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Best Gaming CPU: Under $110

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October 2010
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After a brisk September, filled with AMD CPU refreshes, October brings us Intel's new Pentium E5700. We're also getting a first look at the recently-released Phenom II X3 740. Oh, and there's that recent 50% price reduction on the speedy Core i7-950, too!

Best Gaming CPU for ~$85:

Athlon II X3 450 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 450
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed:  3.2 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache:   3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache:   3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

This is the fastest triple-core Athlon II available, and it sports an ideal combination of three CPU cores, a high clock rate, a low price, and respectable overclocking headroom. Despite the deceptively low buy-in, this processor delivers some serious gaming capability. It is such a great gaming CPU, in fact, that it almost renders most of the CPUs in the $100 to $130 range overkill.

Intel's Core i3-530 does manage to up the ante, but it costs $30 more, and doesn't perform as well in threaded environments due to its less complex dual-core architecture.

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X3 740 Black Edition (OEM) (Check Prices)

Phenom II X3 740 Black Edition
Codename: Heka
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 3.0 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache:   3 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
80 W

As a rule, we avoid recommending OEM processors--we prefer steering folks toward full retail models bundled with a CPU cooler to save money, and a full warranty for peace of mind. The Phenom II X3 740 Black Edition is exactly the kind of processor that we'll break the rules for. Take all of the positive things we've said about the Athlon II X3 CPUs, add the Phenom II series' fat 6 MB of L3 cache, and sprinkle an unlocked multiplier on top. Tah-dah! You have the Phenom II X3 740 Black Edition.

Our tests have shown that most games have little use for more than three CPU cores, but experience also tells us that games can benefit from the large L3 cache and high clock speeds on high-end Phenom II processors. The Phenom II X3 740 has an ideal blend of these features, with an unlocked CPU multiplier that makes it possible to increase CPU overclocks without pushing the rest of the platform out of spec.

The downside is that the Phenom II X3 740 buyer needs to purchase a separate CPU cooler because this OEM-only model doesn't include one, nor does it include more than a 30-day warranty. But a beefy cooler might be a foregone conclusion, anyway. No matter how you slice it, this processor at deserves an honorable mention.

Best Gaming CPU for $100: None

Honorable Mention:
Athlon II X4 640 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X4 640
Codename: Propus
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.0 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

There are a few gaming titles out there that will take advantage of a fourth CPU core---real-time strategy games, mostly--making the Athlon II X4 a potentially attractive choice to enthusiasts who multitask while gaming, and are willing to overclock this processor. Moreover, as a general-purpose CPU (during the hours you don't spend gaming), the quad-core solution is going to be superior.

Now found as low as $100, true quad-core CPUs are well within the grasp of the budget gamer. Specifically, the Athlon II X4 640 model is impressive with it's 3 GHz clock speed.

Read our review of the Athlon II X4, right here.

Honorable Mention:
Pentium Dual-Core E6800

Pentium Dual-Core E6800
Codename: Wolfdale-2M
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.33 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache:   2 MB
Front Side Bus: 1066 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

The new 3.33 GHz Pentium E6800 replaces the 3.2 GHz Pentium E6700 as the fastest budget dual-core available for the LGA 775 interface.

While the E6800 doesn't have any dormant cores that could be unlocked (like the Phenom II X2 555), it has a solid overclocking reputation and makes a good upgrade option for tweakers with older LGA 775-based systems who are not yet ready to put money into a new motherboard and CPU. For folks considering a full upgrade, the Socket AM3 and LGA 1156 platforms are probably better choices. Just bear in mind that LGA 1156's days are numbered. The launch of Sandy Bridge early next year sees Intel pulling a hack-job with yet another interface, leaving mainstream buyers with Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 CPUs stranded without a viable upgrade path.

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Top Comments
  • 17 Hide
    enzo matrix , October 26, 2010 9:45 AM
    TA152HAnd then there is AMD. Bulldozer is obviously not a good gaming chip, but AMD prices things so aggressively, it still might compete very well.

    *Facepalm*
    You realize the only coverage of Bulldozer so far has been on the server side? Obviously that's not a gaming chip. But there has not been any coverage on the desktop counterpart.
    It's like you saying Phenom II is not a good gaming chip because the 12 core Opteron is not a good gaming chip.
  • 11 Hide
    h1tchh1k3r , October 26, 2010 6:52 AM
    For me it doesn't matter how much Intel is ahead of AMD in the race currently, I just can't find it in my heart to support them. Maybe it is because AMD seems like the underdog that us gamers just can't help but support them so zealously.
  • 10 Hide
    jj463rd , October 26, 2010 10:33 AM
    Right now the OEM Phenom II X4 940 BE is only $90.99 w free shipping at newegg.It's a STEAL and just $2 more than the OEM Phenom II X3 740 BE at $88.99 as I type and a better deal with the extra working core.
Other Comments
  • 5 Hide
    Suprosa , October 26, 2010 6:49 AM
    Great article :) 
    I think you guys forgot to add the AMD Phenom II X3 740 to the chart.
  • -4 Hide
    ta152h , October 26, 2010 6:52 AM
    Nice job getting the L1 caches correct and being consistent in describing the size. You still don't mention it in some models though.

    My biggest contention has been with the LGA 1156 somehow being better than LGA 775, and LGA 775 being a dead-end. I'm glad you finally mentioned LGA 1156 is dead too. Interestingly, it was from the day they made it. They still haven't introduced anything higher end than the i7 870, which was a first day release. It's not like they added USB 3.0, or SATA 6 Gbps, or a new PCIe spec either.

    I still think LGA 775 is viable if you can get a good deal. It's older, but as mentioned has the same technologies as x58 and P55. On top of that, Sandy Bridge is going to bury Nehalem once it gets going, being a brand new architecture for the first time since the Pentium 4.

    For many people, a cheap LGA 775 platform with a Pentium E6700 might do the trick until the new micro architecture comes out next year. If it means finally getting rid of the 1995 Pentium Pro architecture sooner rather than later with the saved money, it could make sense. But only if it's good enough.

    And then there is AMD. Bulldozer is obviously not a good gaming chip, but AMD prices things so aggressively, it still might compete very well. Bobcat, to me, is just as interesting as Intel's new architecture. I guess I could be disappointed, but this processor seems to have hit the market in the perfect spot. Adequate performance (as opposed to bad for the Atom), with very good power efficiency, low heat, and small size/low cost could make this processor an extremely successful product. Maybe not for 3D games, but for 95% of the people, it's going to be an almost perfect fit, if it's as good as I'm hearing.

    There's too much exciting stuff coming out next year to spend a lot this year, unless you really need it. Bobcat and Intel's next generation, not to mention Bulldozer are all dramatic departures that could easily make anyone buying stuff today regret spending a lot of money. I can't remember a year with so many exciting, and completely new processors coming out.

    Keep your powder dry. 2011 is going to be exciting.
  • 11 Hide
    h1tchh1k3r , October 26, 2010 6:52 AM
    For me it doesn't matter how much Intel is ahead of AMD in the race currently, I just can't find it in my heart to support them. Maybe it is because AMD seems like the underdog that us gamers just can't help but support them so zealously.
  • 3 Hide
    tony singh , October 26, 2010 7:10 AM
    They need 2 correct their cpu chart , the amd 970 performs equal to i5-750 & amd 965 is equal to qx9770 . Another intel marketing thing?
  • 10 Hide
    smile9999 , October 26, 2010 8:07 AM
    thanks for the list but for the love of god plz remove this
    "This six-core monster recently stole the bragging rights for the world's fastest CPU from the Core i7-975 Extreme"

    you are destroying the definition of recent
  • 4 Hide
    sudeshc , October 26, 2010 8:15 AM
    I too think that AMD should improve and give Intel some fight on CPU front otherwise we cant have a healthy environment and with monopoly Intel will charge what ever amount they want. Come on AMD bring some fight back here...
  • 17 Hide
    enzo matrix , October 26, 2010 9:45 AM
    TA152HAnd then there is AMD. Bulldozer is obviously not a good gaming chip, but AMD prices things so aggressively, it still might compete very well.

    *Facepalm*
    You realize the only coverage of Bulldozer so far has been on the server side? Obviously that's not a gaming chip. But there has not been any coverage on the desktop counterpart.
    It's like you saying Phenom II is not a good gaming chip because the 12 core Opteron is not a good gaming chip.
  • 10 Hide
    jj463rd , October 26, 2010 10:33 AM
    Right now the OEM Phenom II X4 940 BE is only $90.99 w free shipping at newegg.It's a STEAL and just $2 more than the OEM Phenom II X3 740 BE at $88.99 as I type and a better deal with the extra working core.
  • -3 Hide
    compton , October 26, 2010 11:27 AM
    I have a 550 BE which I was able to unlock to an X3. It is awesome. I was toying with getting an i3 or i5 dual core 'cause I want that 32nm. 4Ghz on 1v? That's the new hotness. What would be more awesome? If AMD would send in the 32nm Phenoms. I don't know how long AMD can hold on with processors that can't really compete with the Core Ix. If they don't bring the heat soon, I fear things will get ugly. I want AMD to do well. Giving consumers more cores for less money is a great thing until the cores you get are not the relative performer that they need to be to keep up. Things change in a hurry. My Pentium 4 still does okay, but that doesn't mean I'd buy a new one even if they are really cheap. AMD, please drop the new stuff.
  • 9 Hide
    blibba , October 26, 2010 11:45 AM
    enzo matrix*Facepalm*You realize the only coverage of Bulldozer so far has been on the server side? Obviously that's not a gaming chip. But there has not been any coverage on the desktop counterpart.It's like you saying Phenom II is not a good gaming chip because the 12 core Opteron is not a good gaming chip.


    I wouldn't mind a 12 core Opteron in my gaming PC to be honest :p 
  • 3 Hide
    iamtheking123 , October 26, 2010 12:11 PM
    I myself went with the X3 440 and got it up to 3.6 ghz with the stock cooler and tons of case fan-flow. You get all the gaming benefits of good single core speeds, which is important as previous articles have shown, and you also get 3 cores worth of multitasking...or dvd ripping for a good price.

    Yes I could have afforded an i5 or maybe stretched to a i7 920, but looking at what I really needed a cpu to do, anything more than the 440 would have been great for bragging rights but a waste for my wallet.
  • 2 Hide
    dogman_1234 , October 26, 2010 1:50 PM
    Cant wait until the new microarchitectures come up. 2011 will be a year of tech. Sandy and Bulldozer!
  • 1 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , October 26, 2010 2:16 PM
    It's the Pentium G6950, not the 9650.
    But yeah- not a real exciting time to buy: unless, of course, you have an AM3 mainboard.

    On the other hand, I wonder how many spaces will be filled by Intel once the Sandy Bridge platform comes out: since some of these CPUs are also sorted by overclocking value, I wonder how much value the totally-locked Intel CPUs will offer against the easily-overclocked AMDs?
  • -6 Hide
    scook9 , October 26, 2010 2:17 PM
    The QX9300 in my laptop is still in the top tier with a minimal overclock lol.......with a high overclock (4.33 GHz) it beats anything that AMD has right now

    ......in my laptop.....
  • 6 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , October 26, 2010 2:23 PM
    scook9The QX9300 in my laptop is still in the top tier with a minimal overclock lol.......with a high overclock (4.33 GHz) it beats anything that AMD has right now......in my laptop.....


    nice joke ;) 
  • 2 Hide
    Travis Beane , October 26, 2010 2:27 PM
    That is some tight pricing. Makes me wonder were all the money on my build went.
    I didn't know there was a price cut on the i7-950. That's quite dramatic.

    I was going nuts trying to ensure I got a i7-920 D0 batch, not a C0. Then the i7-930, and now the i7-950 for the same price.
    Sure, nothing dramatic, but slow and gradual improvements. On a 920 I'm running 3.57GHz on stock voltage, what could these do?

    TA152HKeep your powder dry. 2011 is going to be exciting.

    It certainly will. I'm waiting. Intel and its mysterious Sandy Ridge, and AMD with them touting that Bulldozer will have both higher clocks and IPC mixed with a couple extra cores. :) 
  • 6 Hide
    huron , October 26, 2010 2:50 PM
    Always love the updated Best for the money articles. Unfortunately, it always makes me want to build more computers, which my wife assures me we don't need.
  • -3 Hide
    ta152h , October 26, 2010 2:53 PM
    enzo matrix*Facepalm*You realize the only coverage of Bulldozer so far has been on the server side? Obviously that's not a gaming chip. But there has not been any coverage on the desktop counterpart.It's like you saying Phenom II is not a good gaming chip because the 12 core Opteron is not a good gaming chip.


    There is a lot of design stuff out for the Bulldozer, if you cared to read it. You can't slip lipstick on a pig and instantly transform it into a hyena.

    The processor is not designed for single-threaded performance. There is nothing they can do to change that; it's integral to the design. It's made to maximize multiple thread performance very economically and beat Intel there. Intel maximized single-threaded performance, which is better suited for games, since games can't use 12 logical processors effectively.

    That's integral to the design, and a lot is known about the design. AMD will no doubt price it competitively, like I mentioned, but the best gaming CPU will continue to come from Intel for quite some time.

    Bulldozer should clock pretty high though, but it won't be enough. You might not like it, because you think AMD is your buddy and loves you back, but they aren't, they don't, and they probably made the right design decision since the area they will be superior isn't trivial, and they aren't superior in anything right now (from a design perspective).
  • 3 Hide
    mypobox , October 26, 2010 2:57 PM
    how is a phenom 9850 for $65 not the best gaming value out there ? Tigerdirect.com
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