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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: December '09

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: December '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.

December Updates

With no big CPU introductions in November, there isn't much to report this holiday season except some small price fluctuations that don't really affect the high-end, but do have some impact on the sub-$150 recommendations.

Specifically, the Athlon II X2 250 and Athlon II X4 630 have dropped a few dollars in price. In the case of the Athlon II X2 250, it is priced so close to its slightly-slower Athlon II X2 245 family member that it easily steals the recommendation for the best entry-level gaming CPU. As far as AMD's Athlon II X4 630 is concerned, the lower price lines it up for an overclocking recommendation for folks who want to tweak a true quad-core processor on a budget.

AMD's high-end CPUs have also dropped a few dollars where we've looked, making the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition an even better value with its unlocked multiplier. In addition, the new C3 stepping of the Phenom II X4 965 is an attractive option for AMD overclockers.

Aside from this, Intel's Core i5 and i7 series continue to reign the top of the roost when it comes to CPU performance. We're looking forward to the next-generation AMD and Intel six-core offerings to shake things up in the upcoming year. But for now, the Core i5-750 continues to offer what we think is the best price/performance ratio for a gaming rig.

It's also worth noting that we're about three weeks away from seeing Intel introduce its first 32nm desktop chips, which will fall into the Core i5 and Core i3 families, populating H57- and H55-based motherboards. While we can't talk performance yet, it'll surely be interesting to see how that generation of dual-core, Hyper-Threading-equipped chips is able to stand up to the affordable quad-core models currently being offered by Intel and AMD. If they wind up serving up comparable performance for less money, they might become our new gaming favorites.

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 US prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices. We do not list used or OEM CPUs.

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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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