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.
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.