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Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: January 2011
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What about this other CPU that’s not on the list? How do I know if it’s a good deal or not?

This will happen. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen because availability and prices change quickly. So how do you know if that CPU you have your eye on is a good buy in its price range?

Here is a resource to help you judge if a CPU is a reasonable value or not: the gaming CPU hierarchy chart, which groups CPUs with similar overall gaming performance levels into tiers. The top tier contains the highest-performing gaming CPUs available and gaming performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there.

However, a word of caution: this hierarchy is based on the average performance each CPU achieved in our charts test suite using only four game titles: Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, World in Conflict, and Supreme Commander. While we feel this represents an acceptable cross-section of typical gaming scenarios, a specific game title will likely perform differently. Some games, for example, will be severely graphics subsystem-limited, while others may react positively to more CPU cores, larger amounts of CPU cache, or even a specific architecture. We also did not have access to every CPU on the market, so some of the CPU performance estimates are based on the numbers similar architectures deliver. Indeed, this hierarchy chart is useful as a general guideline, but certainly not as a gospel one-size-fits-all perfect CPU comparison resource.

You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two processors, to see which one is a better deal, and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I don’t recommend upgrading your CPU unless the potential replacement is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel and you may not notice a worthwhile difference in game performance.

Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart
IntelAMD
Core i7-2600, -2600K
Core i7-965, -975 Extreme, -980X Extreme
Core i7-970, -960
Core i5-2500, -2500K

Core i7-860, -870, -875K, -920, -930, -940, -950,
Core i5-750, -760
Core 2 Extreme QX9775, QX9770, QX9650
Core 2 Quad Q9650
Core i3-2100
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 975
Core 2 Extreme QX6850, QX6800
Core 2 Quad Q9550, Q9450, Q9400
Core i5-650, -655K, -660, -661, -670, -680
Phenom II X6 1100T BE, 1090T BE, 1075T
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 970, 965, 955
Core 2 Extreme QX6700
Core 2 Quad Q6700, Q9300, Q8400, Q6600, Q8300
Core 2 Duo E8600, E8500, E8400, E7600
Core i3 -530, -540, -550
Phenom II X6 1055T
Phenom II X4 945, 940, 920, 910, 910e, 810
Phenom II X3 Black Edition 720, 740
Athlon II X4 645, 640, 635, 630
Athlon II X3 455, 450, 445, 440, 435
Core 2 Extreme X6800
Core 2 Quad Q8200
Core 2 Duo E8300, E8200, E8190, E7500, E7400, E6850, E6750
Phenom II X4 905e, 805
Phenom II X3 710, 705e
Phenom II X2 565 BE, 560 BE, 555 BE, 550 BE, 545
Phenom X4 9950
Athlon II X4 620
Athlon II X3 425
Core 2 Duo E7200, E6550, E7300, E6540, E6700
Pentium Dual-Core E5700, E6300, E6500, E6600, E6700
Pentium G9650
Phenom X4 9850, 9750, 9650, 9600
Phenom X3 8850, 8750
Athlon II X2 265, 260, 255
Athlon 64 X2 6400+
Core 2 Duo E4700, E4600, E6600, E4500, E6420
Pentium Dual-Core E5400, E5300, E5200
Phenom X4 9500, 9550, 9450e, 9350e
Phenom X3 8650, 8600, 8550, 8450e, 8450, 8400, 8250e
Athlon II X2 240, 245, 250
Athlon X2 7850, 7750
Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 5600+
Core 2 Duo E4400, E4300, E6400, E6320
Celeron E3300
Phenom X4 9150e, 9100e
Athlon X2 7550, 7450, 5050e, 4850e/b
Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 5200+, 5000+, 4800+
Core 2 Duo E5500, E6300
Pentium Dual-Core E2220, E2200, E2210
Celeron E3200
Athlon X2 6550, 6500, 4450e/b,
Athlon X2 4600+, 4400+, 4200+, BE-2400
Pentium Dual-Core E2180
Celeron E1600
Athlon 64 X2 4000+, 3800+
Athlon X2 4050e, BE-2300
Pentium Dual-Core E2160, E2140
Celeron E1500, E1400, E1200

Summary

There you have it folks: the best gaming CPUs for the money this month. Now all that’s left to do is to find and purchase them.

Also remember that the stores don’t follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month and you’ll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!

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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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