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Best Gaming CPU: $100-$200

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for $120: None

Honorable Mention:
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 955 offers the best value in the company's lineup. It is a true quad-core processor with a large 6 MB L3 cache and an unlocked clock multiplier. Based on our experience, a great majority of Phenom II X4 955 processors can run just as fast as a Phenom II X4 975 through a simple BIOS multiplier change from 16x to 18x. That's an easy way to put this $120 processor on par with a stock ~$210 Core i5-760 when it comes to gaming.

The real competition for the Phenom II X4 955 BE is Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2100. Intel's budget-oriented processor can out-game the Phenom II X4. But AMD's CPU is a good entertainment-oriented option better suited to multitasking, thanks to its quad-core architecture. Since this list is focused on game performance, the price of the Phenom II X4 955 is too close to the superior Core i3-2100 to take a full recommendation. It does deserve an honorable mention for those looking to upgrade an aging Socket AM2+ or AM3 system, though.

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

Best Gaming CPU for $125:
Core i3-2100 (Check Prices)

Core i3-2100
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.1 GHz
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 3 MB
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

As our Who's Got Game? Twelve Sub-$200 CPUs Compared article proved, the budget Core i3-2100 is a surprisingly capable force in the gaming arena, able to beat the powerful quad-core CPUs that traditionally dominate this price segment. And with budget LGA 1155-based motherboards readily available below $70, this processor is a great starting point for folks who want to enjoy solid gaming performance now, with an option to upgrade to a Core i5 or i7 in the future.

Yes, you have to essentially forsake the potential for overclocking, given (what we consider to be) enthusiast-unfriendly locks on the multiplier and a base clock with very little room to scale beyond 100 MHz. But the stock performance is compelling, and this CPU still warrants a recommendation.

Read our review of the Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

Best Gaming CPU for $190:
Core i5-2400 (Check Prices)

Core i5-2400
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.1 GHz (3.4 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

Intel's Sandy Bridge microarchitechture is undeniably fast. Test data suggests that the new Core i5-2400 can stand toe-to-toe with Core i7-900-series processors when it comes to game performance. We're not talking about the entry-level models, either. This affordable processor has the chops to compete with Intel's thousand-dollar Extreme Edition chips when it comes to enabling the highest frames per second.

As great as the Core i5-700-series chips are, the new Core i5-2000 processors hit the afterburners and fly right by. Plus, the LGA 1156 interface is essentially dead, so it seems silly to sink any money into it at this point.

Read our review of the Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

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