+, 4400+, 4200+, BE-2400
Pentium Dual-Core E2180
Celeron E1600
Athlon 64 X2 4000+, 3800+
Athlon X2 4050e, BE-2300
Pentium Dual-Core E2160, E2140
Celeron E1500, E1400, E1200


There you have it folks: the best gaming CPUs for the money this month. Now all that’s left to do is to find and purchase them.

Also remember that the stores don’t follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month and you’ll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!

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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:
    Now that the Core i5-750 is available at $200, there is very little reason to consider these formerly class-leading processors. 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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