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Best Gaming CPU: Under $110

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: January 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for ~$90:

Athlon II X3 455 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 455
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 3.3 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 455 is the fastest triple-core Athlon II available, and it sports an ideal combination of three execution cores, a high clock rate, a low price, and respectable overclocking headroom. Despite the deceptively low buy-in, this processor delivers some serious gaming capability.

Intel's Core i3-540 does manage to outperform, but it costs about $25 more and doesn't offer the same alacrity in threaded environments due to its less complex dual-core architecture.

Best Gaming CPU for $100: None

Honorable Mention:
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

There are a few gaming titles out there that will take advantage of a fourth CPU core---real-time strategy games, mostly--making the Athlon II X4 a potentially attractive choice to enthusiasts who multitask while they play, and are willing to overclock this processor. Moreover, as a general-purpose CPU (during the hours you don't spend gaming), the quad-core solution is going to be superior. Now found as low as $100, this CPU is well within the grasp of the budget-oriented gamer.

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 replaces 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 probably 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. That part isn't available yet, and when it is, it'll likely cost somewhere around $120. We're expecting it to be powerful enough in its own right, but the fact that overclocking is completely locked down on Core i3 forces us to hold off until we can generate some more performance data with this very-static chip. Expect to see a gaming feature based on it very soon.

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