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Best Gaming CPU: $110-$200

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: May 2011

Best Gaming CPU for $120: None

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II X4 family, the Phenom II X4 955 offers the best value in AMD's lineup. It is a true quad-core processor with a large 6 MB L3 cache and an unlocked clock multiplier. From our experience, the great majority of Phenom II X4 955 processors can run just as fast as a Phenom II X4 975 through a simple BIOS multiplier change from 16x to 18x. That's an easy way to put this $120 processor on par with a stock ~$210 Core i5-760 when it comes to gaming.

The real competition for the Phenom II X4 955 BE is Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2100. Intel's new budget-oriented processor can out-game the Phenom II X4. But AMD's CPU retains an honorable mention as a good entertainment-oriented option better suited to multitasking, thanks to its quad-core architecture.

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

Best Gaming CPU for $125:
Core i3-2100 (Check Prices)

Core i3-2100
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.1 GHz
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 3 MB
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

As our Who's Got Game? Twelve Sub-$200 CPUs Compared article proved, the budget Core i3-2100 is a surprisingly capable force in the gaming arena, able to beat the powerful quad-core CPUs that have traditionally dominated this price segment. And with budget LGA 1155-based motherboards readily available below $70, this processor is a great starting point for folks who want to enjoy fast gaming now with an option to upgrade to Core i5 or i7 CPUs in the future.

Yes, you have to essentially forsake the potential for overclocking, given (what we consider to be) enthusiast-unfriendly locks on the multiplier and a BCLK with very little room to scale beyond 100 MHz. But the stock performance is compelling, and this CPU still warrants a recommendation.

Read our review of the new Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

Best Gaming CPU for $190:
Core i5-2400 (Check Prices)

Core i5-2400
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.1 GHz (3.4 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

Sandy Bridge is here, and Intel's new microarchitechture is fast. Initial test data suggests that the new Core i5-2400 can stand toe-to-toe with Core i7-900-series processors when it comes to game performance. We're not talking about the entry-level models, either. This affordable processor has the chops to compete with Intel's thousand-dollar Extreme Edition chips when it comes to enabling the highest frames per second.

As great as the Core i5-700-series chips are, the new Core i5-2000 processors hit the afterburners and fly right by. Plus, the LGA 1156 interface is essentially dead, so it seems silly to sink any money into it at this point.

Read our review of the new Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    cuecuemore , May 27, 2011 4:19 AM
    This article should be one line long: "2500k. Buy it. Now."
Other Comments
  • 3 Hide
    jdw_swb , May 27, 2011 4:10 AM
    Just got my 2500K a few weeks ago...upgraded from E8200 3.2Ghz.

    Awesome CPU, OC'd to 4.5GHz easily, flies through everything. Such an improvement on my fav games (BFBC2, Civ 5, Football Manager).

  • 14 Hide
    cuecuemore , May 27, 2011 4:19 AM
    This article should be one line long: "2500k. Buy it. Now."
  • 7 Hide
    Supermuncher85 , May 27, 2011 4:30 AM
    Have to ask though why the x4 820 is not on the list. It has been around 100$ for some time and is 200mhz higher clocked than the 640
  • 3 Hide
    7dragons , May 27, 2011 4:48 AM
    Got my friend's sister to use her Intel employee discount to get me a 2500k for a $100 -- best favor I ever begged for. Hands down!
  • -5 Hide
    billj214 , May 27, 2011 5:02 AM
    I'm still running X58/i7 930 with plans to go to i7 970 or 990x but now it would be cheaper to just buy the i5 or i7 sandy bridge setup! I don't see any future for X58, lets hope Intel can keep it alive a little longer with a new chip!

    Also my 2 cents but if the price difference between the low and high end chips is only ~$100 I seriously think we may be seeing the last of the "best CPU for the money"!

    Seriously people go buy the Sandy Bridge!
  • 1 Hide
    haplo602 , May 27, 2011 5:23 AM
    hmm just got a dual opteron 2220 system up and running... gues I'm somwhere in the stone age :-))) but compared to the athlon XP I had previously, it's a huge jump.
  • 4 Hide
    clonazepam , May 27, 2011 5:33 AM
    Im still clutching onto my q6600. I'm gonna lap it and the H50 to push it over 3.6ghz when i grow some cahones.
  • 0 Hide
    Stardude82 , May 27, 2011 5:54 AM
    Gotta wait for another month to see where the new Pentiums shake-out...

    There still is no such thing as a "Core 2 Duo E5500."
  • 0 Hide
    lothdk , May 27, 2011 6:08 AM

    It may just be me, but I can not seem to find the i5-2400 (that you recommend at $190) in the Hierarchy Chart.
  • -4 Hide
    varun706 , May 27, 2011 7:57 AM
    Still sticking to my beloved INTEL
  • 0 Hide
    ben850 , May 27, 2011 8:26 AM
    Sucks to see AMD slipping. Fortunately they are still in the "realistic" CPU market. Enthusiast, not so much.
  • 3 Hide
    lossos , May 27, 2011 9:21 AM
    Hi, Pentium G62x and G8xx in hierarchy chart?
  • 0 Hide
    lossos , May 27, 2011 9:24 AM
    missing Pentium G62x,G8xx in hierarchy chart?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , May 27, 2011 11:01 AM
    And on the budget side, isn't pentium G840 and G850 out yet?
  • 0 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , May 27, 2011 11:22 AM
    Still in good shape. No need or requirement to update.
  • 1 Hide
    twile , May 27, 2011 11:45 AM
    I picked up an i7-2600K the other week, and was surprised to find that my performance was remarkably better in games. Previously my Q6600 had been complemented by a pair of GTX 260s, and I figured the Q6600 was fast enough to not be a limiting factor. I was very wrong. Quite happy with the 2600K.
  • 2 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , May 27, 2011 11:49 AM
    clonazepamIm still clutching onto my q6600. I'm gonna lap it and the H50 to push it over 3.6ghz when i grow some cahones.

    so you should. It runs clock for clock with a phenom II x4, sometimes faster per clock in games. AMD really needs bulldozer, those phenoms are not cutting it, even in price/performance. Cant even compete with a SB core i3 clock for clock in any game benchmark i have seen.
  • 1 Hide
    verbalizer , May 27, 2011 12:03 PM
    to all you i7-2600K boneheads... LOL

    " Take the Core i5-2500, add 2 MB of L3 cache, Hyper-Threading, and a 100 MHz bump across the board. What do you have? The Core i7-2600K.
    It doesn't sound like much of an improvement, and frankly it will make remarkably little difference when it comes to gaming. The $100 spread between the Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K is only recommended if you want to brag, because you're probably not going to notice any appreciable frame rate difference. The Core i7's strength is only really exploited in heavily-threaded workstation applications, rather than games.
    But no list is complete without the best-of-the-best, and that's the Core i7-2600K. For $330 you can have a CPU that games faster than the $1000 hexa-core Core i7-990X Extreme. "

    I'm sticking with my i5-760 @ 3.4GHz and my 955BE @ 3.6GHz well into the end of the year or beginning of next
    Bulldozer and/or Ivy is indeed the shiznit..
  • 2 Hide
    karma831 , May 27, 2011 12:07 PM
    So basically what I've gotten from this month's article is that if you're looking to spend over $100 dollars on a CPU it should be an intel. I really hope bulldozer changes things when its released. Competition is always good for us consumers.
  • 0 Hide
    verbalizer , May 27, 2011 12:20 PM
    not necessarily true on the Intel statement.
    I do too wish for Bulldozer to be a success..
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