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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.
Since the introduction of Intel's Core i3 and i5 CPUs, coupled with AMD's refresh of its Athlon II and Phenom II lineup, things have been quiet on the CPU front. We've been relatively free of earth-shattered debuts or technology announcements. The biggest news might be the disappearance of the retail version of AMD's Phenom II X3 720 CPU. This was expected, as that part was an expensive one for AMD to manufacture. Happily, this model can still be found as an OEM part. But with the retail version missing in action, we wonder how long that will last.
Prices have definitely shifted as the market settles down after the two aforementioned launches. In general, a few sub-$100 CPUs have dropped a couple of dollars in price. The high-end Phenom II CPUs dropped five to ten dollars, increasing the delta from AMD's best to the popular Core i5-750. The new Core i3-540 also dropped to $140, scoring it a solid recommendation.
There may be some surprises in the near future. We know that Intel pulled the veil from its Core i7-980X processor last week and that we should be expecting it in the first half of 2010. We haven't received any news on an official launch date of AMD's own six-core contender, but we know that's coming soon, too.
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.