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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.
With all of the action in the graphics department, November has been a relatively calm month in the CPU world, though we have seen some significant price shifting.
Let's start with Intel's Core i3-540. Now available for about $115 on Newegg, this processor is actually cheaper than the Core i3-530 at the time this column was written. Perhaps Intel is phasing out the 2.93 GHz -530 in favor of its 3.06 GHz -540. In any case, the Core i3-540 inherits the 530's recommendation at $115. Similarly, the 2.66 GHz Core i5-750 favorite has gone up a few dollars, while the 2.8 GHz Core i5-760 has gone down a few, leaving the faster processor with a single $205 recommendation on our list.
AMD's price adjustments are much more notable. The entire Phenom II X6 line seems to have been slashed $20 to $40, with the Phenom II X6 1055T at $179, the 1075T at $200, and the 1090T at $230. While these prices make the X6 line infinitely more interesting from a productivity standpoint, they're only slightly more attractive from a gamer's point of view, since games tend to utilize no more than four CPU cores. The cheaper and higher-clocked quad-core Phenom II X4 processors are a better bet for recreational use, but for a user interested in mixing business with pleasure, the Phenom II X6 prices are a lot more attractive.
On the other side of the coin, the Phenom II X4 is a bit more expensive than it was previously. The $140 Phenom II X4 955 is sadly no more, back up to a more fitting $155 price point. The Phenom II X4 965 and 970 models are now $165 and $185, respectively.
With the end of 2010 so very close, it is now a waiting game for Intel and AMD to release their next-generation products. When the end of the race is so close, the final mile seems to take forever. But it'll be here soon, and we can't wait to see how both companies improve their standing in gaming circles.
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.