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Best Gaming CPU: Under $90

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: July 2010
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Best Gaming CPU for ~$70:

Athlon II X3 435 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 435
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed:   2.9 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache:   3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache:   3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

We can no longer ignore the advantage three processor cores offer in a gaming environment, so even though the lowest priced triple-core Athlon II we can find is $70, that's our new bottom-end recommendation.

The Athlon II X3 435 offers a trio of execution cores and a very respectable 2.9 GHz clock speed. As a bonus, that extra core will also make a notable difference in multi-tasking performance. This model has good overclocking headroom if you want to push it a little further, so you can take it beyond what that low $70 buy-in implies.

The Athlon II X3 425's attractive price tag completely edges out the Athlon II dual-core models from our list of recommendations.

Best Gaming CPU for ~$85:

Athlon II X3 445 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 445
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed:  3.1 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache:   3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache:   3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Athlon II X3 440 recently dropped in price to $75 in response to the Athlon II X3 445 model replacing it. While we like the lower price, we're going to lean toward the faster model this time around.

The fastest triple-core Athlon II available, the Athlon II X3 445 sports an ideal combination of multiple CPU cores, a high 3.1 GHz clock rate, low price, and respectable overclockability. It is such a great gaming CPU, in fact, that it almost renders most of the CPUs in the $100 to $130 range overkill. Intel's Core i3-530 does manage to up the ante, but it costs $30 more, and doesn't perform as well when multitasking due to its dual-core architecture.

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  • 16 Hide
    Tamz_msc , July 14, 2010 6:14 AM
    At least the Phenom II X6s deserved an Honorable Mention(for overall performance).
  • 10 Hide
    rb2crens , July 14, 2010 7:03 AM
    while Intel performs better on a higher price range, AMD is a good choice for low-cost platform for me.
Other Comments
  • 16 Hide
    Tamz_msc , July 14, 2010 6:14 AM
    At least the Phenom II X6s deserved an Honorable Mention(for overall performance).
  • 4 Hide
    tipmen , July 14, 2010 6:28 AM
    Tamz_mscAt least the Phenom II X6s deserved an Honorable Mention(for overall performance).



    That does make since they preform close to the i7 930 for $200. I can't justify the black version seeing that overclocking them doesn't improve system performance that much. However, I can't agree more with the PII 945 it is a killer cpu for the money. I Love seeing AMD have good cpus in lower price ranges.
  • 0 Hide
    Mark Heath , July 14, 2010 6:29 AM
    Love these articles :) 

    Oh no, Tom's is on Twitter!
  • 3 Hide
    Darkerson , July 14, 2010 6:32 AM
    A pleasure as always reading these kind of articles!
  • 10 Hide
    rb2crens , July 14, 2010 7:03 AM
    while Intel performs better on a higher price range, AMD is a good choice for low-cost platform for me.
  • 7 Hide
    thedreadfather , July 14, 2010 7:37 AM
    superdinmoi think phenom IIX2 better than Athlon II X4 635 2.90 GHz by over clock it and open all it cores

    I'm assuming you're suggesting that a Phenom II X2 555 should get the recommendation over an Athlon II X4 635 solely the possibility of unlocking cores? While ultimately an unlocked dual core Phenom II would be better value, one cannot count on unlocking stable cores or unlocking cores at all. That's why Tom's doesn't recommend it over a true quad-core: you might just end up with a lesser performing dual-core.
  • 8 Hide
    dirtmountain , July 14, 2010 8:19 AM
    I'll say it again, this is one of the best monthly articles at Toms Hardware with the links to all the in-depth tests and the hierarchy chart it's a valuable resource for anyone building a new system.
  • 2 Hide
    jonnyboyC , July 14, 2010 8:58 AM
    i enjoy how ever month or other month when they do this, 2/3 of the article is simply copy and pasted, if you look at the core i5 750 it's talks about the 975 which no longer is even the flagship, and i know the tidbit on the 720 BE is exactly the same as before
  • 6 Hide
    Reynod , July 14, 2010 10:05 AM
    I read it every month and it is certainly not a copy and paste ... not from what I can see.

    I can see Don has gone to the trouble to recheck all of the product costs, for changes, and add any new product (or delete any EOL prduct)accordingly.

    This and the Graphics card monthly articles are both very well done.

    Your entitled to your opinion though, and I respect that.


  • -1 Hide
    Onus , July 14, 2010 10:14 AM
    I still hope to see the new 45W AMD CPUs in the hierarchy chart just to see where they fall (are they "good enough?"), but I still can't find them anywhere; perhaps they were so pathetic that AMD decided not to release them, or to only sell them to eMachines.
  • 1 Hide
    ta152h , July 14, 2010 10:39 AM
    How about actually making an effort when you publish articles like this?

    For example, why publish L1 cache as the combined cache on some (for example 128K x 2 for Athlon II x2), seperate on others (32K x 4 for i3 530), and not even mention it for the Core 2 E7500? It's so sloppy.

    Now, on to opinion, why would anyone buy the E7500 over the Pentium E6700? It's about $18 more, and is slower on almost all benchmarks. If you're going to overclock, the E6500 makes more sense, since it's $38 less. The E7500 only has 1M more cache, it's not a "real" Core 2, it's the lobotomized one.

    Also, I'd much rather have an x48 motherboard than a LGA1156 one. I don't know why it's not understood here, but people generally do not just replace their processor. The percentage of people that don't upgrade the motherboard, and other parts, with the processor is remarkably low. On top of this, LGA1156 appears dead as well, with only lesser processors filling the ranks, not higher end 4-cores, and certainly no six cores. With Sandy Bridge coming out, and the already confusing segmentation from Intel, the i7 870 could easily be as high as it goes, and that's not that much better than the choices on LGA 776.

    But, LGA1156 has some platform deficits. You know, the lack of PCI-E lanes. I'd like to be able to add USB 3.0, and SATA 6, without compromising the performance of other components.

    More than that, there really haven't been any real additional technologies implemented on the newer chipsets that are meaningful, like USB 3.0. So, LGA 775 is still a very valid platform if the processor makes sense. But, really, I think Intel overprices most of the LGA 775 processors, so in the end, I agree they aren't so attractive, I just don't agree with the reasons why. E.G, if the e8600 were $100, you'd still say no to it? I wouldn't.

    LGA 1156 is a fine "Celeron" platform, and I agree the i3 530 is an attractive processor on that platform, at that price point. But, let's not forget it has issues as well. For me, personally, I think it's more likely I'd want to add a second video card a year from now, and USB 3.0, than want to replace a processor without a motherboard (which I've done exactly 0 times since the original PC came out, and still don't know anyone who has, except for some guy who's AMD 486 DX2 80 cache died, and he had to get another). I'm sure some people do upgrade only processors, but, using that as a sole criteria for damning a platform is inappropriate, especially since the high end of LGA 1156 probably will not be changing much.
  • 2 Hide
    notty22 , July 14, 2010 11:21 AM

    Great Article for new builders.
    Frustrating reality for others :) 
  • 0 Hide
    runswindows95 , July 14, 2010 11:35 AM
    Tamz_mscAt least the Phenom II X6s deserved an Honorable Mention(for overall performance).
    I agree. Even though the X4's are the better gaming CPU's overall, I would rather have a hexa-core system myself. Not everyone spends all day gaming on their systems. In fact, if I built a new system, it would be running VM's most of the time.

    superdinmoi think phenom IIX2 better than Athlon II X4 635 2.90 GHz by over clock it and open all it cores


    To quote the article: "In addition, as with all of AMD's X2 and X3 CPUs, the Phenom II X2 555 offers the potential for possibly unlocking dormant CPU cores. Our Phenom II X2 555 sample was capable of running with all four of its cores enabled, although there is no guarantee this will work on every CPU (or even half of them) found in the wild."

    That is why the X4 is recommend more. It's a GUARANTEED quad-core.
  • 2 Hide
    runswindows95 , July 14, 2010 11:37 AM
    Tamz_mscAt least the Phenom II X6s deserved an Honorable Mention(for overall performance).


    Also, I agree with the X6's. Even though the X4's are the better gaming CPU's overall, I would rather have a hexa-core system myself. Not everyone spends all day gaming on their systems. In fact, if I built a new system, it would be running VM's most of the time.
  • 0 Hide
    skora , July 14, 2010 12:14 PM
    While its OEM and a sale, the Q9300 is just $140 at TD. If I hit a scratcher lottery win, this is on my short list to replace the E5200.

    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=3584440&sku=CP2-DUO-Q9300
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , July 14, 2010 12:29 PM
    The disclaimer at the beginning of the articly says that processors are chosen by their performance (at stock speed) relative to their price, as such this list seems to be getting weirder and weirder every month.

    There are so many mentions to overclocking, and some to stuff like SLI / Crossfire support etc, that the disclaimer is starting to feel a bit fake.

    One thing i've wondered for a very long time is why the Core i7-860 doesn't even get a honorable mention. It kicks the i7-930 ass (at stock clocks) thanks to a more aggressive turbo mode, uses less power, and as a total price costs much less thanks to motherboard and memory costs. It also feels a bit weird that the only processor to have a mention of SLI/Crossfire support is the i7-930. I've also haven't seen a single benchmark where the i7-930s triple channel memory would make a large difference, specially when you factor in that the officially supported memory speed for a i7-930 is 1066 while it's 1336 for the i7-860.

    I like these listups very much, but i think the list is growing further and further away from the disclaimer at the beginning of the article.
    It reads like this:
    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.
  • 1 Hide
    konjiki7 , July 14, 2010 12:38 PM
    Why recommend the i3 over the 940? When they both can be had at $115 and the 940 has a clear performance advantage?
  • 1 Hide
    konjiki7 , July 14, 2010 12:48 PM
    Tamz_mscAt least the Phenom II X6s deserved an Honorable Mention(for overall performance).


    The X6 t1090 is the best buy at the $295 price point it performs similar to the i7 975 and 965. And often falls between the the i7975 and i7980x.

    When oced it will sit between i7980x and i7975 in any bench mark.
  • 5 Hide
    victomofreality , July 14, 2010 1:51 PM
    runswindows95Also, I agree with the X6's. Even though the X4's are the better gaming CPU's overall, I would rather have a hexa-core system myself. Not everyone spends all day gaming on their systems. In fact, if I built a new system, it would be running VM's most of the time.


    Yes not everyone spends all day sitting in front of their computer playing games BUT look at the title of the article Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: July 2010. This is a gaming article and therefore real world productivity and other useless things like that don't factor is :p 
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