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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: June 2011

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: June 2011
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June saw an army of new processors pushed to retail: Intel's new Pentium G6xx and G8xx lines, fresh Core i3 and i5 models, and AMD's Athlon II X3 460 and Phenom II X4 980 (not to mention a preview of the Llano desktop APU in a few days). Details inside.

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.

June Updates

May saw the retail introduction of AMD's 3.4 GHz AMD Athlon II X3 460 and 3.7 GHz Phenom II X4 980 Black Edition, priced at $92.99 and $189.99, respectively. Both processors represent new 100 MHz speed bumps in their own families. They're built on the same 45 nanometer manufacturing process and feature the same amount of cache as previous Athlon II X3 and Phenom II X4 models. Though the pair boast the highest clock rates in the X3 and X4 lineups, neither is very attractive from a gaming standpoint when you consider that the Phenom II  X4 955 Black Edition is available for just under $115 right now; it's only $20 more expensive than the Athlon II X3 460, bears the same unlocked clock multiplier, and includes 6 MB of L3 cache, like the Phenom II X4 980.

AMD's desktop-class Fusion processor, code-names Llano, was first previewed in a reference notebook and proved to be an interesting component for budget-oriented gamers. Our first tests on the A8-3500M laptop derivative prove that this APU is about as fast as a Athlon II and Radeon HD 5570 operating at the same clocks. That could translate to a cost-effective budget gaming solution, assuming these processors are priced well. But AMD won't be releasing that information until tomorrow when the desktop version is ready to be previewed. We'll have to wait until then to see if this product offers ample performance for a low-cost rig.

Intel also launched a number of processors this month. Some of them appear to be in anticipation of Llano. Specifically, the company's $140 Core i3-2105 and $218 Core i5-2405S. Both boast specifications very similar to the 3.1 GHz Core i3-2100 and 2.5 GHz (3.3. GHz with Turbo Boost) Core i5-2400S, except they're also equipped with Intel's HD Graphics 3000 solution instead of the neutered 2000-level part standard on other desktop Sandy Bridge-based CPUs.

This is a step in the right direction for Intel, as we openly criticized its decision to limit the fastest graphics implementation to K-series parts. Unfortunately, that's not going to be enough to keep the Sandy Bridge architecture competitive with Llano in measures of 3D alacrity, though. Intel's hope now needs to be that Ivy Bridge includes enough improvements to catch the company back up. We don't have our fingers crossed, though. Intel introduced a Core i5-2310 with the standard Intel HD Graphics 2000 implementation too, but with 2.9 GHz (3.2 GHz maximum Turbo Boost) clocks, a 100 MHz speed bump over the Core i5-2300.

Intel also launched an entirely new line of LGA 1155-based Pentium processors, physically identical to the Core i3-2xxx models, but limited to two cores and two threads, as Hyper-Threading is disabled. Unlike the Clarkdale-based Pentium G6950, though, the new Pentium G6xx and G8xx-series SKUs include the full 3 MB cache proffered by the more expensive Core i3s. None of these processors sport Turbo Boost, and they're all armed with HD Graphics 2000. The four models are as follows: a 2.2 GHz Pentium 620T ($83, 35 W), a 2.6 GHz Pentium 620 ($78, 65 W), a 2.8 GHz Pentium 840 ($87, 65 W), and a 2.9 GHz Pentium 850 ($97, 65 W).

We can't draw any conclusions about the viability of these chips in a gaming environment, as we don't have one on-hand to test yet. If we use history as a gauge, the Pentium G6950 was dismal in comparison to the Clarkdale-based Core i3 lineup. However, these new models have a lot more shared L3 cache. Really, the only feature differentiating the two families is Hyper-Threading. Only testing will tell (yes, we're working on that) whether the new Pentiums can displace AMD's more value-oriented sub-$100 parts.

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
  • 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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