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Best Gaming CPU: $110-$125

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: April 2010
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Best gaming CPU for $110: None

Honorable Mention:
Core 2 Duo E7500 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Duo E7500
Codename: Wolfdale-3M
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache:   3MB
Front Side Bus: 1,066 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

At 2.93 GHz, the Core 2 Duo E7500 remains a good match-up against the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition. Even without an unlocked multiplier, the E7500 is an excellent overclocker and won't disappoint. And the $110 price point is easy to swallow for upgraders.

It has a high clock rate, but its dual-core design won't be as nimble as AMD's triple-core offerings when it comes to multi-threaded apps. Most folks considering this CPU are probably trying to squeeze longevity from an older LGA 775 platform. If you're looking to upgrade your motherboard as well, it'd be best to consider a Phenom II or Core i3 instead.

Best gaming CPU for $120: 3-Way Tie

Athlon II X4 635 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X4 635
Codename: Propus
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.9 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

Offering a 100 MHz speed boost over the Athlon II X4 630, the new Athlon II X4 635 cannot be denied as a good option for overclockers who want four true execution cores.

This model isn't unlocked (it's not one of AMD's Black Edition chips), but it does sport a higher multiplier than the Athlon II X4 630, making it a solid quad-core processor with (ideally) a bit of scalability on the cheap. With a $120 asking price, there is a lot of value here.

Core i3-530 (Check Prices)

Core i3-530
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache:   4 x 32KB
L2 Cache:   2 x 256KB
L3 Cache: 4MB
Thermal Envelope:
73W

The Core i3-530 is a promising gaming CPU, despite its two physical cores. More importantly, it opens up a viable budget alternative to the AM3 platform. At $120, this CPU is a great starting point.

Stock performance is usually quite good from what we've seen, although you can't expect Hyper-Threading to yield the same performance gains as an additional physical core or two.

If you don't believe us, check out Thomas Soderstrom's look at gaming performance on a Core i3-530.

Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition

Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
Codename: Heka
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 2.8 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 128KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

We try and stick to retail processors when it comes to CPU recommendations because the costs of a cooler introduces a sizable variable. But in the case of the Phenom II X3 720, flagging retail availability forces us to make an exception.

The OEM version of this CPU is now $105. Add a $15 aftermarket cooler (such as the Cooler Master Hyper TX3), and you have a triple-core unlocked CPU on your hands for $120.

We're a bit torn here. On the one hand, we know that overclocking is the surest way to negate your warranty coverage. However, the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition not only has that unlocked multiplier, but we've also had some luck unlocking the fourth core on a handful of samples. The chance may or may not be worth the extra money you drop in this chip. Bear in mind, though, that it's an "expensive" model for AMD to sell, and its starting to disappear fast. The retail version has all but disappeared.

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Top Comments
  • 16 Hide
    surda , April 8, 2010 7:27 AM
    930 has replaced the 920 from 2.66 to 2.8 at the same price! im surprised that Intel didn't bump that price up, this is something unusual from Intel, but i like it, keep it up.
  • 12 Hide
    eddieroolz , April 8, 2010 11:21 AM
    As much as I like this article, I think people should wait until the Phenom II X6 comes out, which will (almost certainly) result in massive price cuts!
  • 10 Hide
    Onus , April 8, 2010 12:56 PM
    Considering the findings in the article about i3 for games, I think the emphasis on "gaming" needs to be dropped from this comparison. Unless results from specific CPU-dependent titles can be cited, it was clear that all modern CPUs are sufficiently powerful that which one you choose doesn't matter much. The question becomes, will the bottom recommended chip, the Regor 245, handle modern games at typical resolutions (e.g. 1680x1050) with ANY GPU?
    I think it would be useful to see the GAMES on the tiers, with the minimum CPU needed to play them well.
    In the meantime, it looks like it will take productivity apps, not games, to distinguish a difference between a machine running an Intel i7 and one running an Athlon X3.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 8, 2010 6:42 AM
    Core i7 920 phased out?
  • 3 Hide
    dlpatague , April 8, 2010 6:56 AM
    The 930 replaced the 920. This was not a sudden move. Intel said they were going to do this a while ago. I bought a 920 for my new computer at first. My plan was to buy the 930 when it came out and sell the 920 to my friend...which I did and it's a great chip.
  • 1 Hide
    lemonade4 , April 8, 2010 7:06 AM
    yeah.. it's all aboot the 930 now
  • 16 Hide
    surda , April 8, 2010 7:27 AM
    930 has replaced the 920 from 2.66 to 2.8 at the same price! im surprised that Intel didn't bump that price up, this is something unusual from Intel, but i like it, keep it up.
  • 0 Hide
    7amood , April 8, 2010 7:53 AM
    surda930 has replaced the 920 from 2.66 to 2.8 at the same price! im surprised that Intel didn't bump that price up, this is something unusual from Intel, but i like it, keep it up.

    is called marketing... that's how u keep a product flying off the shelves.
  • 1 Hide
    Tindytim , April 8, 2010 8:03 AM
    surda930 has replaced the 920 from 2.66 to 2.8 at the same price! im surprised that Intel didn't bump that price up, this is something unusual from Intel, but i like it, keep it up.

    They replaced the 940, with the 950, then the 960 at the same price points. And the 965ee was replaced by the 975ee also at the same price point.

    The i7-930 was actually release at an MSRP $10 higher than the processor it replaces.
  • 0 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , April 8, 2010 8:30 AM
    Yet again for the 4th month in a row I am amazed that the core 2 duo e7500 is still at least an honarable mention, I hope this stays here until at least July!!!!
  • 1 Hide
    shubham1401 , April 8, 2010 9:06 AM
    Quote:
    Yet again for the 4th month in a row I am amazed that the core 2 duo e7500 is still at least an honarable mention, I hope this stays here until at least July!!!!



    E7500 will remain the honorable mention until dual cores become obsolete for gaming.

    It is a decent performer and there are still many people who have LGA 775 Mobo :) 
  • 5 Hide
    xizel , April 8, 2010 10:10 AM
    still wondering if i do a simple upgrade to the honorable mention q9400 Now or wait a few months and do a full upgrade to PII X6.
  • 12 Hide
    eddieroolz , April 8, 2010 11:21 AM
    As much as I like this article, I think people should wait until the Phenom II X6 comes out, which will (almost certainly) result in massive price cuts!
  • 0 Hide
    mad_typist , April 8, 2010 12:30 PM
    The i7-930 can actually be snagged at a much lower cost if you watch sites like slickdeals.net you know. I got mine for $189 at Microcenter.
  • 2 Hide
    abhishekk89 , April 8, 2010 12:37 PM
    agree with eddieroolz... will wait and see if it turns out to be gr8 will buy one or else go for the good old i5 750...
  • 0 Hide
    hixbot , April 8, 2010 12:41 PM
    Nice job!
    I'm suprised you didn't mention that the core i3 can overclock to well over 4ghz on air.
  • 10 Hide
    Onus , April 8, 2010 12:56 PM
    Considering the findings in the article about i3 for games, I think the emphasis on "gaming" needs to be dropped from this comparison. Unless results from specific CPU-dependent titles can be cited, it was clear that all modern CPUs are sufficiently powerful that which one you choose doesn't matter much. The question becomes, will the bottom recommended chip, the Regor 245, handle modern games at typical resolutions (e.g. 1680x1050) with ANY GPU?
    I think it would be useful to see the GAMES on the tiers, with the minimum CPU needed to play them well.
    In the meantime, it looks like it will take productivity apps, not games, to distinguish a difference between a machine running an Intel i7 and one running an Athlon X3.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 8, 2010 1:26 PM
    The table of info on the Core i7-930 has "Core i7-920" in the header row, but the rest of the table appears to be correct (i.e., 2.8 GHz).
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/best-gaming-cpu,2599-6.html
  • 0 Hide
    bongobrain , April 8, 2010 3:06 PM
    Quote:
    Considering the findings in the article about i3 for games, I think the emphasis on "gaming" needs to be dropped from this comparison. Unless results from specific CPU-dependent titles can be cited, it was clear that all modern CPUs are sufficiently powerful that which one you choose doesn't matter much. The question becomes, will the bottom recommended chip, the Regor 245, handle modern games at typical resolutions (e.g. 1680x1050) with ANY GPU?
    I think it would be useful to see the GAMES on the tiers, with the minimum CPU needed to play them well.

    The i3 article shows that, given an HD 5850 and the subsequent resolutions/options (you don't buy a 5850 for a 1280*1024 monitor) , any processor upwards of or equal to an i3 will do.
    IMO it is hardly relevant to indicate what cpu you need for a game: the question is what gpu (class) at typical resolutions you need (the best graphic card series already gives an indication of playable resolutions in most games). The next question is: what is the minimum cpu to drive that class of gpu. So what I would like to see in the "cpu for your money"-series is an indication along the lines of "this cpu will drive gpu's up to (specify class/tier) without becoming the bottleneck". But perhaps this is what you mean?
    I do agree that gaming will no longer be the factor for choosing a cpu: that will be what you want your pc to do in the background while you're gaming....
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , April 8, 2010 3:31 PM
    cgramerThe table of info on the Core i7-930 has "Core i7-920" in the header row, but the rest of the table appears to be correct (i.e., 2.8 GHz).http://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] 599-6.html


    Thanks, fixed!
  • 3 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , April 8, 2010 4:07 PM
    Good to see the slight price reductions. Building a new system is getting to be expensive.
  • 9 Hide
    Onus , April 8, 2010 4:33 PM
    Quote:
    ...
    The next question is: what is the minimum cpu to drive that class of gpu. So what I would like to see in the "cpu for your money"-series is an indication along the lines of "this cpu will drive gpu's up to (specify class/tier) without becoming the bottleneck". But perhaps this is what you mean?
    ....

    Yes, essentially. A column could be added to the GPU chart (or two, one for Intel, one for AMD), "minimum CPU to NOT bottleneck this card;" although also whether or not a specific game is CPU- or GPU-dependent may affect the result. THIS crowd is always going to go at least one more level than we need anyway :sol: 
  • 1 Hide
    saint19 , April 8, 2010 4:55 PM
    Good, at least in this guide my X4 955 still in the list.
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