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.
The big news in March was the introduction of the worlds first hexa-core CPU for the desktop, Intel's Core i7-980X Extreme Edition processor. With six physical CPU cores and capable of running 12 threads thanks to Hyper-Threading, the 32nm Gulftown core is the most powerful desktop CPU on the planet, taking that top spot from the Core i7-975 Extreme processor. At $1,090 it's not a wise choice from a budgetary perspective, but we have to give it props for being the best gaming CPU money can buy. You can read more about the Core i7-980X Extreme here.
March also saw the commercial availability of Intel's Core i7-930 CPU, a 2.8 GHz model that nudges aside the older 2.66 GHz Core i7-920 favorite. Released at the same ~$290 price that the Core i7-920 has occupied for a long time, the new CPU takes our recommendation for a reasonably priced overclockable LGA 1366 CPU to pair with the powerful X58 chipset.
There wasn't too much else of note in the CPU realm, except for the price shifting we expect on a month-to-month basis. The Phenom II X2 550 BE and Athlon II X4 630 dropped about $10 each to $100 and $88, respectively. In the Intel camp, the Core i5-670 dropped $20 to $280, but the dual-core CPU still seems overpriced compared to the true quad-core Core i5-750. Owners of LGA 775 motherboards might be happy to hear that the Core 2 Duo E7000-series has come down a few dollars, making an upgrade from an older CPU easier to justify.
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.