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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October 2011

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October 2011
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AMD's long-awaited FX-series CPUs arrived in October, and we discuss the impact that the company's Bulldozer architecture has on gaming. AMD also introduced other products into retail, including its Phenom II X4 960T, A4-3300, and Phenom II X2 270.

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.

October Updates

AMD's FX-family launch is the most important news in this month's update. The unfortunate reality is that these ~2 billion-transistor processors don't seem to offer gamers much value beyond AMD's prior-generation CPUs. Needless to say, that's a big disappointment for AMD fans hoping they'd get a platform better able to hang with Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture. Instead, Intel's lower-cost Core i3s and Core i5s are likely better (and less expensive) options.

Seven FX models were announced during AMD's official introduction, though only four were purportedly shipped out. At the time of writing, only three models had actually made their way to e-tail: the six-core, 3.3 GHz FX-6100 for $165, the eight-core 3.1 GHz FX-8120 for $205, and the eight-core 3.6 GHz FX-8150 for $245. That's official pricing. In practice, Newegg is selling the -6100 for $190, the -8120 for $220, and the -8150 for $280. A four-core 3.6 GHz FX-4100 is expected show up soon with an MSRP of $115.

To learn more intimate details about AMD's FX, check out AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested.

In addition to FX, AMD has other new products in the channel. Most notably, we're now seeing the Phenom II X4 960T, a processor that we first introduced to you in May of 2010 (Meet Zosma: AMD's Quad-Core Phenom II X4 960T Gets Unlocked). At the time, AMD suggested that this product would probably never make it to retail, and would likely remain an exclusive option for system builders like Dell. It's a good thing that plans change. Zosma is a four-core version of the six-core Thuban design branded as AMD's Phenom II X6 family. As such, it features the first generation of AMD's Turbo Core functionality. In the case of the Phenom II X4 960T, a 3.0 GHz base clock spins as high as 3.4 GHz when thermal headroom exists. Frankly, the Phenom II X4 960T isn't as interesting as the similarly priced (and multiplier-unlocked) Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition to gamers. However, if you also run a lot of threaded software, the possibility of unlocking a couple of extra cores could make this chip more attractive. There's no guarantee you'll actually achieve stability, but we had modest luck in our first encounter with Zosma.

Aside from the 960T, AMD also released a 3.4 GHz Phenom II X2 270 and 2.5 GHz A4-3300. Those products are simply clock tweaks of existing processors, and since they're slower than the top-end models, they're not on our radar for this recommendation list.

What about Intel? The company didn't launch any new hardware in the last month. But then again, it didn't really need to. We did see a handful of $5 price reductions on the Pentium G620, G840, and Core i5-2300. While those drops are nice, they make very little difference to our list. Fortunately, the month to come should be a little more interesting. The Core i7-2700K will emerge, though, as a mere speed bump, we don't expect it to become a recommendation. We'll also see Intel's Sandy Bridge-E. For a preview of what you can expect, check out Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview.

Despite all of the news, our gaming CPU recommendations don't change much from last month. The FX series certainly does nothing to usurp the playing field. We'll see if the new architecture forces any pricing adjustments in the weeks to come. For now, though, it's business as usual, gamers.

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.

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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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