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Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2011
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What about this other CPU that’s not on the list? How do I know if it’s a good deal or not?

This will happen. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen because availability and prices change quickly. So how do you know if that CPU you have your eye on is a good buy in its price range?

Here is a resource to help you judge if a CPU is a reasonable value or not: the gaming CPU hierarchy chart, which groups CPUs with similar overall gaming performance levels into tiers. The top tier contains the highest-performing gaming CPUs available and gaming performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there.

However, a word of caution: this hierarchy is based on the average performance each CPU achieved in our charts test suite using only four game titles: Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, World in Conflict, and Supreme Commander. While we feel this represents an acceptable cross-section of typical gaming scenarios, a specific game title will likely perform differently. Some games, for example, will be severely graphics subsystem-limited, while others may react positively to more CPU cores, larger amounts of CPU cache, or even a specific architecture. We also did not have access to every CPU on the market, so some of the CPU performance estimates are based on the numbers similar architectures deliver. Indeed, this hierarchy chart is useful as a general guideline, but certainly not as a gospel one-size-fits-all perfect CPU comparison resource.

You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two processors, to see which one is a better deal, and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I don’t recommend upgrading your CPU unless the potential replacement is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel and you may not notice a worthwhile difference in game performance.

Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart
IntelAMD
Core i7-2600, -2600K
Core i7-965, -975 Extreme, -980X Extreme, -990X Extreme
Core i7-970, -960
Core i5-2500, -2500K

Core i7-860, -870, -875K, -920, -930, -940, -950,
Core i5-750, -760
Core 2 Extreme QX9775, QX9770, QX9650
Core 2 Quad Q9650
Core i3-2100, -2120
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 975
Core 2 Extreme QX6850, QX6800
Core 2 Quad Q9550, Q9450, Q9400
Core i5-650, -655K, -660, -661, -670, -680
Phenom II X6 1100T BE, 1090T BE, 1075T
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 970, 965, 955
Core 2 Extreme QX6700
Core 2 Quad Q6700, Q9300, Q8400, Q6600, Q8300
Core 2 Duo E8600, E8500, E8400, E7600
Core i3 -530, -540, -550
Phenom II X6 1055T
Phenom II X4 945, 940, 920, 910, 910e, 810
Phenom II X3 Black Edition 720, 740
Athlon II X4 645, 640, 635, 630
Athlon II X3 455, 450, 445, 440, 435
Core 2 Extreme X6800
Core 2 Quad Q8200
Core 2 Duo E8300, E8200, E8190, E7500, E7400, E6850, E6750
Phenom II X4 905e, 805
Phenom II X3 710, 705e
Phenom II X2 565 BE, 560 BE, 555 BE, 550 BE, 545
Phenom X4 9950
Athlon II X4 620
Athlon II X3 425
Core 2 Duo E7200, E6550, E7300, E6540, E6700
Pentium Dual-Core E5700, E5800, E6300, E6500, E6600, E6700
Pentium G9650
Phenom X4 9850, 9750, 9650, 9600
Phenom X3 8850, 8750
Athlon II X2 265, 260, 255
Athlon 64 X2 6400+
Core 2 Duo E4700, E4600, E6600, E4500, E6420
Pentium Dual-Core E5400, E5300, E5200
Phenom X4 9500, 9550, 9450e, 9350e
Phenom X3 8650, 8600, 8550, 8450e, 8450, 8400, 8250e
Athlon II X2 240, 245, 250
Athlon X2 7850, 7750
Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 5600+
Core 2 Duo E4400, E4300, E6400, E6320
Celeron E3300
Phenom X4 9150e, 9100e
Athlon X2 7550, 7450, 5050e, 4850e/b
Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 5200+, 5000+, 4800+
Core 2 Duo E5500, E6300
Pentium Dual-Core E2220, E2200, E2210
Celeron E3200
Athlon X2 6550, 6500, 4450e/b,
Athlon X2 4600+, 4400+, 4200+, BE-2400
Pentium Dual-Core E2180
Celeron E1600
Athlon 64 X2 4000+, 3800+
Athlon X2 4050e, BE-2300
Pentium Dual-Core E2160, E2140
Celeron E1500, E1400, E1200

Summary

There you have it folks: the best gaming CPUs for the money this month. Now all that’s left to do is to find and purchase them.

Also remember that the stores don’t follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month and you’ll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!

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  • 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.
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