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 910e||Deneb||2.6 GHz||4||6MB||65W||$170|
|Phenom II X2 555 BE||Callisto||3.2 GHz||2||6MB||80W||$100|
|Athlon II X4 635||Propus||2.9 GHz||4||None||95W||$126|
|Athlon II X3 440||Rana||3.0 GHz||3||None||95W||$89|
|Athlon II X2 255||Regor||3.1 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.