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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: May 2011

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: May 2011

The month of May saw AMD make significant price cuts to its aging Athlon and Phenom families. Additionally, we have more news about the upcoming CPU and GPU hybrid, AMD's (code-named) Llano APU! Intel's prices didn't move much this month, unfortunately.

If you don’t have the time to research 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.

May Updates

AMD applied aggressive price cuts to its premium models in the past month. The most notable of these was the Phenom II X6 1100T, which dropped $30 and now sells for a flat $200 flat. This is the most powerful desktop-oriented processor in the company's portfolio. While AMD's hexa-core flagship may be a great deal for workstation users, most games don't take advantage of more than four execution cores, so it's not ideal for a dedicated entertainment machine.

Gamers should be more interested in the $120 Phenom II X4 955 BE and $110 Phenom II X4 925, SKUs that dropped $20 and $10, respectively. These quad-core models are better suited for gaming and general productivity, and overclockers naturally appreciate the Phenom II X4 955's unlocked multiplier.

Having said that, it's a testament to the effectiveness of Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture that dual-core Hyper-Threaded models like the Core i3-2100 demonstrate notably superior game performance in some benchmarks. Because of this, the Phenom II X4 955 retains an honorable mention, rather than garnering a full recommendation.

Current owners of AM2+- or AM3-compliant motherboards may find AMD's new prices to be an attractive impetus for an upgrade. And the company's quad-core architecture does demonstrate advantages over Intel's Core i3 in heavily-threaded applications. At $110, the Phenom II X4 925 would have made an interesting entry, were it not for the mere $10 spread between itself and AMD's X4 955. We do have to give the chip credit for pushing four cores and a full 6 MB of L3 cache to an all-time low price, though.

AMD's price changes sit in stark contrast to Intel's stagnant CPU lineup, composed of products that haven't really shifted at all on the price scale. It all goes to show that when you're on top, there's really no reason to discount products. To that end, here's hoping AMD can present something compelling when it launches Llano in June.

AMD's Llano Preview And Tech Day

While we can't go into detail about the Llano APU right now, we can tell you that we attended AMD's Llano Preview and Tech Day event, and that a date is set for us to publish details on this desktop-class CPU/GPU hybrid processor in the not-too-distant future.

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 available at retail.

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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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