AMD Or Intel: Which $100 Gaming CPU Should You Buy?

Conclusion

Before we analyze the results, I think it's important to note that out of the nine games we tested, only two of them--Crysis and Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.--demonstrated any notable performance decrease between 1280x1024 and 1920x1200. This is a real wake-up call to folks who believe that all modern games are limited only by the graphics hardware and that the CPU is almost irrelevant when it comes to gaming. Clearly, the benchmarks demonstrated that this isn't the case, and the CPU has a very significant impact on game performance.

Here we have the diluted percentages. What can we learn from them? Looking at this chart, we can see that the Athlon II X4 620 has achieved the highest average frame rates of all of our $100 CPUs. At the same time, even though the Phenom II X3 710 and Phenom II X2 550 aren't able to achieve the same lofty averages, their respective minimum frame rates are higher to the tune of roughly 10 percent--likely a result of faster stock clock rates.

A third factor, aside from minimum and average frame rates, and one not shown on this chart, are the multitasking benchmark results. The Athlon II X4 can run a processor-intensive task while gaming like a breeze. The Phenom II X3 has a tougher time and the Phenom II X2 and Pentium dual-core CPUs are absolutely crippled. If you don't think this is a realistic scenario, then think again. I can't even count the number of times I've stayed up late for a bout of Left 4 Dead, exited, and found my middle-of-the-night virus scan cranking along in the background.

Unfortunately for Intel, it looks like gamers building on a budget can skip over the dual-core Pentium E6500. While it certainly wasn't trounced in comparison to the other contenders, it really doesn't offer anything special. The processor might make a worthwhile upgrade from an older LGA 775-based configuration, but for those constructing new machines, the AM2+ and AM3 platforms are much more attractive and have a brighter future.

Are we recommending a specific $100 CPU? The results are too close to call between the AMD offerings, and we can say with confidence that any of these CPUs will provide excellent performance for the dollar spent. Multitaskers will want to look hard at the Athlon II X4 620, while those looking for consistency will be attracted to the Phenom II X3 710. Of course, overclockers will be drawn to the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition. There's no right or wrong answer, and variety is the spice of life, so feel free to follow your desire. One thing that is for sure here: AMD is looking at too much inter-family competition, making it more difficult for value-oriented enthusiasts to pick the right part. We're sure AMD already knows this, and we expect the company to take measures to cut costs in the Phenom II class (likely starting with the low-margin X3). If an inexpensive Phenom II is what you're after, it's a safe bet that you'll want to buy it sooner than later.

One final factor we didn't have time to test this time around is overclocking. When overclocked, would the Phenom II 550 Black Edition become a monster? Would the dual-core Pentium E6500 pull a rabbit from its hat? Or would the Athlon II X4 620 and Phenom II X3 710 be able to hold on to their strengths? If this is something you'd like us to explore, please let us know in the comments section.

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  • curnel_D
    Don WoligroskiOne final factor we didn't have time to test this time around is overclocking. When overclocked, would the Phenom II 550 Black Edition become a monster? Would the dual-core Pentium E6500 pull a rabbit from its hat? Or would the Athlon II X4 620 and Phenom II X3 710 be able to hold on to their strengths? If this is something you'd like us to explore, please let us know in the comments section.


    OC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.
    16
  • curnel_D
    wintermintWhich of the 4 CPU listed in the article is more future-proof?

    The AthalonII X4 would deffinately be the more futureproof of the four. Programs and games are rapidly being developed and upgraded to use 4+ threads. And when threaded applications finally hits mainstream, you'll appriciate those one or two cores a whole lot more. (Not to mention the platform itself lends itself to future upgrades a whole lot better than the 775 platform.)
    11
  • Anonymous
    ohimWell i don`t get it you become a cheap bastard on cheap parts and go OC and rise your electrical bill and risk damagin your CPU ... so where`s the benefit ?

    What's the benifit of harrassing people who arent driving daddy's bently to the PC store to squander away all their allowance on overpriced parts?

    Get a life dude.
    10
  • Other Comments
  • kenjiuchimura
    It's a shame there aren't more games that run like FO3 considering how gorgeous it is yet still being much more accessible based on its focus of CPU power instead of being topheavy on the GPU side.
    2
  • FUtomNOreg
    If people have a delusion that games are not cpu constrained, it is because, if I recall, an article in Tom's made the assertion that any c2d >3GHz was sufficient.
    5
  • curnel_D
    Don WoligroskiOne final factor we didn't have time to test this time around is overclocking. When overclocked, would the Phenom II 550 Black Edition become a monster? Would the dual-core Pentium E6500 pull a rabbit from its hat? Or would the Athlon II X4 620 and Phenom II X3 710 be able to hold on to their strengths? If this is something you'd like us to explore, please let us know in the comments section.


    OC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.
    16
  • wintermint
    AMD is really evening the playing field with their low cost CPU :) but they should start challenging the Core i7 :(
    1
  • siliconchampion
    I would have to say that overclocking results would be extremely useful. May I suggest that you run the same benchmarks again at two levels, the maximum overclock at stock voltage, and again with maximum stable overclock. Then compare the results to today's benches.

    I would have to agree with some of the poster's above that overclockability is a key factor in this price segment.
    4
  • curnel_D
    kenjiuchimuraIt's a shame there aren't more games that run like FO3 considering how gorgeous it is yet still being much more accessible based on its focus of CPU power instead of being topheavy on the GPU side.

    360 ports generally run really smooth on adequite PC hardware, simply because of the archetectual similarities. I personally dont think that FO3's graphic technology is all that great, but the art direction that Bethesda took made it a great looking game.

    Another game that does this really well is Operation Flashpoint 2. Technically speaking, the grapics arent that great. And I notice alot of places where textures and polys arent what they should be for a PC game. But aside from that, the game looks fantastic and runs very smooth even at the highest settings, and it all has to do with art, not technology.
    2
  • ohim
    TheCapuletThe Pentium DC can effortlesly overclock to 3.6, giving it a steep clock edge. And under good air cooling can easily hit the 4Ghz mark. With quality air cooling getting so cheap these days, it's not hard to imagine budget gamers buying great cooling while skimping on the processor budget because of overclocking. This article would have been perfect if it included the OC information and a few quick benchies to show the results. The OC potential makes ALL the difference in the world at this price point.

    First of all OC is out of the question here in this article since a 100$ CPU is clearly not for an enthusiast user (not even i with a PII 940 don`t use OC) , second OC`ing will only lead to huge power consumption fron the pc performance / watt will drop like hell.
    -22
  • mrsiberia
    I would love to see what impact OC has... Imo it's always interesting with budget hardware.
    1
  • curnel_D
    wintermintWhich of the 4 CPU listed in the article is more future-proof?

    The AthalonII X4 would deffinately be the more futureproof of the four. Programs and games are rapidly being developed and upgraded to use 4+ threads. And when threaded applications finally hits mainstream, you'll appriciate those one or two cores a whole lot more. (Not to mention the platform itself lends itself to future upgrades a whole lot better than the 775 platform.)
    11
  • tacoslave
    well amd always pwns on the lower end but what i want to see is them pull out a demon with shiny guns that can gut an i7 clean. then we can start the partying (and new systems)
    6
  • IzzyCraft
    Curnel_DOC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.

    Yup that's the most interesting part of this. E6300 and the 550 are the most expected to oc well and benefit from it the most which is a factor for the crowd that reads these articles.
    4
  • Anonymous
    ohimWell i don`t get it you become a cheap bastard on cheap parts and go OC and rise your electrical bill and risk damagin your CPU ... so where`s the benefit ?

    What's the benifit of harrassing people who arent driving daddy's bently to the PC store to squander away all their allowance on overpriced parts?

    Get a life dude.
    10
  • masterjaw
    Nice article but buying a budget CPU will also be affected by its potentials. So it would be nice if you would add up the overclocking areas of these CPUs.
    1
  • rip187
    Ohim its for the same reason that us "cheap bastards" buy a i7 920 and overclock it rather than buying an I7 that costs twice or 4 times as much. The benefits outweigh the risks.
    7
  • brockh
    I feel this would've been more interesting with the 720. I know it's $20 more, but hey. :P
    -5
  • Proximon
    Yes, I would especially like to see what you can squeeze out of those motherboards.
    This exact question has been bugging me all week, and here you are with the answers... Have you been reading my posts??? :)
    Anyway, I strongly suspect that any 785G board is just all around better than any G41, another factor. 785G seems to aim for a wider audience.
    Wouldn't a P43 board be closer in price to a 785G? Might that be a fairer comparison?
    2
  • dirtmountain
    A very well done article. The multitasking benchmark was a real eye opener. I'd like to see an overclocking look at these 4 CPUs, i'm not as interested in anything extreme as I am in stable and cool overclocks.
    2
  • Honis
    Good article!

    An overclock article is more than a little over due for the $100 and lower level CPUs.
    1
  • SpadeM
    Quote:
    I think it's important to note that out of the nine games we tested, only two of them--Crysis and Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.--demonstrated any notable performance decrease between 1280x1024 and 1920x1200. This is a real wake-up call to folks who believe that all modern games are limited only by the graphics hardware and that the CPU is almost irrelevant when it comes to gaming. Clearly, the benchmarks demonstrated that this isn't the case, and the CPU has a very significant impact on game performance.


    Yes and no, but that would have been uncontested if you'd have benched an intel quad core or even the 1000$ i7 (kind of like 100$ vs 1000$ processor battle in gaming). I know that common sense dictates that if u buy a 1000$ processor you will pair it with the appropriate graphics card and not just a 4890, but still in theory for a cpu to cpu comparison it would have sense.
    0
  • thedexmonster
    Not everyone wants to destroy their hardware faster than necessary!!! Overclocking potential is definitely a plus, but not absolutely necessary for a budget build! Relatively speaking, there aren't very many people who actually know how to maintain a computer system! I clean a 1/4" of dust off the CPU fan with no exhaust fan installed all the time! Put overclocking in someones head and they'll just think they don't have to spend as much money.
    -1