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Best Gaming CPU: $110-$140

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: February '10
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Best gaming CPU for $110-$130: None

With the Athlon II X3 440 offering comparable performance at a $90 price point and the Athlon II X4 620 providing a true quad-core option at $100, there's little benefit to be had from the following $110-$130 CPUs. However, these models can provide extra headroom for overclockers willing to massage them a bit, and some have been added as options for folks who are saddled with an older platform they wish to upgrade. The Core i3-530, specifically, offers a solid prospect on an alternate platform to the AM3 socket, which dominates the sub-$200 CPU price/performance market.

Honorable Mention:
Core i3-530 (Check Prices)

Core i3-530
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache:   4 x 32KB
L2 Cache:   2 x 256KB
L3 Cache: 4MB
Thermal Envelope:
73W

The performance picture has gotten a little clearer since last month, and while the Core i3-530 looks like a promising CPU it probably doesn't justify a solid recommendation at the $125 price point. We're going to wait until we've done our own extensive benchmarking before we make the call, but until then, we can heartily give this processor an honorable mention as a viable alternative for folks in the market for an LGA 1156-based platform.

Stock performance is usually quite good from what we've seen, although you can't expect Hyper-Threading to yield the same performance gains as an additional two physical cores.

Honorable Mention:
Athlon II X4 635

Athlon II X4 635
Codename: Propus
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.9 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

Offering a 100 MHz speed boost over the Athlon II X4 630, the new Athlon II X4 635 cannot be denied as a good option for overclockers who want four processing cores

This model isn't unlocked (it's not one of AMD's Black Edition chips), but it does sport a higher multiplier than the Athlon II X4 630, making it a great true quad-core overclocking processor on the cheap.

Honorable Mention:
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 remains a good match-up against the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition. Even without an unlocked multiplier, the E7500 is an excellent overclocker and won't disappoint.

It has a high clock rate, but its dual-core design won't be as nimble as AMD's triple-core offerings when it comes to multi-threaded apps. Most folks considering this CPU are probably trying to squeeze longevity from an older LGA 775 platform. If you're looking to upgrade your motherboard as well, it'd be best to consider a Phenom II or Core i3 instead.

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition

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 $40 premium over the Athlon II X3 440? For overclocking 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 Black Edition 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, and its starting to disappear fast. We're already having trouble finding it available online.

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