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Best Gaming CPU: $140-$195

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2010
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Best gaming CPU for $140:

Core i3-540 (Check Prices)

Core i3-540
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.06 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache:   4 x 32KB
L2 Cache:   2 x 256KB
L3 Cache: 4MB
Thermal Envelope:
73W

Another one of Intel's new Core i3 processors, the gaming data we have seen for this i3-540 looks promising. While it isn't going to perform all that much better than the -530, its higher multiplier will be a boon for overclockers, and the price might be justified for some.

Bear in mind that, although Intel launched this processor alongside the H55 and H57 chipsets, gamers are likely going to want to stick with P55 when they shop for an LGA 1156-equipped motherboard, even if it means ignoring the integrated graphics core built onto the Core i3-540. When used with Clarkdale-based processors, Intel's H55 and H57 chipsets aren't able to divide on-package PCI Express connectivity between CrossFire and SLI graphics configurations.

Best gaming CPU for $160:

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.2 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
125W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II family, the Phenom II X4 955 BE has been relegated to second-place status by the newer Phenom II X4 965 BE model. Now at $160, it offers a very compelling price/performance ratio for a true quad-core unlocked processor with gobs of cache.

Read our review of the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, right here.

Best gaming CPU for $180:

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (New C3 stepping) (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (C3 Stepping)
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.4 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
125W

While the Phenom II X4 955 and 965 both share an unlocked multiplier, the new revision 965 model's C3 stepping has been shown to be quite overclock-friendly compared to previous models. If you're looking for an AMD processor with the maximum overclocking headroom, just make sure you're buying the new 125 watt C3 stepping of the processor, not the older 140 watt version.

Read our review of the new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, right here.

Best gaming CPU for $190: None

Honorable Mention:
Core 2 Quad Q9400 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Quad Q9400
Codename: Yorkfield
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2 x 3MB
Front Side Bus: 1,333 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

The Core 2 Quad line isn't as strong as Intel's lone Lynnfield-based Core i5 model, but the older processors certainly aren't slouches either. On a clock-for-clock basis, the Core 2 Quad tends to perform a little bit better than AMD's Phenom II X4.

The Core 2 Quad Q9400 is a strong competitor for the Phenom II X4 955 and will overclock well, despite its locked CPU multiplier. Even in the face of a somewhat low stock clock, 6MB of shared L2 cache and a speedy 1,333 MHz front side bus help the chip compete aggressively for less than $200. With the Phenom II X4 965 and Core i5-750 priced so close, this one should only really be a consideration for the gamer upgrading an LGA 775-based machine.

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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    requiemsallure , March 15, 2010 7:54 AM
    Umm is it just me or do they still have the i7-920 up there?

    hmm it seems to me like that is a worthless recommendation unless you live near a microcenter. as the i7-930 has a higher core clock by about 200mhz and has a higher multiplier, for just $5-ish more. please change your list to reflect this or give a reason why it isn't on the list.
Other Comments
  • -8 Hide
    shubham1401 , March 15, 2010 6:38 AM
    Please add Core i7-980X to the Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart :) 
  • 6 Hide
    Onus , March 15, 2010 6:46 AM
    Ok, you've decided what tier you want to be on. Which platform do you choose, and why? A comprehensive comparative review of the currently available platforms (including the older AM2 and LGA775 for upgraders) would be useful.
  • 7 Hide
    cruiseoveride , March 15, 2010 6:46 AM
    I picked up an X3 440 3.0Ghz based on this article. Great CPU. Managed to get 4 cores out of it even.
  • -4 Hide
    aandea , March 15, 2010 6:46 AM
    Core i7-860, -870, -920, -940, -950
    is missing the , -960
  • -4 Hide
    aandea , March 15, 2010 6:47 AM
    Core i7-860, -870, -920, -940, -950
    is missing the ", -960"
  • -1 Hide
    TheGreatGrapeApe , March 15, 2010 7:00 AM
    For those anonymous readers with trouble figuring products out;
    http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=42915
    http://ark.intel.com/ProductCollection.aspx?familyID=42912
  • 0 Hide
    p1n3apqlexpr3ss , March 15, 2010 7:14 AM
    Good to hear the i3s are becoming better value, but have yet to find a article comparing its performance to a true quad
  • 0 Hide
    blackjellognomes , March 15, 2010 7:47 AM
    jtt283Ok, you've decided what tier you want to be on. Which platform do you choose, and why? A comprehensive comparative review of the currently available platforms (including the older AM2 and LGA775 for upgraders) would be useful.

    Including older platforms would make this article way too long. I'm sure you can find the kind of reviews you're talking about in the forums.
  • 10 Hide
    requiemsallure , March 15, 2010 7:54 AM
    Umm is it just me or do they still have the i7-920 up there?

    hmm it seems to me like that is a worthless recommendation unless you live near a microcenter. as the i7-930 has a higher core clock by about 200mhz and has a higher multiplier, for just $5-ish more. please change your list to reflect this or give a reason why it isn't on the list.
  • 3 Hide
    kokin , March 15, 2010 10:07 AM
    I'm hoping the new hexa cores will be able to push everything else down a tier or maybe even see AMD fill in that empty first tier.
  • 0 Hide
    shreeharsha , March 15, 2010 10:38 AM
    Good to see 9 AMD Processors mentioned as best (for that price point) and only 5 intel Processors
  • 2 Hide
    shubham1401 , March 15, 2010 10:47 AM
    Quote:
    Good to see 9 AMD Processors mentioned as best (for that price point) and only 5 intel Processors



    Typical Fanboy
  • 8 Hide
    chunkymonster , March 15, 2010 10:56 AM
    I knew AMD was successful in the low end market, but I didn't they were THAT successful!

    The Athlon II X4 620 is a great bargain!



  • 3 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 15, 2010 12:25 PM
    couple suggestions:
    a) Be consequent in the specs! For instance the i3 series boards have mentions of cores/threads wheras the 1366 based i7 systems only state cores. Also teh i5 is missing qpi data.
    b) None of the core i series processors have a mention of turbo mode speed nor is fsb listed for processors where it is relevant. Perhaps even add an 'unlocked multiplier' spec to the processors where applicable (black and extreme ed processors).
    c) Maybe also mention the amount of pcie lanes and wether or not the processor has ecc support (if any of the recommended even support that? xeon w3520 does, and opterons do - both run in [some] desktop boards). You may argue that ecc support slows performance and therefore isn't wanted - but ecc support means cheaper access to 4gb memory modules.
    4) that's perhaps a stretch, but add a spec that mentions which chipsets are supporting the cpu. Particularily important for the two core 2 processors as someone with lga775 won't nessecarily be able to run the processors just because the socket fits. Same goes for older am+ systems hoping to upgrade to a phenom x3. Don't really expect this last request to be within the reasonable limits of what can be expected from a 'quick list of processors'
  • 4 Hide
    cleeve , March 15, 2010 1:10 PM
    neiroatopelcccouple suggestions:a) Be consequent in the specs! Fo


    Good points, Neiro. I'll update the format for next month.
  • 1 Hide
    JohnMD1022 , March 15, 2010 1:35 PM
    If you are within driving distance or a microcenter store, or know anyone who is, check their prices.

    A friend got an i7 920 for 199.99 on Saturday (March 13, 2010).

    http://www.microcenter.com/search/search_results.phtml?web_group=byopc_proc
  • 0 Hide
    JohnMD1022 , March 15, 2010 1:49 PM
    In fact, while they do not carry every processor on this list, for the one's they do carry, they are usually lowest in price, often by large margins, e.g., i7 975 for 799.99.
  • 0 Hide
    neiroatopelcc , March 15, 2010 1:53 PM
    If all processors they carry are cheaper than here, what's your problem? the ratios are still going to match up then.
    Here in Denmark all the prices are higher, but since the ratios are similar the list is quite useful.
  • 1 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , March 15, 2010 2:18 PM
    it seems like there were a lot of honorable mentions this month.
  • 1 Hide
    dertechie , March 15, 2010 2:47 PM
    p1n3apqlexpr3ssGood to hear the i3s are becoming better value, but have yet to find a article comparing its performance to a true quad


    Check Anand's article on them. Particularly the launch article.
    Short form:
    1-2 threads they do great. However, it should be noted that an i7-860 comes within 5% of the single-thread performance of an i5-661 and beats the i3s. The i3s are comparable to a high-end C2D here.
    Light multithreading they still beat the Athlons and show very well for themselves. In other words, they game very well with a good GPU.
    At 4 heavy threads though, the limitations of HT start to show. It lets otherwise wasted cycles be used productively, that's it. Athlon X3s and X4s meet and beat them respectively. The PII quads and i5/i7 quads just eat them alive on heavily threaded benchmarks.
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