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Best Gaming CPU: $110-$150

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: September 2010
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Best Gaming CPU for $115:

Core i3-530 (Check Prices)

Core i3-530
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache:  2 x 64 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 in a number of situations.

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 $125: None

Honorable Mention:
Core i3-540 (Check Prices)

Core i3-540
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.06 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache:   2 x 64 KB
L2 Cache:   2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 4 MB
Thermal Envelope:
73 W

Although the cheaper Core i3-530 remains a better value at $115, overclockers looking to squeeze the most clock rate out of a Core i3 CPU might find the higher multiplier worth a $10 premium. Why, exactly, would you want a higher multiplier ratio? This allows you to hit higher frequencies without bumping into BCLK-based limitations.

Best Gaming CPU for $140:

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: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II X4 family, the Phenom II X4 955 BE has been relegated to third-place status by the newer Phenom II X4 970 BE model. Despite this change in the lineup, the Phenom II X4 955 has never been more attractive, as its price recently dropped to $140, a segment previously held by the Phenom II X4 940.

At $140, the Phenom II X4 955 offers incredible gaming value. This is a true quad-core processor with a huge 6 MB L3 cache. But what makes it even more impressive at this price is its unlocked multiplier. From our experience, the great majority of Phenom II X4 955 processors can run just as fast as the Phenom II X4 970 with a simple BIOS multiplier change from 16x to 17.5x--an easy way to put this $140 processor on par with a stock $190 Core i7-750.

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

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Top Comments
  • 13 Hide
    yesitsmario , September 27, 2010 6:22 AM
    The Phenom II 955 is an awesome chip. At $140, it's a steal.
  • 13 Hide
    Lessqqmorepewpew , September 27, 2010 6:13 AM
    The Phenom II X4 series is a true blessing to the budget minded consumer/gamer. ty AMD, can't wait for what's in store next :) 
Other Comments
  • 13 Hide
    Lessqqmorepewpew , September 27, 2010 6:13 AM
    The Phenom II X4 series is a true blessing to the budget minded consumer/gamer. ty AMD, can't wait for what's in store next :) 
  • 7 Hide
    Poisoner , September 27, 2010 6:20 AM
    I have an i5 760 and it does overclock very well. I got mine to 4.4ghz without even trying.

    But you guys missed the i7 950 being only 15 bucks more than the 930.
  • 13 Hide
    yesitsmario , September 27, 2010 6:22 AM
    The Phenom II 955 is an awesome chip. At $140, it's a steal.
  • -6 Hide
    Tamz_msc , September 27, 2010 6:23 AM
    How could you miss the i7 950?
  • 6 Hide
    amk09 , September 27, 2010 6:36 AM
    Tamz_mscHow could you miss the i7 950?


    Because this is an article about the best gaming CPU's and anything above an i5 760 is unnecessary and doesn't provide noticeable performance increases
  • -6 Hide
    Anonymous , September 27, 2010 6:52 AM
    The i7 950 price drop should have been the headline of this month
    one of the fastest in the world for only 300$
    all of the new ones comming are just some more in the landscape nothing more than that
  • 9 Hide
    wintermint , September 27, 2010 7:14 AM
    I applause AMD for providing us with cheap, efficient CPUs :D 
  • 4 Hide
    Shivetya , September 27, 2010 7:23 AM
    Guess not much is gonna change aside from 100-200 MHz bumps in speed until Sandy Bridge and Bulldozer hit the market...
  • -5 Hide
    KingArcher , September 27, 2010 7:29 AM
    @ Don Woligroski
    At $280 I'd say the core i7 870 is better than core i7 930.
    And i7 870 is almost the same performance as i7 950 others have suggested.

    Thanks for that sweet CPU Chart on the last page.

    edit: my bad, I typed i5 instead of i7. Corrected it
  • 9 Hide
    dirtmountain , September 27, 2010 7:34 AM
    Too bad the PhenomIIx3 740BE 3.0GHz at $90 is OEM (no HSF), it would make a fine choice at it's price point.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103699
  • 1 Hide
    rutoojinn , September 27, 2010 7:54 AM
    KingArcher@ Don WoligroskiAt $280 I'd say the core i5 870 is better than core i7 930.And i5 870 is almost the same performance as i7 950 others have suggested.Thanks for that sweet CPU Chart on the last page.


    Is that a typo? i5 870? The chipsets are different also. So that will also factor in what you plan on buying. That is either the i5 760 or the i7 870. My final thought they are pretty much in the same tier so saying which one is better than the other doesn't make much sense to me.
  • -1 Hide
    rutoojinn , September 27, 2010 8:00 AM
    Damn I can't edit what I post.... I mean when you compare the i7 870 and the i7 930. Finally the i7 950 is ridiculously priced right now. I don't know if this is permanent or on sale but for 300 for the i7 950 that is my choice if I were to start a new system.
  • -2 Hide
    jsowoc , September 27, 2010 8:02 AM
    How is the upgradeable processor any different from what AMD does now, with selling you a quad-core for the price of a dual-core?

    Except Intel wants to charge money for it...
  • -2 Hide
    7amood , September 27, 2010 8:28 AM
    please next time add the cpu BCLK/MULTIPLIER, it's just one more table entry.
    it's nice to know how far can you bump teh processor without changing the BCLK.
  • -1 Hide
    Tamz_msc , September 27, 2010 8:52 AM
    amk09Because this is an article about the best gaming CPU's and anything above an i5 760 is unnecessary and doesn't provide noticeable performance increases

    Yes, but it should be in place of the 930.
  • 6 Hide
    Darkerson , September 27, 2010 9:54 AM
    yesitsmarioThe Phenom II 955 is an awesome chip. At $140, it's a steal.


    /agree
    Cant wait to get one soon!
  • 0 Hide
    tmk221 , September 27, 2010 10:02 AM
    doesn't make any sens to me to put athlon x3 450 for $90 on the list while there is x3 445 for $78 only...
  • 9 Hide
    doron , September 27, 2010 10:08 AM
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/core-i3-gaming,2588-9.html

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/athlon-ii-x3-440-gaming-performance,2619-5.html

    look at the far cry 2 and crysis performance, at the first review and then at the second. Both benches conducted with a hd5850 and the phII 720 ~ athlon II x3, same goes for the i7 870 and the 920 The first review clearly shows that a phII x3 @ 2.8ghz (and an athlon x3 3.0ghz, for that matter) produces the same performance as the i7, and sometimes even surpasses it by 1 fps.

    Wait, what happens in the 2nd review?

    The first review came out by my personal favorite, Thomas Soderstorm, who likes to show things the way they are, even if it means writing a whole article with monotonic graphs all the way.

    The second review came right after the first one, clearly manipulating graphics setting - Why would anyone who buys these kind of rigs play far cry 2 at high and not ulrta.. and don't even get me started about the almost complete lack of AA / AF in tomshardware reviews. Why you ask? The less graphical settings, the more cpu difference is shown. This is a joke of course since even a ~300$ gpu, which is a sum most people won't be willing to pay, will bottleneck even the "lowly" athlon II x3 cpu @ maximum settings - again, show me 1 person in this planet who wouldn't want to crank max settings on these kind of rigs.

    Further reading on the 2nd article shows the minimum fps, which doesn't really say anything unless you're really into paying ~180$ just for a 10 fps increase on world in conflict (and a slight decrease in stalker) which is a single-player RTS.. Doh..

    But why stop there? Now lets see how these cpus fare against each other with hd5870 crossfire configuration. These cards will have no problem playing every single game available at 2560x1600, and even in an eyefinity setup which, by connecting 3 full-hd monitors, can produce more pixels than the 2560x1600 at a lower price, and even get 6 of these monit... Well you know that already! but price is probably not an issue for you if you get 2 5870.. No? Guess not! They only show resolutions up to 2560x1600, again at high settings only which is of course misleading because when they write "high settings" you naturally assume that these are the highest settings possible. Guess not.

    (Well this is getting long but I never had the energy to write all this and I started already so... Ok moving on :D )

    Last but not least (finally my boss is getting angry at me :p ), the article shows the athlon II with dual 5870 and the i7 with a single 5850. The athlon already wins at 2560x1600, but that's where they stop. High settings of course, why cranking it all up?

    Finally, my point is - Toms, you could say that the i7-930 is justified if a guy wants to buy a hefty gpu config, but not based on this article like you're just doing. I'm not calling bias or anything, it's just too bad that you didn't show us this data that you showed in the aforementioned artiel and the same data only with the highest graphical settings possible (including AA / AF maxed).
  • 2 Hide
    doron , September 27, 2010 10:29 AM
    L0tusBlatantly false. There are countless charts on this site alone that show a i5-vs-i7 +10fps increase in some games. And when you look at non-mainstream cpu-heavy games such as Football Manager, the effect is even more pronounced.I swear, this AMD fanboyism must die.


    Yeah football manager is such an intensive game you can't play it on anything less than a 980x!!! /sarcasm
    And regarding your "charts".. Just read my long reply above.
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