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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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