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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2010

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2010
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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.

February Review and March Updates

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.

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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  • 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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