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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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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 23, 2011 7:16 AM
    iam2thecrowethis list is growing smaller indeed. This is good in a way, a top end cpu only costs $200, that is insane when many, lower end CPU's i have bought in the past cost much more than that.

    AMD's entry level dual-core processor (Athlon 64 X2 3800+) I bought back in summer 2005 cost me around $370. And now you can buy the fastest quad-core processor on the market (i7 2600K) for $315... amazing.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , August 23, 2011 7:10 AM
    Heres to hoping this is the last list without bulldozer.
  • 10 Hide
    wribbs , August 23, 2011 5:54 AM
    Now that we have mobile GPU's in the GPU hierarchy chart it would be nice to see some mobile CPU's in the CPU hierarchy chart.
Other Comments
  • 1 Hide
    jdw_swb , August 23, 2011 5:31 AM
    2500K....awesome gaming chip.

    Got mine running at 4.5Ghz, so easy to overclock and maintain low temps.

    Another month gone, where is AMD/Bulldozer?
  • 5 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , August 23, 2011 5:41 AM
    JDW_SWB.Another month gone, where is AMD/Bulldozer?

    September 18
  • 10 Hide
    wribbs , August 23, 2011 5:54 AM
    Now that we have mobile GPU's in the GPU hierarchy chart it would be nice to see some mobile CPU's in the CPU hierarchy chart.
  • 9 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , August 23, 2011 7:02 AM
    this list is growing smaller indeed. This is good in a way, a top end cpu only costs $200, that is insane when many, lower end CPU's i have bought in the past cost much more than that. AMD, you need to drop your prices or noone will buy your old tech.
  • 0 Hide
    alhanelem , August 23, 2011 7:09 AM
    i hope bulldozer will at least be up to par with the 2nd generation core i chips.
    i would love to replace my e850 with a cheap yet high performing chip from AMD
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , August 23, 2011 7:10 AM
    Heres to hoping this is the last list without bulldozer.
  • 10 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 23, 2011 7:16 AM
    iam2thecrowethis list is growing smaller indeed. This is good in a way, a top end cpu only costs $200, that is insane when many, lower end CPU's i have bought in the past cost much more than that.

    AMD's entry level dual-core processor (Athlon 64 X2 3800+) I bought back in summer 2005 cost me around $370. And now you can buy the fastest quad-core processor on the market (i7 2600K) for $315... amazing.
  • 0 Hide
    bombat1994 , August 23, 2011 8:45 AM
    remember the 2600k is the equivilent of the core i7 920 or 860 the real high end chips have yet to be release as of yet
  • 2 Hide
    traumadisaster , August 23, 2011 11:34 AM
    As long as these high end chips stay on 1155, fine. Dont make me buy a new mobo.
  • 1 Hide
    ojas , August 23, 2011 12:29 PM
    What really amazes me is the price drops in AMD processors. The Phenom II X6 1100T BE was originally a $265 (company estimate) chip. Today it sells for around $100 less, about 9 months from release (online rates are lower than the company estimated price). The X4 980 prices haven't moved so much during the last 8 months though.

    Compare that to any Sandy Bridge processor. I think all of them are selling for more than what the company prices them at, which is still the same as they were at the release date. The various SB i5s and i7s have been around for 8 months as well.

    We need to Bulldoze some Intel prices i guess...
  • -1 Hide
    flclkun , August 23, 2011 1:47 PM
    while i hope BD is successful. I'm gonna laugh my ass off if/when it falls right on its face when it wont be the game changer that AMD fans are hoping it will be or put an end to Intel's rein.

    Intel is a multi-billion dollar company for a reason.
  • 0 Hide
    hameem 1 , August 23, 2011 2:13 PM
    they should chose the phenom ii x3 720BE as the best cpu for $75 ..right ?
  • 3 Hide
    quicksilver98 , August 23, 2011 2:31 PM
    traumadisasterAs long as these high end chips stay on 1155, fine. Dont make me buy a new mobo.


    ROFL - That's what you get when buying an Intel CPU...
  • 2 Hide
    Onus , August 23, 2011 3:30 PM
    There's another tiny reason to choose a X4 970BE over a 955BE or 965BE: power consumption. For whatever reason, the 970BE uses less power at stock, even though it is faster. OC the other two to match it, and the difference will be even greater. Here's just one chart; I think there were others, but I can't find them: http://www.anandtech.com/bench/CPU/64
    There are performance differences, certainly, but any modern CPU can play any game. Yes, you've shown that CPU makes a difference (a lot more than expected in some games), but GPU still generally makes more, and someone willing to lower just a few settings will not experience a decrease in the quality of the game play. With that said, for the same money, I'll take a slower AMD CPU on a full-featured, high quality mobo over a faster Intel CPU on a stripped-down mobo any day.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 23, 2011 5:20 PM
    I feel like you could have saved yourself some time and just posted a link to any of the last 5 "Best CPU" articles. The only change is the price, and in the technology world a price drop is not exactly a surprise to anyone.

    :) 
  • 0 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 23, 2011 6:54 PM
    ojasWhat really amazes me is the price drops in AMD processors. The Phenom II X6 1100T BE was originally a $265 (company estimate) chip. Today it sells for around $100 less, about 9 months from release (online rates are lower than the company estimated price). The X4 980 prices haven't moved so much during the last 8 months though.Compare that to any Sandy Bridge processor. I think all of them are selling for more than what the company prices them at, which is still the same as they were at the release date. The various SB i5s and i7s have been around for 8 months as well.We need to Bulldoze some Intel prices i guess...

    ... the irony is that the AMD price drops you're referring to occurred because of Sandy Bridge. There's really no immediate reason for Intel to enact a price drop on their Sandy Bridge processors, but even if they did, it would only mean that AMD would have to follow suit with an additional price drop of their own to remain performance competitive at a given price point.

    AMD is in desperate need of higher performance processors that they can price against Intel at the $200+ price points. The good news is that the FX-8150P seems to be targeted at the $300 price point. If this is true then in all likelihood AMD's highest-end Bulldozer processor will be performance competitive with the i7-2600K.

    http://www.guru3d.com/news/amd-eightcore-fxseries-bulldozer-cpus-cost-300/
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , August 23, 2011 7:02 PM
    hameem 1they should chose the phenom ii x3 720BE as the best cpu for $75 ..right ?


    Doesn't come with a cooler, so add at least $15 on top of that. Then it doesn't look as good, especially since the OEM models come with a reduced warranty...

    But it can still be decent if you know what you're getting and are hoping for one that unlocks to four cores.
  • 6 Hide
    cleeve , August 23, 2011 7:10 PM
    Quote:
    With that said, for the same money, I'll take a slower AMD CPU on a full-featured, high quality mobo over a faster Intel CPU on a stripped-down mobo any day.


    The GPU is important, yes, but some modern games can be held back significantly by a Phenom II.

    If you're thinking an AMD 980 vs i5-2500K, then you're losing out on a big chunk of performance in some cases. A cheap 1155 mobo will that CPU be *significantly* faster in some games. But if you look past games, you're losing an even more significant amount of performance with everything else if you go with a Phenom II.

    Don't get me wrong, I've been recommending AMD CPUs for years. But Sandy bridge is just that good. Bulldozer needs to arrive soon, and it needs to be decent enough to reach the GPU bottleneck again.


  • 2 Hide
    eddieroolz , August 23, 2011 8:58 PM
    Here's hoping that Zambezi can turn this chart on its head next month!
  • -2 Hide
    fyasko , August 23, 2011 9:51 PM
    AMD's future is key to keeping prices where they are or potentially dropping for mid-mid/upper class chips. i was an AMD fanboi, now i realize the relationship amd has with intel is what keeps our price/performance ratio where enthusiast want it. hopefully amd's BD has a flawless release and is a great chip.
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