Best Gaming CPU for $115:
Core i3-530 (Check Prices)
|CPU Cores/Threads:|| 2/4|
|Clock Speed:|| 2.93 GHz|
|Socket:|| LGA 1156|
|L1 Cache:|| 4 x 32 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: at $115, the Core i3-530 deserves a solid recommendation as a gaming processor. It consistently beat the Athlon II X3 445, and came surprisingly close to challenging the Phenom II X4 940 on a number of occasions.
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. Nevertheless, its basic gaming ability can not be refuted.
Best Gaming CPU for $120-$130: None
The Core i3-530 performs admirably at $115, making it difficult to recommend spending up to $130 for similar results. Having said that, other factors can come into play. For these reasons, the following CPUs are being given honorable mentions:
Core 2 Duo E7500 (Check Prices)
|Core 2 Duo E7500|
|CPU Cores:|| 2|
|Clock Speed:|| 2.93 GHz|
|Socket:|| LGA 775|
|L2 Cache:|| 3 MB|
|Front Side Bus:|| 1,066 MT/s|
|Thermal Envelope:|| 65 W|
At 2.93 GHz, the Core 2 Duo E7500 remains a good match-up against the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition. Even without an unlocked multiplier, the E7500 is an excellent overclocker. And the $120 price point is an acceptable premium to pay for LGA 775 upgraders who don't want to invest in a new motherboard.
It has a high clock rate, but its dual-core design won't be as nimble as AMD's triple-core offerings when it comes to multi-threaded apps. Most folks considering this CPU are probably trying to squeeze longevity from an older LGA 775 platform. If you're looking to upgrade your motherboard as well, it'd be best to consider a Phenom II or Core i3 processor instead.
Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition (Check Prices)
|Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition|
|CPU Cores:|| 3|
|Clock Speed:|| 2.8 GHz|
|L1 Cache:|| 3 x 128 KB|
|L2 Cache:|| 3 x 512 KB|
|L3 Cache:|| 6 MB|
|HyperTransport:|| 4,000 MT/s|
|Thermal Envelope:|| 95 W|
We try and stick with retail processors when it comes to CPU recommendations because the costs of a cooler introduces a sizable variable. But in the case of the Phenom II X3 720, flagging availability forces us to make an exception.
The OEM version of this CPU can now be found as low as $105. Add a $20 aftermarket cooler (such as the Cooler Master Hyper TX3), and you have a triple-core unlocked chip on your hands for $125.
We're a bit torn. On one hand, we know that overclocking is the surest way to negate your warranty coverage. However, the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition not only features that unlocked multiplier, but we've also had some luck unlocking the fourth core on a handful of samples. The chance may or may not be worth the extra money you drop on this chip. Bear in mind, though, that it's an "expensive" model for AMD to sell, and it probably won't be around much longer. The retail version has all but disappeared.