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Best Gaming CPU: $100-$150

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: November '09
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Best gaming CPU for $100:  Tie

Athlon II X4 620 (Check Prices)

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

Frankly, the high clock speed of the Athlon II X3 435 allows it to perform better than an Athlon II X4 620 at stock clock speeds in a great majority of games.

However, there are a few titles out there that will take advantage of a fourth CPU core, making the Athlon II X4 a potentially-attractive choice to buyers who want all four CPU cores and are willing to overclock this processor. Moreover, as a general-purpose processor for the hours you don't spend gaming, the quad-core solution is going to be superior.

Read our review of the Athlon II X4 620, right here.

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 less expensive Athlon II X3 435 when it comes to gaming, it offers something that the Athlon II X3 doesn't have: an unlocked multiplier. Like all of AMD's Black Edition processors, the Phenom II X2 550 can be easily overclocked by simply upping its clock multiplier in the motherboard BIOS of your choice, earning this CPU a place on our recommended list for overclocking fans. 

Read our review of the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition, right here.

Best gaming CPU for $120:  None

With the Athlon II X3 435 offering comperable performace at the $90 price point, there's little benefit to be had 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 unlocked CPU multiplier and 6MB of L3 cache worth the $30 premium over the Athlon II X3 435? For performance nuts, it just might be.

We're a bit torn here. On the one hand, we know that overclocking is the surest way to negate your warranty coverage. However, the Phenom II X3 720 not only has that unlocked multiplier, but we've also had some luck unlocking the fourth core on a handful of samples. The chance may or may not be worth the extra money you drop in this chip. Bear in mind, though, that it's an "expensive" model for AMD to sell, so we wouldn't be surprised if these disappeared sooner, rather than later.

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 multithreaded apps. The direction you go at this price level will really depend on the type of software you run.

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  • -4 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , November 23, 2009 5:26 AM
    E7500 still going strong and on the list....
  • 4 Hide
    Otus , November 23, 2009 5:54 AM
    AFAIKT, Athlon II 425 runs at 2700 MHz, not 2800 MHz.
  • 8 Hide
    laweinhander , November 23, 2009 6:25 AM
    The athlon x3's DO NOT have 3 mb of l2 cache !
    This needs changed asap...
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-ii-x3,2452-2.html
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , November 23, 2009 6:58 AM
    laweinhanderThe athlon x3's DO NOT have 3 mb of l2 cache !This needs changed asap...http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] 452-2.html


    Fixed!
  • 3 Hide
    IzzyCraft , November 23, 2009 7:04 AM
    oh hilarity ensues

    edit: osse you can edit your posts but finding the forum and post is not that easy, you can even delete a post if you go into full edit instead of a quick edit

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/forum2.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&cat=56&post=2466&page=1&p=1&sondage=0&owntopic=1&trash=0&trash_post=0&print=0&numreponse=0"e_only=0&new=0&nojs=0

    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/forum-56.html

    And the reason why cpus are tested at low resolutions is more academic then practical yes but it does show in theory that what a cpu can do when other parts of the computer isn't holding it back mainly the gpu as "practical" test can't show everyone's personal set up and quarks of a system
  • 0 Hide
    4ILY45 , November 23, 2009 7:07 AM
    pentium dual-core E2160 still there..
  • 0 Hide
    2shea , November 23, 2009 8:24 AM
    @ osse, 1 to 4 frames difference is not something I would call worthless performance... That can easily be a difference because of slightly other parts besides the cpu as it would be the cpu.
    And if it were so that it was 1-4 frames slower that still doesn't mean it is slower on all facets of cpu usage. ofcourse gaming is important but other tasks it will outperform amd easily.
  • -9 Hide
    2shea , November 23, 2009 8:24 AM
    @ osse, 1 to 4 frames difference is not something I would call worthless performance... That can easily be a difference because of slightly other parts besides the cpu as it would be the cpu.
    And if it were so that it was 1-4 frames slower that still doesn't mean it is slower on all facets of cpu usage. ofcourse gaming is important but other tasks it will outperform amd easily.
  • 2 Hide
    batuchka , November 23, 2009 8:35 AM
    Actually with latest prices in the $100-150 cataogory we have
    Phenom 2 x4 925 @ $141 :p 
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103656
    Locked multi but still good to go for clocking hehe
  • 0 Hide
    copfrance , November 23, 2009 8:36 AM
    I have asked this question op a number of forums but nobody seems to know the answer. What is the CPU design software that AMD and Intel use for designing their processors. Maybe Cadence products?
  • 0 Hide
    Onyx2291 , November 23, 2009 8:40 AM
    Good to consider then build around. Will help with the few builds I am considering.
  • -4 Hide
    osse , November 23, 2009 9:45 AM
    @2shea

    I for the most agree that 1-4 frames isnt much, and it wasnt in that context i refered to the 2 tests where high end grapic card is used 5850/5870.

    While there is no diffrense in 100 vs 130 frames, there can be a diffrense between 40 and 44 frames in gamer experience. However small.

    It was in the context to the claim that i5-750 is superior in gaming. When it actually loose when you have settings that gamers want.

    Edit:
    And i was actually more supprised when guru matched i7-940 vs phenom 965, espeially in Far cry, wich should be a very good game for Nehalm, I7-940 wins big times on 1024x768, but looses with a few frames when we go to 1920x1200.
    with gamer settings : high-quality DX10 mode with 4x AA (anti-aliasing) and 16x AF (anisotropic filtering).

    Same happens in Brother In Arms, i7-940 wins big time 1024x768, and looses with a few frames in 1920x1200. In crysis they tie at 1920x1200, and resident evil I7-940 wins good.

    But the conclusion so far of tests out on the web with gamer setting , is that overall phenomII 965 is abel to pull a few more frames out of the radeon 58xx, both against the i5-750 and i7-940. On stock speed.

    And that is the oposit result of what you would expect from testing in low resolutions and no grapic effects tells us, there both i5-750 and i7-940 wins big time.
  • 1 Hide
    gtvr , November 23, 2009 10:10 AM
    I just bought an i750 at Microcenter for $149. Great steal, not sure if they have pics of Andy Grove or something, but that changed the price/performance enough for me to go Intel this time around - I'd been looking at Phenom II x3s until that find.
  • 0 Hide
    evongugg , November 23, 2009 10:27 AM
    It would be nice to do an overclocked section, so we could compare overclcocked to non overclocked processors. It is being done here:

    http://www.cpubenchmark.net/overclocked_cpus.html


  • 2 Hide
    ifko_pifko , November 23, 2009 12:53 PM
    Uhm... what is E7500 doing there, when there is also E6500, which supports virtualization... unlike the E7500?
  • -4 Hide
    ifko_pifko , November 23, 2009 12:53 PM
    Uhm... what is E7500 doing there, when there is also E6500, which supports virtualization... unlike the E7500?
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