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Best Gaming CPU: $150-$190

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: December '09
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Best gaming CPU for $165:

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.2 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
125W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II family, the Phenom II X4 955 BE has been relegated to second place status by the newer Phenom II X4 965 BE model. However, it's hard to recommend the Phenom II X4 965 for a new build when it is priced so closely to the superior Core i5-750.

That really shouldn't matter here, though. After all, this is a Black Edition chip we're talking about with an unlocked clock multiplier. If you're comfortable overclocking, simply increment the chip's ratio by one and enjoy an extra 200 MHz of free clock rate.

Read our review of the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, right here.

Best gaming CPU for $190: None

Now that the Core i5-750 is available at $200, there is very little reason to consider the following class-leading processors when building a new system. However, they still make great upgrades for folks who already own LGA 775 or AM2+/AM3 platforms and don't want to buy LGA 1156-based motherboards and DDR3 memory, so we'll keep them here as honorable mentions with that application in mind:

Honorable Mentions:

Core 2 Quad Q9400 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Quad Q9400
Codename: Yorkfield
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2 x 3MB
Front Side Bus: 1,333 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

The Core 2 Quad line isn't as strong as Intel's lone Core i5 model, but the older processors certainly aren't slouches either. On a clock-for-clock basis, the Core 2 Quad tends to performance a little bit better than AMD's Phenom II X4.

The Core 2 Quad Q9400 is a strong competitor for the Phenom II X4 955, and will overclock well, despite its locked CPU multiplier. Despite its somewhat-low stock clock, 6MB shared L2 cache and a speedy 1,333 MHz front side bus help the chip compete aggressively for less than $200.

Core 2 Duo E8500 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Duo E8500
Codename: Wolfdale
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.16 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 6MB
Front Side Bus: 1,333 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

We've received a lot of negative feedback for this recommendation, but we re-checked the data and even found more reason to support this CPU's inclusion. The Core 2 Duo E8500 is, in fact, a powerful gaming processor. Any handicaps that this CPU might have by only offering two cores is compensated for by a 3.16 GHz clock speed and 6MB of L2 cache.

While a quad-core CPU is probably a better bet for multi-purpose use, this Wolfdale-based processor sports a low 65 watt thermal envelope, which makes the E8500 a good choice for a low-power gaming PC or gaming HTPC.

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (New C3 stepping) (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (C3 Stepping)
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.4 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
125W

While the Phenom II X4 955 and 965 both share an unlocked multiplier, the new revision 965 model's C3 stepping has been shown to be quite overclock-friendly compared to previous models. If you're looking for an AMD processor with the maximum overclocking headroom just make sure you're buying the new 125 watt C3 stepping of the processor, not the older 140 watt version.

Read our review of the new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, right here.

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