It's March, and at long last, Intel's P67 and H67 chipset woes seem to be solved. Of course, now we have Z68 knocking at our door. Still, the Sandy Bridge-based Core i3s are now floating around, making it a good time to shop for a cheap LGA 1155 board.
If you don’t have the time to research the 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.
March Updates: Fixed P67/H67 (Cougar Point) Motherboards Return To Retail
Intel LGA 1155-based motherboards with revised chipsets are now available for purchase, with more models popping up on a regular basis. At this point, it seems safe to say that the problem is behind Intel and the company can concentrate on moving forward (unless, of course, you'd rather hold out for some of the goodness that Z68 will introduce). For the PC buying public, the new Sandy Bridge processors are once again a viable option. Which brings us to our next point...
Sandy Bridge Expands Into The $100-$150 Price Range: The Core i3-2100 and -2120
Sandy Bridge-based Core i3 CPUs have finally reached the retail market (Core i3-2100 and Core i3-2120). These are the first dual-core LGA 1155-based products available, although they are capable of handling four simultaneous threads with Intel's Hyper-Threading feature. Both models employ 32 nm manufacturing technology and a 65 W power ceiling, but do not include support forIntel's Turbo Boost feature. The $120 Core i3-2100 has a 3.1 GHz base clock, and the Core i3-2120 ups that number to 3.3 GHz. Neither model has any real overclocking potential, unfortunately, with locked clock multipliers, and very little headroom for increasing BCLK speeds.
In our recent Who's Got Game? Twelve Sub-$200 CPUs Compared article, the big surprise was just how potent these new models are, even in stock form, when it comes to gaming. Inexpensive motherboards accommodating the Core i3-2100 can be found under $70, making Intel's entry-level Sandy Bridge chip a viable option for budget builders. These dual-core Hyper-Threaded processors meet or beat costlier quad-core models. And as a result, the $140 Phenom II X4 955 has been demoted from an all-out recommendation to an honorable mention.
The Phenom II X4 might be a better choice for an all-purpose processor, but from a pure gaming standpoint, the $120 Core i3-2100 is superior. And while the Phenom II X4 955 is multiplier-unlocked, experience shows us that AMD's CPUs rarely go more than a couple hundred MHz past 4 GHz. And we're confident that you won't see much of a gaming advantage over the stock Core i3-2100, according to our tests that show the Core i3 sail past a 3.5 GHz Phenom II X4.
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.