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Best Gaming CPU: Under $110

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: September 2010
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Best Gaming CPU for ~$78:

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: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The second-fastest triple-core Athlon II available, AMD's Athlon II X3 445 sports an ideal combination of multiple CPU cores, a high 3.1 GHz clock rate, low price, and respectable overclockability. Despite the deceptively low price, this processor sports some serious gaming capability.

Best Gaming CPU for $90:

Athlon II X3 450 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 450
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed:  3.2 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache:   3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache:   3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The new Athlon II X3 450 is AMD's fastest triple-core CPU available.

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 $25 more, and doesn't perform as well in threaded environments due to its less complex dual-core architecture.

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition
Codename: Callisto
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 2 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
80 W

Although the dual-core Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition might be a bit slower than the less-expensive Athlon II X3 450 when it comes to gaming, it offers something that the Athlon II X3 doesn't have: an unlocked clock multiplier. Like all of AMD's other Black Edition processors, the Phenom II X2 555 can be easily overclocked by simply upping its multiplier in the motherboard BIOS of your choice, earning this CPU a place on our honorable mention list for overclocking fans. Found online at $90, we like the processor's high-end overclocking features at a budget price.

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.

These features don't earn the Phenom II X2 555 a solid recommendation, but for enthusiasts looking for a tweak-able CPU it remains an attractive budget option.

Read our overclocking review of the Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition, right here.

Best Gaming CPU for $100: None

Honorable Mention:
Athlon II X4 640 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X4 640
Codename: Propus
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
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

There are a few gaming titles out there that will take advantage of a fourth CPU core---real-time strategy games, mostly--making the Athlon II X4 a potentially attractive choice to enthusiasts who multitask while gaming, and are willing to overclock this processor. Moreover, as a general-purpose CPU (during the hours you don't spend gaming), the quad-core solution is going to be superior.

Now found as low as $100, true quad-core CPUs are well within the grasp of the budget gamer. Specifically, the Athlon II X4 640 model is impressive with it's 3 GHz clock speed.

Read our review of the Athlon II X4, right here.

Honorable Mention:
Pentium Dual-Core E6800 (Check Prices)

Pentium Dual-Core E6800
Codename: Wolfdale-2M
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.33 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache:   2 MB
Front Side Bus: 1066 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

The new 3.33 GHz the Pentium E6800 replaces the 3.2 GHz Pentium E6700 as the fastest budget dual-core available for the LGA 775 socket.

While the E6800 doesn't have any dormant cores that could be unlocked (like the Phenom II X2 555), it has a solid overclocking reputation and makes a good upgrade option for tweakers with older LGA 775 systems who are not yet ready to put money into a new motherboard and CPU. For folks considering a full upgrade, the Socket AM3 and LGA 1156 platforms are probably better long-term choices.

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