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April saw the introduction of AMD's Phenom II X6. Does this new architecture offer up enough performance to make the recommended list? We're bummed that there likely won't be a Zosma launch, but that makes it easier to pick our favorite gaming CPUs today.
If you don’t have the time to research the 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.
The end of April saw the introduction of AMD's first desktop hexa-core CPU, its Phenom II X6 processor (code-named "Thuban") that we reviewed here. Armed with two more execution cores than the Phenom II X4 CPUs, these new models sport another enhancement: AMD's answer to Intel's Turbo Boost technology, which it calls Turbo CORE. The implementation is similar in that the technology automatically and dynamically boosts the multiplier of AMD's six-core CPUs to allow clock speed adjustments when only some of the CPU cores are being used. The end result is that Turbo CORE squeezes as much performance as it can out of the Phenom II X6, while keeping TDP under 125W.
The two Phenom II X6 AMD launched into the the 1090T Black Edition (a 3.2 GHz model currently priced at $310 dollars) and the 1055T (a 2.8 GHz model running $210 dollars). Both carry the same 6MB shared L3 cache as the rest of the Phenom II line, and both are compatible with a host of Socket AM3 and AM2+ motherboards.
AMD's $310 price tag is a stark contrast to Intel's hexa-core 'Gulftown' Core i7 980X, which costs more than $1,000. As you might expect, though, the Core i7 is a faster processor. But the new Phenom II X6 1090T is certainly great competition for comparatively-priced Intel CPUs, like the Core i7-930, especially when you're running threaded applications.
While all of this sounds great, stepping up to a six-core CPU isn't necessarily the way to go if you're primarily playing games. Unfortunately, most popular titles rarely use more than three CPU cores, and even with Turbo CORE, the Phenom II X4 965 sports similar gaming performance to the Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition. The bad news is that this means the new Phenom II X6 CPUs will not have a presence on our recommended gaming CPU list. However, the Phenom II X6 processors likely make great workstation CPUs and are better suited to high-end A/V transcoding duties.
Aside from this news, there have been very slight price movements over the past month. The Athlon II X2 250 dropped a few dollars, earning it our lowest-priced recommendation, and the Core 2 Duo E7500 jumped a few dollars, making it a little less attractive for anyone upgrading an LGA 775-based platform.
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.