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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October '09

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October '09

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.

September Updates

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.

Some Notes About 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.

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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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