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Best Gaming CPU: $100-$200

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for $120: None

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125 W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II X4 family, the 955 offers the best value in the company's line-up. It is a true quad-core processor with a large 6 MB L3 cache and an unlocked clock multiplier. Based on our experience, a great majority of Phenom II X4 955 processors can run just as fast as a Phenom II X4 975 through a simple BIOS multiplier change from 16x to 18x. That's an easy way to put this $120 processor on par with a stock ~$210 Core i5-760 when it comes to gaming.

The real competition for the Phenom II X4 955 BE is Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2100. Intel's budget-oriented processor can out-game the Phenom II X4. But AMD's CPU is a good entertainment-oriented option better suited to multitasking, thanks to its quad-core architecture. Since this list is focused on game performance, the Phenom II X4 955's price is too close to the superior Core i3-2100 to take a full recommendation. It does deserve an honorable mention for those looking to upgrade an aging Socket AM2+ or AM3 system, though.

Read our review of the Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition, right here.

Best Gaming CPU for $125:
Core i3-2100 (Check Prices)

Core i3-2100
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.1 GHz
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 3 MB
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

As our Who's Got Game? Twelve Sub-$200 CPUs Compared article proved, the budget Core i3-2100 is a surprisingly capable force in the gaming arena, able to beat the powerful quad-core CPUs that traditionally dominate this price segment. And with budget LGA 1155-based motherboards readily available below $70, this processor is a great starting point for folks who want to enjoy solid gaming performance now, with an option to upgrade to a Core i5 or i7 in the future.

Yes, you have to essentially forsake the potential for overclocking, given (what we consider to be) enthusiast-unfriendly locks on the multiplier and a base clock with very little room to scale beyond 100 MHz. But the stock performance is compelling, and this CPU still warrants a recommendation.

Read our review of the Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

Best Gaming CPU for $190:
Core i5-2400 (Check Prices)

Core i5-2400
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.1 GHz (3.4 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

Intel's Sandy Bridge microarchitechture is undeniably fast. Test data suggests that the Core i5-2400 can stand toe-to-toe with Core i7-900-series processors when it comes to game performance. We're not talking about the entry-level models, either. This affordable processor has the chops to compete with Intel's thousand-dollar Extreme Edition chips when it comes to enabling the highest frames per second.

As great as the Core i5-700-series chips are, the Core i5-2000 processors hit the afterburners and fly right by. Plus, the LGA 1156 interface is essentially dead, so it seems silly to sink any money into it at this point.

Read our review of the Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

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Top Comments
  • 30 Hide
    julianbautista87 , October 26, 2011 4:55 AM
    you basically have two options: Intel or f*** you. Come on AMD! why are you so good on the gpu market and so bad in the cpu market?
  • 17 Hide
    cleeve , October 26, 2011 5:10 AM
    ojasweren't we promised a round-up of the sandy bridge pentium processors a long time ago?


    Yes, and I'm working on it! behind schedule, although the delay means we can include the FX series. The budget FX-4000 CPUs look like they might not be that terrible considering they're multiplier-unlocked.
  • 13 Hide
    alhanelem , October 26, 2011 7:33 AM
    not surprised that bulldozer didn't even show up in this article
Other Comments
  • 30 Hide
    julianbautista87 , October 26, 2011 4:55 AM
    you basically have two options: Intel or f*** you. Come on AMD! why are you so good on the gpu market and so bad in the cpu market?
  • 2 Hide
    ojas , October 26, 2011 5:09 AM
    weren't we promised a round-up of the sandy bridge pentium processors a long time ago?

    really should have a comparison of the various sub $100 processors from both AMD and Intel. Could use the i3-2100 for reference.

    would be useful for entry-level gaming builds and office builds.

    Or, could be useful to check if it's a good idea to pair a G860 or Phenom II x4 840 with a GTX 460/560 or 6850 and get decent gaming performance.
  • 17 Hide
    cleeve , October 26, 2011 5:10 AM
    ojasweren't we promised a round-up of the sandy bridge pentium processors a long time ago?


    Yes, and I'm working on it! behind schedule, although the delay means we can include the FX series. The budget FX-4000 CPUs look like they might not be that terrible considering they're multiplier-unlocked.
  • 9 Hide
    tlmck , October 26, 2011 5:29 AM
    I for one am very happy with my Phenom II X4 840. Of course I got mine on sale at a local place called Microcenter for $59.99. Won't win any benchmark contests, but it plays every game I throw at it at high settings. Good enough for me.
  • 3 Hide
    de5_Roy , October 26, 2011 6:03 AM
    1. i totally agree with this article.
    2.
    Quote:
    Instead, Intel's lower-cost Core i3s and Core i5s are likely better (and less expensive) options.

    this made me chuckle. okay, it made me laugh. i never imagined the day when intel would seem like a value proposition, in gaming, even. but this is true - among 32 nm cpus, intel is cheaper and a better all round performer.
    if you read anandtech's bd review they used a core i5 2400 in their benches which beat bd in some if not enough benchmarks. i wonder how a core i3 2100, core i5 2400 will fare against fx 4100, 6100 and 8120. i think the core i5 will emerge as a better cpu despite being locked.
    it's funny to see 'quadcore' 3.6 GHz FX-4100 @ $115. imo fx 4100 is a 125 tdp dual core with ht(amd version). no one needs this space-heating-almost-as-costly-core-i3 dud. it's not a good upgrade from a ph ii 955. fx 6100 and fx 8120 are of better value among bd cpus.
  • 3 Hide
    qu4k3r , October 26, 2011 6:03 AM
    When will the other FX models review be ready ?

    I'd like to see where 8120,8100,6100,4170,4100 are located in this chart.-
  • 5 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , October 26, 2011 6:19 AM
    qu4k3rWhen will the other FX models review be ready ?I'd like to see where 8120,8100,6100,4170,4100 are located in this chart.-

    Guru3D did a review of the FX lineup. It's mostly non-gaming benchmarks, but it gives you a good idea of how the other processors in the FX series perform in general.

    http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-fx-8150--8120-6100-and-4100-performance-review/
  • 6 Hide
    Stardude82 , October 26, 2011 6:35 AM
    The G840 is about $80 now. That should shift things next month. Heck the G620 is faster than the 455 in gaming benchmarks and that's been sub $80 for a while.
  • 0 Hide
    jet-21 , October 26, 2011 6:56 AM
    I think it would be nice if toms would do a chart where they would merge both the best gaming cpu and the best cpu for the money. ie: the best gpu combo for the best cpu price point. Just my musings
  • 0 Hide
    de5_Roy , October 26, 2011 6:57 AM
    just a little correction to my earlier comment: seems only fx 4170 is a 125 w tdp, fx 4100 is a 95 w tdp bulldozer cpu(still 30w higher than core i3's 65 w tdp).
  • 0 Hide
    qu4k3r , October 26, 2011 7:10 AM
    dragonsqrrlGuru3D did a review of the FX lineup. It's mostly non-gaming benchmarks, but it gives you a good idea of how the other processors in the FX series perform in general.http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd- [...] ce-review/

    I also saw these reviews:
    http://nl.hardware.info/reviews/2382/amd-fx-8150--8120--6100--4100-bulldozer-review
    http://www.techspot.com/review/452-amd-bulldozer-fx-cpus/page10.html

    But I'm still doubtful about what cpu to buy

    Having a Q6600 oc@3.2GHz I've bought an AM3+ mobo which I really like and I want to use it, so I'd rather buy a cpu 3 tiers higher than mine on AMD side.
  • 13 Hide
    alhanelem , October 26, 2011 7:33 AM
    not surprised that bulldozer didn't even show up in this article
  • -8 Hide
    dontqqnub , October 26, 2011 7:35 AM
    The 2700k isn't on the list. =\
  • 6 Hide
    fyasko , October 26, 2011 8:18 AM
    dontqqnubThe 2700k isn't on the list. =\

    it's best "gaming" cpu's for the $... think about it...
  • 4 Hide
    Dacatak , October 26, 2011 8:32 AM
    I got an X4 955 BE for $88. No tax, no BS MIR, free shipping. Boo-yeah.
  • 9 Hide
    jdw_swb , October 26, 2011 8:37 AM
    2500K....still an awesome CPU for the price.
  • -2 Hide
    Aoyagi , October 26, 2011 8:43 AM
    julianbautista87you basically have two options: Intel or f*** you. Come on AMD! why are you so good on the gpu market and so bad in the cpu market?

    Because AMD has never intered GPU market itelf, it's ATI. And come on, they still need to get over their own CPUs ^^ (meaning Phenom 2s)
  • 4 Hide
    RCPG , October 26, 2011 11:40 AM
    Where is the Phenom II X4 840 on the hierarchy chart? It's recommend and it's not even on the chart. And I have a Phenom II X4 850 which also isn't on the chart. Please update the chart with these two processors.
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , October 26, 2011 11:56 AM
    Disappointing for AMD, but predictable.
    At the low end, unless perhaps it is for a single, specific application in an unchanging environment, I still don't see ever recommending a non-HT dual core (e.g. Pentium) over a 3- or 4-core CPU (e.g. Athlon II); not for modern workloads.
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , October 26, 2011 1:10 PM
    By the looks of it don you haven't had time to bench the rest of the Bulldozer CPU lineup yet?

    Once some of the cheaper silicon in that range hits the street would you mind doing some gaming benchies and seeing if there is a good quality gaming chip in the mix?

    I would think there might be.

    Good work on this regular article as usual.

    :) 
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