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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August 2011

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: August 2011
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August gives us a number of price cuts, especially across AMD's Phenom II X4 and X6 families. We consider the impact of lower prices, in addition to how all this may fit into the imminent release of Bulldozer, AMD's next-generation desktop architecture.

If you don’t have the time to research 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.

August Updates

Up until now, we've seen nothing from August except a handful of price changes. We haven't seen any new processors since Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Pentiums first emerged.

Speaking of Intel, this month's biggest price move affects the Core i7-970, which is about $30 cheaper at $550. Although the -970 is a six-core powerhouse, we're still not any more tempted to buy it at that price. The Core i7-2600K sells for $315, and in many cases it's an outright faster processor (not to mentioned unlocked, for your pleasure).

Price cuts also affect AMD's quad- and hexa-core Phenom II lines, too. The Phenom II X4 980 and 975 drop $20 to $170 and $160, respectively, and the Phenom II X4 970 drops $15 to $140. Nevertheless, with a realistic overclocking cap of about 4 GHz across the entire Phenom II portfolio, it's difficult to imagine spending more than $120 on the multiplier-unlocked Phenom II X4 955.

AMD's Phenom II X6 1055, 1075, and 1090T all fall $10 to $170, $160, and $150. It's impressive that folks looking for budget-oriented workstations have the option of buying a hexa-core processor for $150, and that overclockers can get the multiplier-unlocked 1090T for $170. Having said that, we already know AMD's Phenom II X6 models don't perform any better than its Phenom II X4 in the gaming arena. So, for the purposes of this article, we can't recommend them as gaming CPUs.

We also wonder if AMD's price drops have anything to do with the imminent introduction of the Zambezi-flavored rendition on the Bulldozer architecture (which should become available in the next 30 days, if the company wants to stay true to its word on a third-quarter release). If you haven't heard, Zambezi is a 32 nm processor that lacks the integrated graphics found on AMD's Llano-based APUs. This is a CPU, through and through, and it represents the first significant processor redesign since AMD's Athlon 64. Comprised of "modules," each is equipped with two coupled x86 processing engines (cores). At launch, the top models are expected to boast four modules (eight cores).

With that in mind, enthusiasts interested in a higher-end system probably want to hold off at this point to see what the Bulldozer architecture introduces. At the very least, if you're building a new AMD-based system, make sure it's Socket AM3+-compatible so that you have the option to upgrade to a Zambezi-based processor down the road.

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
  • 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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