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Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August 2011
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What about this other CPU that’s not on the list? How do I know if it’s a good deal or not?

This will happen. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen because availability and prices change quickly. So how do you know if that CPU you have your eye on is a good buy in its price range?

Here is a resource to help you judge if a CPU is a reasonable value or not: the gaming CPU hierarchy chart, which groups CPUs with similar overall gaming performance levels into tiers. The top tier contains the highest-performing gaming CPUs available and gaming performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there.

This hierarchy was originally based on the average performance each CPU achieved in our charts test suite using only four game titles: Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, World in Conflict, and Supreme Commander. We have since incorporated new game data into our criteria, but it should be known that any specific game title will likely perform differently depending on its unique programming. Some games, for example, will be severely graphics subsystem-limited, while others may react positively to more CPU cores, larger amounts of CPU cache, or even a specific architecture. We also did not have access to every CPU on the market, so some of the CPU performance estimates are based on the numbers similar architectures deliver. Indeed, this hierarchy chart is useful as a general guideline, but certainly not as a one-size-fits-all CPU comparison resource. For that, we recommend you check out our CPU Performance Charts.

You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two processors, to see which one is a better deal, and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I don’t recommend upgrading your CPU unless the potential replacement is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel and you may not notice a worthwhile difference in game performance.

Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart
IntelAMD
Core i7-2600, -2600K
Core i7-965, -975 Extreme, -980X Extreme, -990X Extreme
Core i7-980, -970, -960
Core i5-2500, -2500K, -2400, -2310, -2300

Core i7-860, -870, -875K, -920, -930, -940, -950,
Core i5-750, -760, -2405S, -2400S
Core 2 Extreme QX9775, QX9770, QX9650
Core 2 Quad Q9650
Core i3-2100, -2105, -2120
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 980, 975
Core 2 Extreme QX6850, QX6800
Core 2 Quad Q9550, Q9450, Q9400
Core i5-650, -655K, -660, -661, -670, -680
Phenom II X6 1100T BE, 1090T BE, 1075T
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 970, 965, 955
Core 2 Extreme QX6700
Core 2 Quad Q6700, Q9300, Q8400, Q6600, Q8300
Core 2 Duo E8600, E8500, E8400, E7600
Core i3 -530, -540, -550
Pentium G850, G840
Phenom II X6 1055T
Phenom II X4 945, 940, 920, 910, 910e, 810
Phenom II X3 Black Edition 720, 740
A8-3850
A6-3650
Athlon II X4 645, 640, 635, 630
Athlon II X3 460, 455, 450, 445, 440, 435
Core 2 Extreme X6800
Core 2 Quad Q8200
Core 2 Duo E8300, E8200, E8190, E7500, E7400, E6850, E6750
Pentium G620
Phenom II X4 905e, 805
Phenom II X3 710, 705e
Phenom II X2 565 BE, 560 BE, 555 BE, 550 BE, 545
Phenom X4 9950
Athlon II X4 620
Athlon II X3 425
Core 2 Duo E7200, E6550, E7300, E6540, E6700
Pentium Dual-Core E5700, E5800, E6300, E6500, E6600, E6700
Pentium G9650
Phenom X4 9850, 9750, 9650, 9600
Phenom X3 8850, 8750
Athlon II X2 265, 260, 255
Athlon 64 X2 6400+
Core 2 Duo E4700, E4600, E6600, E4500, E6420
Pentium Dual-Core E5400, E5300, E5200, G620T
Phenom X4 9500, 9550, 9450e, 9350e
Phenom X3 8650, 8600, 8550, 8450e, 8450, 8400, 8250e
Athlon II X2 240, 245, 250
Athlon X2 7850, 7750
Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 5600+
Core 2 Duo E4400, E4300, E6400, E6320
Celeron E3300
Phenom X4 9150e, 9100e
Athlon X2 7550, 7450, 5050e, 4850e/b
Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 5200+, 5000+, 4800+
Core 2 Duo E5500, E6300
Pentium Dual-Core E2220, E2200, E2210
Celeron E3200
Athlon X2 6550, 6500, 4450e/b,
Athlon X2 4600+, 4400+, 4200+, BE-2400
Pentium Dual-Core E2180
Celeron E1600
Athlon 64 X2 4000+, 3800+
Athlon X2 4050e, BE-2300
Pentium Dual-Core E2160, E2140
Celeron E1500, E1400, E1200

Summary

There you have it folks: the best gaming CPUs for the money this month. Now all that’s left to do is to find and purchase them.

Also remember that the stores don’t follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month and you’ll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!

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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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