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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: September 2010

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: September 2010

September delivers familiar (moderate) price adjustments, a handful of new processors from AMD, and news of upcoming models from Intel as well. We also learn some interesting information about Intel's pilot program to enable upgradable CPUs.

If you don’t have the time to research the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right processor for your next gaming machine, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming CPUs offered for the money.

September Updates

Of course, AMD released an update to its Phenom II and Athlon II families earlier this month. We saw a 100 MHz speed bump across the low-budget models, with the Athlon II X2 265, Athlon II X3 450, and Athlon II X4 645 at 3.3, 3.2, and 3.1 GHz, respectively. These new revisions replace existing flagship models in the Athlon II line at similar price points, and the previously-released models will drop a few dollars.

As for AMD's premium line, the new Phenom II X6 1075T is an interesting SKU, with a base clock of 3.0 GHz and a Turbo CORE clock of 3.4 GHz. Naturally, its performance falls between the Phenom II X6 1055T and Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition. This new processor's $245 MSRP makes it an attractive option to users running heavily threaded applications, but it isn't an ideal gaming CPU, as the lower-priced Phenom II X4 models will perform just as well in this arena.

Aside from this, the new Phenom II X2 560 ($105) and Phenom II X4 970 ($189) Black Edition processors are 100 MHz speed bumps over the 3.2 GHz Phenom II X2 555 and 3.4 GHz Phenom II X4 965. While these models add a little more zip to the fastest dual- and quad-core Socket AM3 products, they don't really change the landscape in any significant manner.

But let's talk about the AMD price cuts. The Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition recently plummeted from $310 to $265. This new price point drops the flagship Phenom II X6 CPU below the entire Core i7 line (a welcome surprise). While this processor doesn't offer anything more than the Phenom II X4 from a gaming standpoint, its Black Edition overclocking capabilities and hexa-core architecture make it an attractive option as a jack-of-all-trades processor, and with some tweaking it can certainly game just as fast as any other Phenom II.

The second price cut of note is the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, now found for $140. This price point is a real sweet spot for this processor, and there is incredible value here--simply raising the CPU multiplier from 16x to 17.5x will step this CPU's game up to the par with the $190 Core i5-750. Despite all of the processor releases this month, a $140 Phenom II X4 955 is the biggest news we've heard so far.

Intel released a few speed bumps of its own, with prices dropping a few dollars here and there. The three new models are the Core i3-560 (3.33 GHz), Pentium E6800 (3.33 GHz), and the Celeron E3500 (2.7 GHz). The new Core i3-560 is a speedy 3.33 GHz CPU. But at $150, the similarly priced Phenom II X4 models are better gaming processors. The 3.33 GHz Pentium E6800 offers an appealing LGA 775 upgrade option at the $100 price point, and it steals the honorable mention from its Pentium E6700 predecessor. Finally, the new 2.7 GHz Celeron E3500 doesn't offer any appealing characteristics for a gaming CPU despite the low $63 price tag.

One of the most interesting bits of information we've learned is that Intel is on the verge of releasing an upgradable processor: the Pentium G6951. At first glance, this CPU has the same vital statistics as the Pentium G6950. But the interesting part is that Intel is testing out a pilot program that will allow users to upgrade the CPU after it is installed. Available upgrades include a key to enable Hyper-Threading and the ability to increase shared L3 cache from 3 MB to 4 MB. The resulting CPU would be very similar to a Core i3, though early indications are that the upgraded chip will be called Pentium G6952. This is something we'll definitely be keeping an eye on.

At this point, we're all waiting for Sandy Bridge, Fusion, and Bulldozer to arrive to really change up the processor landscape. These upcoming products are poised to up the ante significantly when it comes to both raw performance and integrated graphics chipsets, although we'll probably have to wait a few more months for consumer availability.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the CPUs on this list may not be suitable for your particular needs.

The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that there are other factors that come into play, such as platform price or CPU overclockability, but we're not going to complicate things by factoring in motherboard costs. We may add honorable mentions for outstanding products in the future, though. For now, our recommendations are based on stock clock speeds and performance at that price.

Cost and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information in the text, but we can list some good chips that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest (and our PriceGrabber-based engine will help track down some of the best prices for you).

The list is based on some of the best US prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices. We do not list used or OEM CPUs available at retail.

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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.
  • 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.

    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,2588-9.html,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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