Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Best Gaming CPU: Under $110

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2011
By

Best Gaming CPU for ~$80:

Athlon II X3 450 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 450
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Athlon II X3 450 is the second-fastest triple-core Athlon II available, and it sports an well-balanced combination of three execution cores, a high clock rate, a low price, and respectable overclocking headroom. Despite the pleasantly affordable buy-in, this processor delivers some serious gaming capability, qualifying it for the entry-level rung on our recommendation ladder.

AMD's own Athlon II X4 635 will outperform the X3 in modern game titles better optimized for threading. But at a price point $20 cheaper, the Athlon II X3 450 remains a good low-budget option.

Best Gaming CPU for $100:

Athlon II X4 635 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X4 635
Codename: Propus
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.9 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Athlon II X4 lineup continues to evolve gracefully as its clock speed steadily increases over time. We've also seen the chip lineup's price drop. And, games are starting to take better advantage of multiple CPU cores. Moreover, as a general-purpose CPU (during the hours you don't spend gaming), the quad-core solution is going to be superior to dual- and triple-core competitors.

Now found for as low as $100, this particular model is well within the grasp of budget-oriented gamers, and it represents a solid starting point for any value-based system, gaming or otherwise.

Read our review of the Athlon II X4, right here.

Honorable Mention:
Pentium Dual-Core E6800 (Check Prices)

Pentium Dual-Core E6800
Codename: Wolfdale-2M
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.33 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2 MB
Front Side Bus: 1066 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

The 3.33 GHz Pentium E6800 replaced the 3.2 GHz Pentium E6700 as the fastest budget dual-core available for the LGA 775 interface.

While the E6800 doesn't have any dormant cores that could be unlocked (like the Phenom II X2 555), it has a solid reputation for overclocking well, and it makes a good upgrade option for tweakers with older LGA 775-based systems who are not yet ready to put money into a new motherboard and CPU.

For folks considering a full upgrade, the Socket AM3 and LGA 1155 platforms are better choices. Of course, in order to get onboard with LGA 1155 at this price point, you'll have to go with the least-expensive Core i3 available. As we speculated previously, that part is now available at $125, and we have the benchmark data to back up its potency in gaming-oriented environment. For folks looking to spend $100 or less on their processor, Socket AM3 is the only low-cost option we'd recommend for now.

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 51 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 2 Hide
    joytech22 , March 31, 2011 4:15 AM
    I just stepped up from a Phenom 955BE to a i7 2600 today and I can say it's definitely worth the upgrade if you render video's or 3d modelling or any CPU-Intensive task.

    But for gaming I didn't notice any major improvements, but that isn't to say I didn't notice a few things.
  • 2 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , March 31, 2011 4:51 AM
    I have to disagree with the recommendation for the i3-2100.

    The reason being is that the previous-generation Core i3-530 (the slowest one) can be overclocked to speeds over 3.75 GHz at stock voltages (4 GHz isn't uncommon).

    Also, since the i3-2100 isn't much faster than a stock i3-530, and even at 3.75 GHz the 2100 folds to the O/C'd 530.

    Socket 1156 may be a dead platform now, but chances are good that if you're on a budget you won't be buying Ivy Bridge either- so by the time 1155 is obsolete you'll be looking at an upgrade again anyways.
  • 3 Hide
    jj463rd , March 31, 2011 5:00 AM
    Poor AMD is being nudged out.Well let's hope BD turns out well for them (and us) in a couple of months from now.It would be nice to have better competition between AMD and Intel on the desktop front.
  • 1 Hide
    Assmar , March 31, 2011 5:16 AM
    Where would an X3 720 with the 4th core unlocked and a clock rate of 3.6 rank in the chart for gaming? Same as the regular one? I've a 5870 and have wanted to drop in another but is it worth it? Crossfire's been killing it, i hear.
  • 1 Hide
    jadavis1992 , March 31, 2011 5:27 AM
    AMD's 955 is the same price as the 965 on newegg.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , March 31, 2011 5:35 AM
    Do these recommendations make any difference at resolutions of 1920X1200 and above? I just can't understand spending more on the cpu than the monitor or graphics card for gaming.

    Coming from a i5-750, 6950 2gb, HP ZR24w IPS user.
  • 2 Hide
    kg2010 , March 31, 2011 5:54 AM
    Quote:
    awww, i feel bad for the i7-990x. it didne get even a honorable mention :( 


    That's because this is for GAMING. The 2500K is by far the best bang for buck CPU when it comes to gaming.

    The 990x is useful for people who do lot of rendering, encoding, and use a lot of multi-threaded apps on a regular basis, and even for that, the 2600K is a great choice at just over $300.
  • 0 Hide
    werr20 , March 31, 2011 6:35 AM
    an upgrade from i7 860 to 2600k is a good upgrade? What about upgrading from 5870 to 6970/gtx 570 ?
  • 2 Hide
    joytech22 , March 31, 2011 6:46 AM
    werr20an upgrade from i7 860 to 2600k is a good upgrade? What about upgrading from 5870 to 6970/gtx 570 ?


    I don't think it would be worth upgrading at all in that case, I had 1 GTX470 and grabbed a second one instead of buying a different card.
  • 0 Hide
    werr20 , March 31, 2011 7:15 AM
    keep in mind that i cant overclock my cpu very easy ! @3,8ghz i am reaching very high temps +85* @ 1,375voltage and it's still unstable ! and i understand that my cpu @2,8 it lowers the gpu's performance !
  • 3 Hide
    vk_87 , March 31, 2011 8:02 AM
    Just waiting for that blank space below the AMD column in the first row to get filled up with BD procs. Come on AMD...

    Also i dont think people on a budget will go with LGA1156. Even if it is a couple of $$$ cheaper as gamers will know that SNB is way better and that those $$$ are better spent there.
  • 3 Hide
    SteelCity1981 , March 31, 2011 8:10 AM
    LuckyDucky7Also, since the i3-2100 isn't much faster than a stock i3-530, and even at 3.75 GHz the 2100 folds to the O/C'd 530.



    And why is that, is it the fact that you have to oc the i3 530 650mhz faster to beat the Core i3 2100? Which proves toms hardwares point about how powerful the core i3 2100 compared to the core i3 530.
  • 2 Hide
    Olle P , March 31, 2011 8:28 AM
    The Core i3-2400 is missing from the hierarchy chart.
    I suppose it's a border case between the two top fields.
  • 1 Hide
    gaborbarla , March 31, 2011 8:57 AM
    I would love to see these CPUs in this article neck to neck in a chart to see what really is the difference in games. All games averaged out should give a good indication what you are buying.

    If the new i3 might give 50 FPS average and an i7 58 (thumbsuck) then it might not be worth getting and i7. The hierarchy is nice, but doesn't give enough conrete % information.

    Alternatively in the hiearachy one could put the top CPU as 100% average frame rate in games, and each CPU below could show its relative speed to he fastest. (E.g. 93% etc)

    Also, there was an article last year on how an i3 is really what one needs for gaming (so I thought a high Mhz Core2 will do the trick for now). Based on that I only upgraded my Graphics card to a 5870 and suffered very bad frame rate in Bad Company 2. Later Upgrading to an i7 3hgz (with the same graphics card) gave a shocking improvement.
  • 0 Hide
    philologos , March 31, 2011 9:57 AM
    Please explain why the Phenom II X4 975 is six slots above the 970 when the difference between the two is a measly 100 MHz. Surely this is a mistake...
  • 0 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , March 31, 2011 11:20 AM
    well, amd may aswell just drop their phenom line completely and concentrate on the low end. It wont matter if they make it to 4ghz on the phenom, an i3 is faster.......bring bulldozer now or go home!
  • 1 Hide
    youssef 2010 , March 31, 2011 11:33 AM
    QuoteBut 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 $1050 hexa-core Core i7-990X Extreme.


    This is wrong, as your article states, at no situation did the 2600K surpass the 990X. But the difference is infinitesimal that it's not worth the money based on it's gaming. As an all-around platform, though the 990X is much better when it comes to performance.

    Olle PThe Core i3-2400 is missing from the hierarchy chart.I suppose it's a border case between the two top fields.


    They might've been in a rush and simply forgot to add it.

    philologosPlease explain why the Phenom II X4 975 is six slots above the 970 when the difference between the two is a measly 100 MHz. Surely this is a mistake...


    How many of this series did you read? they group the similar processors in tiers and the difference between the 975 and the 970 is only one tier and not six slots.

    werr20an upgrade from i7 860 to 2600k is a good upgrade? What about upgrading from 5870 to 6970/gtx 570 ?


    Both upgrades aren't worth it. The 6970 is worth it if and only if you can use its extra memory i.e. if you game at 2560x1600 or you use Eyefinity. Also, the upgrade from the 870 to the 2600K isn't worth it as it is not "at least three tiers higher". You'd better wait until Z68 is here except if REALLY need Quick-Sync now.

    assmarWhere would an X3 720 with the 4th core unlocked and a clock rate of 3.6 rank in the chart for gaming? Same as the regular one? I've a 5870 and have wanted to drop in another but is it worth it? Crossfire's been killing it, i hear.


    I think it would have the same performance as the 955BE. so, Xfire performance will decrease slightly depending on your gaming resolution.
  • 1 Hide
    philologos , March 31, 2011 12:07 PM
    How many of this series did you read? they group the similar processors in tiers and the difference between the 975 and the 970 is only one tier and not six slots.

    Okay, I see what you mean, although the chart seems to split into tiers and sub-groupings, and this division is lost by having the 975 on an island. What adjacent Intel CPU would you say the 975 is on a par with? The Phenom II architecture is slightly slower than Core 2 clock-for-clock, right? At 3.6 GHz it must be better than any of those Core 2 Extremes. Can it match a i5 750?
  • 1 Hide
    ta152h , March 31, 2011 2:30 PM
    Who does the editing for these articles? Since you actually mention the Pentium E6800, don't you think you should put it on your CPU Hierarchy Chart?
  • 1 Hide
    ta152h , March 31, 2011 2:43 PM
    TA152HWho does the editing for these articles? Since you actually mention the Pentium E6800, don't you think you should put it on your CPU Hierarchy Chart?


    It's catching. E8600.
Display more comments