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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: December '09

What about this other CPU that’s not on the list? How do I know if it’s a good deal or not?

This will happen. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen because availability and prices change quickly. So how do you know if that CPU you’ve got your eye on is a good buy in its price range?

Here is a resource to help you judge if a CPU is a good buy or not: the gaming CPU hierarchy chart, which groups CPUs with similar overall gaming performance levels into tiers. The top tier contains the highest-performing gaming CPUs available and gaming performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there.

However, a word of caution: this hierarchy is based on the average performance each CPU achieved in our charts test suite using only four game titles: Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, World in Conflict, and Supreme Commander. While we feel this represents an acceptable cross-section of typical gaming scenarios, a specific game title will likely perform differently. Some games, for example, will be severely graphics subsystem-limited, while others may react positively to more CPU cores, larger amounts of CPU cache, or even a specific architecture. We also did not have access to every CPU on the market, so some of the CPU performance estimates are based on the numbers similar architectures deliver. Indeed, this hierarchy chart is useful as a general guideline, but certainly not as a gospel one-size-fits-all perfect CPU comparison resource.

You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two processors, to see which one is a better deal, and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I don’t recommend upgrading your CPU unless the potential replacement is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel and you may not notice a worthwhile difference in game performance.

Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart
Core i7 Extreme 965, 975
Core i7 860, 870, 920, 940, 950,
Core i5 750
Core 2 Extreme QX9775, QX9770, QX9650
Core 2 Quad Q9650

Core 2 Extreme QX6850, QX6800
Core 2 Quad Q9550, Q9450, Q9400
Core 2 Duo E8600, E8500
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 955, 965
Core 2 Extreme QX6700
Core 2 Quad Q6700, Q9300, Q8400, Q6600, Q8300
Core 2 Duo E8400, E8300, E8190, E8200, E7600, E7500, E6850
Phenom X4 945, 940, 920, 810
Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
Athlon II X4 630
Athlon II X3 435
Core 2 Quad Q8200, E7400, E6750
Core 2 Extreme X6800
Phenom II X4 910, 805, 905e
Phenom II X3 710, 705e
Phenom II X2 545, 550 Black Edition
Phenom X4 9950
Athlon II X4 620
Athlon II X3 425
Core 2 Duo E7200, E6550, E7300, E6540, E6700
Pentium Dual-Core E6300, E6500
Phenom X4 9850, 9750, 9650, 9600
Phenom X3 8850, 8750
Athlon 64 X2 6400+
Core 2 Duo E4700, E4600, E6600, E4500, E6420
Pentium Dual-Core E5400, E5300, E5200
Phenom X4 9500, 9550, 9450e, 9350e
Phenom X3 8650, 8600, 8550, 8450e, 8450, 8400, 8250e
Athlon II X2 240, 245, 250
Athlon X2 7850, 7750
Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 5600+
Core 2 Duo E4400, E4300, E6400, E6320
Celeron E3300
Phenom X4 9150e, 9100e
Athlon X2 7550, 7450, 5050e, 4850e/b
Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 5200+, 5000+, 4800+
Core 2 Duo E6300
Pentium Dual-Core E2220, E2200, E2210
Celeron E3200
Athlon X2 6550, 6500, 4450e/b,
Athlon X2 4600+, 4400+, 4200+, BE-2400
Pentium Dual-Core E2180
Celeron E1600
Athlon 64 X2 4000+, 3800+
Athlon X2 4050e, BE-2300
Pentium Dual-Core E2160, E2140
Celeron E1500, E1400, E1200


There you have it folks: the best gaming CPUs for the money this month. Now all that’s left to do is to find and purchase them.

Also remember that the stores don’t follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month and you’ll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!

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  • 0 Hide
    wintermint , December 17, 2009 5:41 AM
    Sigh I wish all the prices you say are the same as the prices in the link "check prices" anyway good job on the update :) 
  • 1 Hide
    dirtmountain , December 17, 2009 5:47 AM
    Another good job on this excellent feature Cleeve. Have a Merry Christmas!
  • -1 Hide
    agnickolov , December 17, 2009 6:59 AM
    Still missing Core i7 960 in the top tier on the chart in the last page.
  • 1 Hide
    timbo , December 17, 2009 8:11 AM
    The core 2 duo e8500 has remaind $189.99 on the egg since your last installment quoting that price there a couple weeks ago. Why would you now direct people to needlessly spend $230.00 @ server supply, a difference of $40?
  • 0 Hide
    juliom , December 17, 2009 8:16 AM
    I really can't understand the fascination to recomend the i5 750 over a Phenom II 965. The i5 is faster in various applications, but their gaming results are very similar and the platform cost for AMD is much lower.
  • 1 Hide
    cyberkuberiah , December 17, 2009 8:34 AM
    juliomI really can't understand the fascination to recomend the i5 750 over a Phenom II 965. The i5 is faster in various applications, but their gaming results are very similar and the platform cost for AMD is much lower.

    what platform cost ? i am running a single 5850 on $105 gigabyte UD2 with i5 on 3.6 stock voltage . gskill ram , psu , case , hdd , dvdrw etc is the same price . and the i5 is only 5$ more than 965 "BE" .
  • -3 Hide
    bunga28 , December 17, 2009 8:49 AM
    Try this at

    Dual Core Xeon Processor 5060,2x2MB Cache, 3.20GHz, 1066MHZ FSB [], $10.99 DEAD

    Xeon 3.0 GHz Dual Core Processor [], $16.99 DEAD

    Xeon L5430 2.66 GHz Quad Core Second Processor [], $12.99

    Xeon E3110 3 GHz Dual Core Processor [], $16.99

    Xeon X5470 3.33 GHz Quad Core Processor [], $23.99

    Xeon E5450 3.0 GHz Quad Core Processor [], $39.99
  • 0 Hide
    cyberkuberiah , December 17, 2009 8:59 AM
    yeah , merry xMas all of tom's hardware !
  • 0 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , December 17, 2009 9:44 AM
    Are there any industry stats indicatings which cpu's are most popular with gamers? Intel Core2 Quads?
  • 0 Hide
    ytoledano , December 17, 2009 9:52 AM
    What this review always lacks is a recommendation on what to buy regardless of price. I think most people are like me - want to buy a graphics card for $70-$150 with the best value. Most times, good value is more important than a $15 price difference between two cards.

    I would like a section saying: "The following 3 cards have great value". Then I could just pick one which fits in my budget.
  • 2 Hide
    GBleezy , December 17, 2009 11:06 AM
    Yes! I just researched and put together an $800 system and I came to the conclusion after my studies that the i5 with the GeForce GTS 250 would be the best value for my price range (leaving enough budget for case, mobo, ram, hdd, psu). With what I have been learning/reading these last few weeks (which is everything i now know about hardware) basically left me with the i5 or i7 to use, and the i7 was a little steep and like the 1156 is dual channel ddr3 where as the 1136 is tri-chan so going i5 i think gives cheaper ram and mobo to buy too, and i5 overclocks so well! Anyways, i ordered my parts Monday and I'm just glad to read that tomshardware recommends the i5 as the best CPU for gaming! Means i made the right choice... :) 
  • 0 Hide
    huron , December 17, 2009 11:09 AM
    I always enjoy the "Best...for the money" articles. I'm amazed that the 1366 chips are considered past the point of reason...interesting take on that.
  • 0 Hide
    Onyx2291 , December 17, 2009 11:25 AM
    Ohh finally for the perfect month.
  • 1 Hide
    caamsa , December 17, 2009 11:47 AM
    How about the II X4 925 Deneb 2.8GHz for $140.00 on new egg. The only problem I see with the X3 425 and 435 is that new egg does not offer free shipping and that adds an extra 6 bucks to the price.
  • 1 Hide
    Railgun1369 , December 17, 2009 11:49 AM
    Micro Center has an i7-920 for $199.99. Seems like the winner to me.
  • 3 Hide
    smasher5000 , December 17, 2009 12:43 PM
    You forgot to mention that the $199.99 i7-920 at Micro Center is the in-store price only. Can't have that shipped to you. They also have the i5-750 for $149.99. Great deals on all their processors (in-store only though). has $10 off any order over $75. Good savings there too.
  • -1 Hide
    SevWarfare , December 17, 2009 1:18 PM
    Micro Center FTW. Bought my i7-920 there.

    Antec P182 Gunmetal w/ Custom Side Panel Window/ Cooler Master Silent Pro M 700W
    Intel Core i7 920 D0 @ 3.2 / OCZ Gladiator Max 120mm CPU Cooler
    MSI X58 Platinum SLI / OCZ Reaper HPC 6GB DDR3-1800 @ 7-7-7-16 / XFX GTX 275 OC
    160GB VelociRaptor(OS) / 2TB Storage / Samsung 22X & 20x SATA DVD Burner with LS
    Hanns·G 24" 1080P Widescreen LCD Monitor / Logitech Wireless Slim Desktop S 510
    Windows 7 Professional x64
  • 6 Hide
    Summer Leigh Castle , December 17, 2009 3:48 PM
    It's a good thing the closest Micro Center is only about 500 miles away from me because 1000 miles in gas is penny change.
  • 2 Hide
    10tacle , December 17, 2009 4:31 PM
    Micro Center pwns the CPU prices, but not everyone has one in their region and they do not ship orders - it's in store purchases only.

    But I don't know why people slam E8500 CPU builds. I've got an E8400 overclocked to 4.4GHz on air and it mows through heavily CPU bound games/sims like FSX at high resolution and graphic settings. If you are on a budget and can't afford an i7/x58 build, it's the way to go if you are successful at getting it overclocked. I'd shy away from the 1156/P55 platform as they aren't as proven to overclock success as the x58 boards.
  • -4 Hide
    pseton , December 17, 2009 6:26 PM
    Not factoring in things like motherboard cost and overclockability renders this list just about worthless, especially when you consider the variability of price in short term.
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