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Best Gaming CPU: $150-$200

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: January 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for $160 to $190:  None

Honorable Mention:

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition  (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 3.4 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

At $145, the Phenom II X4 955 is an indisputable value leader with an unlocked multiplier. This makes it difficult to recommend higher-costing Phenom II X4 CPUs.

Overclockers might point out there's a good chance that AMD's binning process will designate the CPUs with the best potential as the most expensive models. While this is true, our tests have shown that the overclocking potential between the 955 and 970 isn't more than a couple hundred MHz, if that. And with the impressive new Core i5-2300 starting at $185, it becomes even more difficult to recommend Phenom II X4 CPUs that approach this price point.

As mentioned previously, the real question is the gaming price/performance ratio of the Sandy Bridge-based Core i3 CPUs that are just around the corner. We'll allow the Phenom II X4 965 to keep its honorable mention status this month, but we'll be revisiting the value proposition after a thorough gaming comparison between the sub-$200 CPU options, including the new Core i3s.

Read our review of the new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition here, and our look at the Phenom II X4 970 here.

Best Gaming CPU for $195:
Core i5-2400

Core i5-2400
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.1 GHz (3.4 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

Sandy Bridge is here, and Intel's new microarchitechture is fast. Initial test data suggests that the new Core i5-2400 can stand toe to toe with Core i7-900-series processors when it comes to game performance. This isn't just the low-end models, mind you, but the highest-clocked Extreme Edition processors, such as the Core i7-980X. As great as the Core i5-700-series chips are, the new Core i5-2000 processors hit the afterburners and fly right by.

Read our review of the new Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

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