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Best Gaming CPU: $100-$200

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: June 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for $115:

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 $115 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 budget-oriented processor can out-game the Phenom II X4. But AMD's CPU is a good entertainment-oriented option better suited to multitasking, thanks to its quad-core architecture. And at its new low price, it remains a recommendable option.

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 fluid 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 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

Intel's Sandy Bridge microarchitechture is undeniably fast. 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 Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

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Top Comments
  • 24 Hide
    tacoslave , June 29, 2011 4:28 AM
    amd needs bulldozer thats one thing we can all agree on.
  • 16 Hide
    dogman_1234 , June 29, 2011 4:33 AM
    Good review. I love the best Gaming CPU monthly. Ready for BD and to give a run against IB as well. will be interesting to see what AMD has to offer against the king i7-2600K.
  • 15 Hide
    undead_assault , June 29, 2011 4:46 AM
    hmmm, nice reviews! But since you guys only updated a little sections because there are not much new CPU's to compare, please consider a new article like Best Gaming Motherboard (for AMD & Intel) For The Money!

    If that's too much, you can begin with new platforms first (AMD 900 series, Intel 1155, 1366).

    Thanks Toms, you rocks!
Other Comments
  • 24 Hide
    tacoslave , June 29, 2011 4:28 AM
    amd needs bulldozer thats one thing we can all agree on.
  • 2 Hide
    wildeast , June 29, 2011 4:29 AM
    Good job again with these articles, always keeping me updated about the best buy. :) 
    I noticed there is no i5 2400 in the Hierarchy Chart though.
  • 16 Hide
    dogman_1234 , June 29, 2011 4:33 AM
    Good review. I love the best Gaming CPU monthly. Ready for BD and to give a run against IB as well. will be interesting to see what AMD has to offer against the king i7-2600K.
  • 15 Hide
    undead_assault , June 29, 2011 4:46 AM
    hmmm, nice reviews! But since you guys only updated a little sections because there are not much new CPU's to compare, please consider a new article like Best Gaming Motherboard (for AMD & Intel) For The Money!

    If that's too much, you can begin with new platforms first (AMD 900 series, Intel 1155, 1366).

    Thanks Toms, you rocks!
  • 3 Hide
    jdw_swb , June 29, 2011 5:05 AM
    2500K all the way for gaming. Awesome CPU for an amazing price.

    OC's effortlessly, and rips through every game it meets.
  • 3 Hide
    lothdk , June 29, 2011 6:06 AM
    Since the Phenom II X4 955 is now a Best Gaming CPU you might want to edit the last paragraph that reads

    Quote:
    But AMD's CPU retains an honorable mention as a good entertainment-oriented option better suited to multitasking, thanks to its quad-core architecture. And at its new low price, it remains a recommendable option.
  • 2 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , June 29, 2011 6:36 AM
    well, i went i7 2600k. I was thinking that of i spend some money now ill get the best... but i was not sure becasue i wanted to wait for BD..bit it takes to long..
  • -5 Hide
    clonazepam , June 29, 2011 7:00 AM
    If Ivy Bridge is as boring to overclock as Sandy is I may go with Bulldozer even if there's a loss in performance, just for the fun of the tweaking inside and out. If BD's bad, then maybe i'll just go retro with the x58 platform and hope Intel puts the nail in its coffin with a new 1366 chip in 22nm flavor... hmmm I should start writing that letter.
  • -1 Hide
    renz496 , June 29, 2011 7:03 AM
    honestly i hope bulldozer able to make i5 2500k much more affordable :p 
  • 0 Hide
    clonazepam , June 29, 2011 7:06 AM
    I hope there's an extreme series of sandy and ivy that replace the graphics section with bigger L1, L2, and L3 caches all shared up and pretty.
  • 4 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , June 29, 2011 7:06 AM
    clonazepamIf Ivy Bridge is as boring to overclock as Sandy is I may go with Bulldozer even if there's a loss in performance, just for the fun of the tweaking inside and out. If BD's bad, then maybe i'll just go retro with the x58 platform and hope Intel puts the nail in its coffin with a new 1366 chip in 22nm flavor... hmmm I should start writing that letter.

    In what way is SB boring to overclock? you get amazing performance for little money.....i think your really missing something here, maybe do some more reading about SB overclocking.
  • 0 Hide
    haplo602 , June 29, 2011 7:06 AM
    dual opteron 2220 here ... plenty fast for what I need. looking for a better GPU :-)
  • 0 Hide
    clonazepam , June 29, 2011 7:08 AM
    Most only need to change voltage and multiplier. Compare that to socket 775 and even moreso involved overclocking the x58 and AMD's platforms. I know I have issues and am OCD so normal folks won't understand I just really enjoy tweaking the system endlessly for better performance gains... That's just me. I'm special.
  • -2 Hide
    clonazepam , June 29, 2011 7:12 AM
    I'm loving that core i3, want that, max ram, single slot low power grfx, most efficient mobo, and a case with 6 to 8 drive bays. I bought my cheap 4 port sata II pci-x1 slot card for it, now need the rest hehe.

    I have to read up on watercooling but I'd like to do a nice passive water cooling setup with a fan on the drive bays only. I wanna beefy NAS.

    I'll worry about overclocking whenever i decide between bulldozer / sb / and ib for the new multimedia creation gaming station.
  • 4 Hide
    lunyone , June 29, 2011 8:53 AM
    I'd like to see the best mobo/CPU combo for gaming for the $!!!
  • 0 Hide
    ubercake , June 29, 2011 9:18 AM
    I can get an i5-2500K (4-core no HT) or an i7-960 (4-core with HT) at Microcenter for $180 these days. For gaming, I'd suggest the i5-2500K at this price point.
  • 2 Hide
    silverblue , June 29, 2011 10:02 AM
    widream and eidream are two examples of the new spam craze that seems to have hit this site over the past few days or so. I honestly don't get what they're trying to say.

    The i5-2500K is still looking to be the perfect choice for the enthusiast. due to its unique architecture, I am not placing any bets on Bulldozer being a top-tier gaming CPU; its capabilities seem far more suited to server workloads. However, I did think that about Sledgehammer and Barcelona, so maybe I'm wrong, especially considering AMD seems to want to resurrect the FX branding.
  • -6 Hide
    tomate2 , June 29, 2011 10:56 AM
    comments are getting so repetitive!
    waiting for bulldozer and stuff...
    is it not obvious enough that EVERYONE is waiting to see some benches for bulldozer??
    or that it needs something to compete with the sandy bridge k cpus?
    amd didnt launch a new line of performance cpus for how many years?
    everyone knows that they need bulldozer
    stop stating the obvious... its getting old
  • 3 Hide
    Onus , June 29, 2011 11:55 AM
    I chose a X4 970 over a x4 955 recently because the benchmarks over at Anandtech show the faster chip also using considerably less power, a difference that would become even more pronounced if I OC'ed a 955 to 970 speeds.
  • -2 Hide
    grody , June 29, 2011 2:01 PM
    Well this was a yawnfest. Not much has changed since the last 2 times they did this.
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