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Best Gaming CPU: $110-$150

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: January 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for $115: None

Honorable Mention: Core i3-540 (Check Prices)

Core i3-540
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.06 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache: 2 x 64 KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 4 MB
Thermal Envelope:
73 W

Our Game-Off: Seven Sub-$150 Processors Compared review proved it to our satisfaction: the Core i3 deserves a solid recommendation as a gaming processor. The Core i3-530 consistently beat the Athlon II X3 445, and came surprisingly close to challenging the Phenom II X4 940 in a number of situations. The slightly faster 3.06 GHz Core i3-540 is even more attractive, and may even be able to stave off AMD's sub-$140 Phenom II X4 models in many gaming scenarios. The only downside is that this dual-core, Hyper-Threaded processor doesn't handle multitasking as well as a true quad- or even triple-core processor like the Athlon II X3.

Note that we're demoting the Core i3-540 to an honorable mention this month because the Sandy Bridge-based Core i3s will be available in the near future, and (depending on the street pricing) might completely dominate the $100-$200 price point from a gaming CPU perspective. We require availability to make a recommendation though, so those are still off of the table.

Best Gaming CPU for $125: None

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X4 925 (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 925
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.8 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

The Phenom II X4 925 offers AMD's premium quad-core CPU architecture at $125, and the Core i3-550 is a strong LGA 1156 option for the same price, so long as you're already rocking a compatible motherboard. With the Sandy Bridge-based Core i3s arriving in February, we wouldn't recommend building a new gaming system based on either of these options. But the Phenom II offers a good upgrade path for AM2+/AM3 systems, and the Core i3-550 is a nice upgrade from a Pentium G6950.

Honorable Mention:
Core i3-550

Core i3-550
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache: 2 x 64 KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 4 MB
Thermal Envelope:
73 W

Best Gaming CPU for $145:

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II X4 family, the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition was relegated to fourth-place status by the new Phenom II X4 975 BE model.

Despite the pecking order, the Phenom II X4 955 offers the best gaming value of the bunch. It is a true quad-core processor with a sizable 6 MB L3 cache. But even more impressive at this price is its unlocked multiplier. From our experience, the great majority of Phenom II X4 955 processors can run just as fast as the Phenom II X4 975 with a simple BIOS multiplier change from 16x to 18x--an easy way to put this $145 processor on par with a stock ~$200 Core i5-760 when it comes to gaming.

The real competition for the Phenom II X4 955 BE is Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Core i3 lineup, arriving at retail in February. For now we'll allow the 955 to keep its recommended buy title, but we're going to revisit this in the near future after we've done extensive testing of the new Core i3 lineup.

Read our review of the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, right here.

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  • 0 Hide
    Stardude82 , January 26, 2011 4:13 AM
    Odd you don't have the i5-2300 and i5-2400 up on your board even if they were mention in the article. I was wondering if they were going to get stuck on the top or the second to the top. That being said, the i3-2100 isn't even out yet.
  • -1 Hide
    Stardude82 , January 26, 2011 4:14 AM
    Oh and you still a have a "Core 2 Duo E5500" which I'm pretty sure doesn't exist.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , January 26, 2011 5:15 AM
    stardude82Odd you don't have the i5-2300 and i5-2400 up on your board even if they were mention in the article.


    Haven't been able to test them. Once that's out of the way I can assign them an appropriate place. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    joytech22 , January 26, 2011 5:38 AM
    I'm thinking about upgrading from my Phenom 955BE to a i7 2600K simply because the price is very low for Intel while providing performance on-par with their 980X which is significantly more expensive.

    The only problem I have is I want to use SLI, but I need a board with enough space between the slots to use aftermarket coolers.
  • 1 Hide
    andy5174 , January 26, 2011 5:45 AM
    750/760 is not there anymore! :( 

    Time to upgrade? nah
  • 8 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , January 26, 2011 6:16 AM
    summary
    $100 ---------> Athlon II x3 or x4
    $150 ---------> Make another $70
    $220----------> Core i5 2500k
    $330----------> Core i5 2500k, use $110 for a better GPU
  • 5 Hide
    effy92 , January 26, 2011 6:22 AM
    i'm regret of buying 760..after only 1 month, there is new sandy bridge with more bang for buck..
  • 0 Hide
    jgv115 , January 26, 2011 6:35 AM
    Wow those Sandy Bridge CPUs look tasty but I'm fine with my 750 :) 
  • 0 Hide
    jj463rd , January 26, 2011 7:08 AM
    This was the article that I was waiting for.Congrats Sandy bridge.
    Glad that the i7-980X is bumped off.
  • 6 Hide
    MasterZoen , January 26, 2011 7:19 AM
    I really love this article and the Best Graphics Card For The Money article as well. I'm always referencing these two articles as I make builds. Will we ever see a Best Gaming MOBO For The Money article?
  • 2 Hide
    tony singh , January 26, 2011 7:23 AM
    I am still in love with my ph2 x4 965 overclocks to 3.8 on stck v & great for general use as well !!
  • 2 Hide
    Zeh , January 26, 2011 7:40 AM
    hardcore_gamersummary$100 ---------> Athlon II x3 or x4$150 ---------> Make another $70$220----------> Core i5 2500k$330----------> Core i5 2500k, use $110 for a better GPU


    Agreed. When people ask me sugestions about which cpu to buy, it's one of those two.
    "Oh but I have a lot to spend, what's better than the i5 2500k?"
    "Get a better gpu. Or a SSD. Or more memory. Or a good air cooler. Anything, really..."
  • 1 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , January 26, 2011 7:53 AM
    Glad to see my cpu hanging in there. No need to upgrade right now. Can't afford it anyway.
  • 1 Hide
    deo domuique , January 26, 2011 9:59 AM
    I was patient one month for Sandy-B release. I'm pretty happy for that. Got for 199 euros the i5 2500. You wanna know which processor I replaced? "E7300"! Made its money that old-dog!

    Now the next upgrade will not come for long time... and when will come, must have lower nm architect and higher clocks! i5 2500 will do perfectly, fast and economic its job!

    Also I got 460GTX OC 1GB for 199 euros too... I really would like to wait for 560 but couldn't resist anymore... The card I replaced was the xFx 7950GTX. That time, 3+ years before, bought Gamer PC 1500 euros!!! I don't make that mistake again! Now I went one scale lower, to "enthusiasts" for 900 euros!

    If TH will not include some parts I got, really I don't give a damn and not a chance to think its "dead". Don't get into that trap and think about upgrade without reason!...
  • -2 Hide
    deo domuique , January 26, 2011 10:14 AM
    deo domuiqueI was patient one month for Sandy-B release. I'm pretty happy for that. Got for 199 euros the i5 2500. You wanna know which processor I replaced? "E7300"! Made its money that old-dog! Now the next upgrade will not come for long time... and when will come, must have lower nm architect and higher clocks! i5 2500 will do perfectly, fast and economic its job! Also I got 460GTX OC 1GB for 199 euros too... I really would like to wait for 560 but couldn't resist anymore... The card I replaced was the xFx 7950GTX. That time, 3+ years before, bought Gamer PC 1500 euros!!! I don't make that mistake again! Now I went one scale lower, to "enthusiasts" for 900 euros! If TH will not include some parts I got, really I don't give a damn and not a chance to think its "dead". Don't fall into that trap and think about upgrade without reason!...

  • 1 Hide
    lashton , January 26, 2011 10:35 AM
    people forget that the phnom II line was to content with the core2quads and it rips them a new asshole, AMD havfe missed a generation (core i5, i7) competitors, and now fusion looks romising im a little worried about bulldozer though
  • -1 Hide
    stingstang , January 26, 2011 11:05 AM
    Best CPU for 300: i7-2500k (Or at any price)
    Agreed. I like your sense of humor, too. If intel DID put a 1000 price tag on that chip, you can bet the sales would be the same.
  • 4 Hide
    marraco , January 26, 2011 11:24 AM
    Hate Intel and his "no, you can't reuse your old mobo".
    From an updater perspective, AMD costs much less. You should add a motherboard price to each Sandy Bridge.
  • 4 Hide
    skora , January 26, 2011 11:35 AM
    I'm a little surprised the first gaming CPU is the $90 x3 455. I would figure one of the $70 x3s to start the line. Not sure what pricing looked like when written, but the 3.2 ghz x3 450 is $10 cheaper. $10 isn't worth 100 mhz if I'm looking at an entry level budget build.
  • 0 Hide
    scook9 , January 26, 2011 12:33 PM
    I kind of wanted to see the 980x for the past the point of reason just to have 4 intel sockets in one month LOL
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