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Best Gaming CPU: $130-$190

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: July 2010
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Best Gaming CPU for $140:

Phenom II X4 945 (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 945
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.0 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

The Phenom II X4 945 offers AMD's flagship CPU architecture combined with a high 3 GHz clock speed, all for the reasonable price of $140. In our Game-Off: Seven Sub-$150 Processors Compared article, it even bested the slightly more expensive Core i3-540, removing the Intel model from honorable mention status and earning the Phenom II X4 940 a solid recommendation. There is no other CPU at this price point that performs as well when gaming or when multitasking.

Best Gaming CPU for $160:

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: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II family, the Phenom II X4 955 BE has been relegated to second-place status by the newer Phenom II X4 965 BE model. Now at $160, it offers a very compelling price/performance ratio for a true quad-core unlocked processor with gobs of cache.

We should also mention that the 955 is now available in the newer C3 stepping, just like the 965, reducing TDP by up to 15 W.

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

Best Gaming CPU for $180:

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition  (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (C3 Stepping)
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: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

While the Phenom II X4 955 and 965 both share an unlocked multiplier, the new revision 965 model's C3 stepping has been shown to be quite overclock-friendly compared to previous models. If you're looking for an AMD processor with maximum overclocking headroom, just make sure you're buying the new 125 W C3 stepping of the processor, not the older 140 W version.

Read our review of the new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, right here.

Best Gaming CPU for $190: None

Honorable Mention:
Core 2 Quad Q9400 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Quad Q9400
Codename: Yorkfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2 x 3 MB
Front Side Bus: 1,333 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Core 2 Quad line isn't as strong as Intel's lone Lynnfield-based Core i5 model, but the older processors certainly aren't slouches either. On a clock-for-clock basis, the Core 2 Quad tends to perform a little bit better than AMD's Phenom II X4.

This CPU is a strong competitor for the Phenom II X4 955 and will overclock well, despite its locked CPU multiplier. Even in the face of a somewhat low stock clock, 6 MB of shared L2 cache and a speedy 1,333 MT/s front side bus help the chip compete aggressively for less than $200.

With the Phenom II X4 965 and Core i5-750 priced so close, this one should only really be a consideration for the gamer upgrading an LGA 775-based machine. This is as far as I'd recommend taking an LGA 775 platform, though. Anything more expensive than this should be nudging you toward a platform with a better upgrade path.

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