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Best Gaming CPU: $110-$130

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: May 2010
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Best gaming CPU for $120: None

As mentioned previously, the Athlon II X3 440 features such value-oriented (and yet wholly solid) gaming performance that it is difficult to recommend spending $100 to $130 for similar results. Having said that, other factors can come into play. For these reasons, the following CPUs are being given honorable mentions.

Honorable Mention:
Athlon II X4 635 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X4 635
Codename: Propus
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.9 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95W

Offering a 100 MHz speed boost over the Athlon II X4 630, the new Athlon II X4 635 cannot be denied as a good option for overclockers who want four execution cores.

This model isn't unlocked (it's not one of AMD's Black Edition chips), but it does employ a higher multiplier than the Athlon II X4 630, making it a solid quad-core processor with (ideally) a bit of scalability on the cheap. With a $120 asking price, there is a lot of value here.

Honorable Mention:
Core i3-530 (Check Prices)

Core i3-530
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache:   4 x 32KB
L2 Cache:   2 x 256KB
L3 Cache: 4MB
Thermal Envelope:
73W

The Core i3-530 is a promising gaming CPU, despite the fact that it comes to the table with just two physical cores. More importantly, it opens up a viable budget alternative to the Socket AM3 platform. At $120, this CPU is a great starting point.

Stock performance is usually quite good from what we've seen, although you can't expect Hyper-Threading to yield the same performance gains as an additional physical core or two.

If you don't believe us, check out Thomas Soderstrom's look at gaming performance on a Core i3-530.

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition

Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition
Codename: Heka
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 2.8 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 128KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95W

We try and stick to retail processors when it comes to CPU recommendations because the costs of a cooler introduces a sizable variable. But in the case of the Phenom II X3 720, flagging retail availability forces us to make an exception.

The OEM version of this CPU is now $105. Add a $15 aftermarket cooler (such as the Cooler Master Hyper TX3), and you have a triple-core unlocked CPU on your hands for $120.

We're a bit torn here. On the one hand, we know that overclocking is the surest way to negate your warranty coverage. However, the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition not only has that unlocked multiplier, but we've also had some luck unlocking the fourth core on a handful of samples. The chance may or may not be worth the extra money you drop on this chip. Bear in mind, though, that it's an "expensive" model for AMD to sell, and its starting to disappear fast. The retail version has all but disappeared.

Honorable Mention:
Core 2 Duo E7500 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Duo E7500
Codename: Wolfdale-3M
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache:   3MB
Front Side Bus: 1,066 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
65W

At 2.93 GHz, the Core 2 Duo E7500 remains a good match-up against the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition. Even without an unlocked multiplier, the E7500 is an excellent overclocker and won't disappoint. And the $120 price point is an acceptable premium to pay for LGA 775 upgraders who don't want to invest in a new motherboard.

It has a high clock rate, but its dual-core design won't be as nimble as AMD's triple-core offerings when it comes to multi-threaded apps. Most folks considering this CPU are probably trying to squeeze longevity from an older LGA 775 platform. If you're looking to upgrade your motherboard as well, it'd be best to consider a Phenom II or Core i3 instead.

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