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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.
There were a number of CPUs introduced since our last installment of this series, both from Intel and AMD, so let's start with an overview of these new models.
First up is Intel's new Core i5 for the new LGA 1156 interface. The fundamental differences between the i5 and i7 designed to drop into the same socket are really limited to Hyper-Threading and slightly less-aggressive Turbo Boost bin configurations. As far as games are concerned, Hyper-Threading isn't really a boon, for the most part, and dual-channel memory is able to serve up plenty of bandwidth to the platform. So, it turns out that the Core i5 offers real value to the gamer. Intel's Core i5-750 runs at the same 2.66 GHz base clock rate as its Bloomfield-based Core i7-920 cousin. But, at $200, it costs almost $100 less. For more on the i5 and its architecture, check out our launch coverage.
Some new Core i7 models for the LGA 1156 interface have also been introduced, including the Core i7-860 and 870. These CPUs do sport Hyper-Threading (just like their high-end LGA 1366 Core i7-900-series cousins), but they center on the same "mid-range" Lynnfield die, which is limited to a dual-channel memory controller, while offering integrated PCI Express 2.0. Once again, the performance is very similar to the Core i7-900-series.
In the AMD camp, which has been dominating the sub-$150 CPU market, we have the new Athlon II X4 620. This is the first quad-core CPU at a $100 price point, and it can really perform exceptionally well at AMD's asking price. While it does lack the Phenom II's large L3 cache (in fact, it has no shared L3 cache at all) the greater core count is more than able to compensate for the lost cache, especially in multi-tasked environments or threaded applications. Check out our launch coverage of that one, here.
Other than the introduction of these few models, prices haven't moved much. But the presence of these new CPUs have certainly impacted 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.