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.
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.