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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: February '10

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: February '10
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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.

January Review and February Updates

In January, AMD supplied us with a significant speed bump and refresh of its entire sub-$130 CPU lineup. 

AMD's New Processor Speed Bumps
Model
Code Name
Clock
CPU Cores
L3 Cache
Power
Street Price
Phenom II X4 910eDeneb
2.6 GHz
4
6MB
65W
$170
Phenom II X2 555 BECallisto
3.2 GHz
2
6MB80W
$100
Athlon II X4 635
Propus2.9 GHz
4
None95W
$126
Athlon II X3 440
Rana3.0 GHz
3
None95W$89
Athlon II X2 255Regor3.1 GHz
2
None
65W$78


While there is no new technology here, the refresh represents a solid 100 MHz speed bump for the entire Athlon II lineup, in addition to a couple of Phenom II models. This in itself isn't much to get excited about but, when combined with price cuts (in many cases, the newer, faster models are the same price as the ones they're replacing), this delivers a welcome increase in AMD's value proposition. Particularly, a gamer might be excited about the Athlon II X3 440. Operating 100 MHz faster than the 435 model, the 440 is already found at the same street price as the older processor, which had already established itself as a solid gaming value.

There have been other price changes, too. Particularly the Phenom II X4 940 and 945 have dropped to $145/$150. This is an appropriate move, since they were formerly found at the same price as the superior Phenom II X4 955 BE. This brings these processors face to face with the new Core i3-540 and makes for a good match-up.

But the prices haven't all dropped; some have gone up. It looks like pricing models are still being tweaked now that there is a comprehensive lineup of Intel mainstream CPUs. Quite a few models from the Intel camp seem to be a little more expensive these days, including the Core i7-940 and -975 Extreme.

We've seen more gaming data regarding Intel's sub-$200 Pentium and Core i3 CPUs, and we're subsequently withdrawing the Pentium G6950 as a gaming recommendation. While overclocking this processor can yield good results, baseline game performance is so dismal that a gamer is better served elsewhere. We've already had some G6950 overclocking adventures, and we're not going to include it as a recommended product until we can see how it plays when pushed to limits it can live with. You can expect that review to follow in February. The Core i3 models do look to be more promising, and we'll also be exploring those, in addition to the new AMD lineup in the near future.

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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  • 8 Hide
    siliconchampion , February 22, 2010 6:00 AM
    Just yesterday, I built and tweaked my friend's computer for him. I used the Athlon ii x3 435 (from stock 2.9GHz), 4 gigs of ddr3 1600 gskill memory, and the asus Formula Crosshair motherboard, and the combo is amazing together. I used the CM Hyper 212+ for the cpu cooler.

    The Athlon X3 definitely has overclocking headroom. I overclocked it to 3.51 GHz on stock voltages, with the memory running at 1667 MHz, and that was a breeze to hit. I bsod'd at 3.9, booted but not stable at 3.8-3.6 at stock voltages, and settled in at 3.5 GHz. At the moment, his system is bottlenecked by a GT 240 which he will be replacing, so I'll push it farther, later.

    What is most impressive about the Athlon ii's to me are the temps they run at. I use a Propus at stock 2.6 GHz in my HTPC, and at 70 degrees fahrenheit ambient, it idles at 24 degrees and maxes out at 37 degrees celcius on stock cooling.

    I had to check my eyes when I saw what temps my friends processor was running at though. Through a combo of good case airflow, the Hyper 212, and some arctic silver 5, while running at 3.5 GHz on 1.4V, in the same ambient temps, the processor idles at 19 degrees C, and maxes at 36 degrees C. I couldn't believe it. I checked with coretemp, speedfan, and the bios for those temps.

    Overall, my props go out to amd's new athlon ii line. they dish up great performance and great overclockability, at an awesome price.
  • 9 Hide
    shubham1401 , February 22, 2010 7:05 AM
    At 75$ Athlon II X3 435 is very impressive chip.

    Love the article and the hierarchy chart as well!! :) 
  • 8 Hide
    ta152h , February 22, 2010 7:25 AM
    osseJust wonder how some can say that I7 or I5 is a faster gaming cpu.There are 4 tests so far on gamersettings with radeon 5850, 5870 and 5890. Well xbit lab i actually dont count as a valid test, becouse they paired x8 Crossfire, Am2+ motherbored with 2 gb DDR2 of ram vs i7 x16 crossfire and 6 gb DDR 3 ram.http://www.legionhardware.com/LegionHardwareI7 vs phii 965 both at 4 ghz and with radeon 5970Phenom wins 5 of 9Ties 1I7 wins 3 of 9http://www.guru3d.com/article/phenom-ii-x4-965-be-revision-c3-review-test/16Guru3d - I7-940 vs phii 965 at stock with 5870.Brother in Arms- På stocki 1024x768 I7-940 beatsPHII 965 with 5 fpsi 1920x1080 PHII 965 beats I7-940 with 3 fpsCrysis warheadi 1024x768 I7-940 beats PHII 965 with 6 fpsi 1920x1080 tiesResident Evili 1024x768 I7-940 beats PHII 965 47 fpsi 1920x1080 I7-940 beats PHII 965 30 fpsFar Cryi 1024x768 I7-940 beats PHII 965 with 25 fpsi 1920x1080 PHII 965 beats I7-940 with 5 fpshttp://benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=384&Itemid=63&limit=1&limitstart=7I5-750 vs phII 965 - With radeon 5850Devil May Cry 4 BenchmarkBenchmark Reviews uses the DirectX 10 test set at 1920x1200 resolution to test with 8x AA (highest common AA setting available between GeForce and Radeon video cards) and 16x AF. The benchmark runs through four different test scenes, but scenes #2 and #4 usually offer the most graphical challenge.Sene 2I5-750 - Loses with 4,8 fpsSene 4I5-750 – Loses with 4,4 fpsFar Cry 2 BenchmarkBenchmark Reviews used the maximum settings allowed for DirectX 10 tests, with the resolution set to 1920x1200. Performance settings were all set to 'Very High', Render Quality was set to 'Ultra High' overall quality, 8x anti-aliasing was applied, and HDR and Bloom were enabled.I5-750 – Loses with 1,8 fpsResident Evil 5 TestsBenchmark Reviews uses the DirectX 10 version of the test at 1920x1200 resolution. Super-High quality settings are configured, with 8x MSAA post processing effects for maximum demand on the GPU. Test scenes from Area #3 and Area #4 require the most graphics processing power, and the results are collected for the chart illustrated below.Area 3#I5-750 – Loses with 1,6 fpsArea 4#i5-750 – Loses with 3,7 fpsSo yes if you want to play on low resulution and with eye candy off, i5 and i7 is superior, but can you see it ?, most lcd screens works on 60hz, witch meens 60fps.But what happens when u turn eyecandy and resolution up.As far as i can count of the 3 valid tests on gamersettigsPhenom II 965 has 12 winsTies 2 timesPhenom II 965 looses 4 timesWell one time major, but this should tell u that in most games Phenom II is evry bit as good as i5 and i7, actually a littel better.This also should tell evryone that is interested in hardware that testing on low res and with eyecandy off do not tell the truth wich cpu is a good gamercpu.


    Please tell me you're not comparing a AMD processor overclocked to 4 GHz, with the stock clock speed of the i7 940. Because I looked at your benchmark, being surprised that the lowly Phenom would beat an i7 940, and found it got raped, except when overclocked to 4 GHz.

    Why waste your time writing such a long message when it's nonsense? Are you hoping that by posting a link, no one would follow it and just believe you?

    Or, did you create a long post so, as Winston Churchill said "This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.".
  • 6 Hide
    FlorinR , February 22, 2010 7:46 AM
    What are you on?
  • -1 Hide
    Yahzi , February 22, 2010 9:08 AM
    So what is the consensus ? Is the i5 750 faster than the 965 or not ? Some websites show superior performance in some games (stock0, others show worse performance. Is there really a consensus that can be made or does it really depend on the game ?
  • -7 Hide
    Sihastru , February 22, 2010 9:21 AM
    The idea is the top of the line Phenom II X4 can be just as good as the low end i7 (7x0) in certain games, since games are more about the graphics card then the CPU (we're talking about quad cores here, so plenty of power to be harnessed by any game), but if you also use your computer for other things, not just games, you're better off with an i7. I know overall an i7 can/will be more expensive then a PII, but you feel so much better when your CPU "PWNS anything out there", and not just offer "the best bang for the buck" while loosing in 90% of the applications.
  • 2 Hide
    Reynod , February 22, 2010 11:11 AM
    Don thanks for the latest roundup ... nice read.

  • 0 Hide
    SininStyle , February 22, 2010 11:14 AM
    looking at your numbers you can conclude the phenom can keep up but only keep up. the i7 either loses by such a small margin it cant be noticed or wins by a HUGE margin.

    losing by 3-5fps isnt enough for me to call it a loss. others maybe. I will say though a tie has to go in the phenoms favor due to the cheaper pricing.

    Still you cant ignore the games like Resident Evil. Could very well be the sign of things to come. The other games just are not coded to take advantage of what the i7 chips can truly do and thats no fault of the chip. Tomorrows games could very well all take full advantage and where does that leave the phenom owner? wishing he spent a few bucks more few months back.
  • 0 Hide
    Yahzi , February 22, 2010 11:19 AM
    I'm seriously considering either the Phenom chip or the i5 750. I just can't seem to get a definitive answer on whether either chip is overall faster for gaming. I don't program or run 3d modeling software, I just want the best value CPU possible for the money.

    Some sites claim the 965 is faster while others contradict those findings so it makes it very difficult for prospective buyers to make up their minds. Then there are lots of people here that swear by the i5 750 chip. Makes my head hurt. :) 

    I could be wrong on this, but all things being equal, competing within the same performance bracket, the Intel motherboards tend to be more pricey than their AMD competitors not to mention the memory requirements.

    Again, just want the fastest CPU for the money. I've got a Radeon 5770 card at the moment on a AMD x2 6000+. I know either way, whether I go Intel or AMD, both should offer substantially better performance even with my current card, but I want the best for the money.

    So, is there an easy answer to this ? : - )
  • -8 Hide
    osse , February 22, 2010 11:37 AM
    According to reviews on Gamersettings the phii 965 has the margins on its side. But u should also consider the motherbordcost. Among that is the crossfiresupport, as far as i seen u have to pay quite much for an 1156 motherbord with at least 8x8 crossfiresupport, most comes with x4 on the second pcie slot.

    And well there will not be such a big diffrence that u think with just one 5770 and AMD 6000 vs i5 or phii 965. The diffrence will come when you move to 2 x 5770.

    But since u want the best gaming setup, and u have one 5770, u should at least get a motherboard with x8 crossfiresupport. Preferabel x16.

    On the AMD side then you are looking for a 790x chipset for 8x8 CF support, and 790FX for 16x16 crossfiresupport. With crossfire the diffrense will be between 2-5% better performance with 790FX. This according to a review anandtech had of CF of 4870.
  • -2 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , February 22, 2010 12:01 PM
    Things seemed to have slowed down a bit. Fermi is behind schedule. Any estimates on the next releases?
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 22, 2010 12:40 PM
    I disagree on the i5-750 CPU when you look to performance/price. The i7-860 has got an way better value and costs only 35 USD more. This 35 USD is worth the money when you look the performance!

    Source: http://www.microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtml?product_id=0317378
  • -8 Hide
    osse , February 22, 2010 12:55 PM
    @sininstyle

    Resident evil can obiously take adavatage of lots threads, and so will evry game that build on that game engine. And actually i do hope that it is that way the games go, beeing abel to take advantage of lots of treads.

    But is the money extra spent on I7 now worth it, sandy brigge and bulldozer are bout under a year away, wich both promise even better performanse.

    I do built quite a few rigs, and always tries to set up the best gamrigg for the budget. And i do always set up a rig in the following order, as long as it is a gamerigg, looking for the best grapic card within the budget, the grapic card has highter priority than the cpu, then a cpu fast enough to power the grapic card, then a motherbored and cpu that can take care of good crossfire support.

    For a mainstream gamerigg i also think its importent that it can power eyefinety, leaving the 5870 as the best graphic card, then at least x8 crossfiresupport, and 750w good psu.

    What i see of newbies that set up gameriggs, they put in an phii 965 or an i5-750 or even worse i7-920 or I7 860, teams it up with a 5770 and think they got a good gamerigg. The biggest drawback with the 1156 is the price of the motherboard with at least x8 crossfiresupport.
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