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Best Gaming CPU: Under $100

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: November 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for ~$80:

Athlon II X3 455 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 455
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 3.3 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Athlon II X3 455 is the second-fastest model in the triple-core Athlon II stable. It sports a balanced combination of three execution cores, a high clock rate, a low price, and respectable overclocking headroom. Despite the affordable buy-in, this processor delivers some serious gaming headroom, qualifying it for the entry-level rung on our recommendation ladder.

AMD's own quad-core Phenom II X4 840 outperforms the X3 in modern titles better-optimized for threading. But at a price point $20 cheaper, the Athlon II X3 455 remains a great low-budget option.

Best Gaming CPU for $100: Tie

Phenom II X4 840 (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 840
Codename: Propus
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
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Phenom II X4 840 is bereft of the 6 MB L3 cache found in the rest of the Phenom II lineup, making it a re-branded Athlon II X4.

Having said that, this processor's 3.2 GHz clock rate is certainly more respectable than AMD's decision to confuse its product naming scheme. Moreover, the quad-core Phenom II X4 840 is still capable of delivering solid performance in threaded applications at a price point hovering around $100.

Pentium G860 (Check Prices)

Pentium G860
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2
Clock Speed: 3.0 GHz
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 3 MB
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

The Pentium G860 is no slouch, either. It's only a two-core part, though, and it doesn't even have the Hyper-Threading technology needed to logically address four threads. Instead, it's forced to compete through a more modern architecture able to execute a greater number of instructions per cycle. It additionally offers higher efficiency (the Pentium is only a 65 W part, whereas AMD's Phenom II X4 needs up to 95 W to do its job).

Because these two similarly-priced CPUs are so different from each other, comparing their performance is difficult. When it comes to productivity-oriented apps, they trade blows, depending on whether the software is threaded or not. On average, though, both chips should facilitate similar gaming performance. We have seen plenty of titles that really benefit from at least three cores. In those, Intel stands a higher chance of falling behind.

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  • 1 Hide
    manu 11 , November 28, 2011 3:28 AM
    please test the fx 4100 gaming performance, eagerly waiting for some decent benchmarks.
  • 0 Hide
    AbdullahG , November 28, 2011 3:31 AM
    Interesting list. I see Intel isn't far from dominating ever category for gaming CPUs. The ~$80 zone is holding them back. I'm still glad to see AMD holding up.
  • 2 Hide
    Onikage , November 28, 2011 3:37 AM
    yeah well, still waiting for ivy, i'll get the same speed if not faster than a 2700k but with less heat and less energy,and a better oc, maybe a better price too,,
  • 6 Hide
    Zero_ , November 28, 2011 3:42 AM
    I believe Intel owns sub $80 as well. The G850 costs just $82 and beats the Athlon II X3 455 easy, and the $60 Celeron G540 is faster than any Athlon II X2.

    The only AMD CPU worth buying right now is the Phenom II X2 955.
  • 1 Hide
    de5_Roy , November 28, 2011 3:45 AM
    love the new hierarchy chart :) 
    i read fx 4100's performance in a legitreviews article, that this got beaten by a core i3 and a llano a8 in a lot of cases and it sucks more power (at stock settings) than core i3. it does have a lower price tag than bigger fx cpus but what amd conveniently skips over is this - fx 4100 is a Dual Module, 4 core, 95w processor. it's more like a core i3 (65w), but unlocked and far more watt-hungry. imo one can get more out of a ph ii x4/x6 + 990x/990fx or an (oc over 3 ghz) a8 3850 + a75 combo for gaming.
  • 4 Hide
    alhanelem , November 28, 2011 3:58 AM
    thankfully my e8500 is still pretty high up in the hierarchy so ill hold off upgrading till later
  • -1 Hide
    amk-aka-Phantom , November 28, 2011 4:03 AM
    *Sigh*... does this really have to come out every month? i5-2500K for gaming, Sandy Bridge Pentium or Core i3 for budget builds, i7-2600K for enthusiast or future-proof gaming, period. No need for a new article every month until IB is out :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Dacatak , November 28, 2011 4:03 AM
    Micro Center was selling the 2500K for $149.99 on Black Friday....

    ...and I gots me one.
  • 1 Hide
    ojas , November 28, 2011 4:04 AM
    Hmmm....i looked up Anandtech for benchmarks for the Pentium G860 and Phenom II x4 840, they didn't have them, so i had to compare the Phenom II x4 940 and Pentium G850, and well, Intel wins mostly, except in some threaded applications. Games favour Intel slightly too.

    Here's the permalink
  • 2 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , November 28, 2011 4:21 AM
    manu 11please test the fx 4100 gaming performance, eagerly waiting for some decent benchmarks.

    http://www.guru3d.com/article/amd-fx-8150--8120-6100-and-4100-performance-review/10 it sucks for gaming and everything else. Get yourself a phenom II x4 over any FX chip.
  • -5 Hide
    Zero_ , November 28, 2011 4:30 AM
    Request to editors.

    When you do test out the FX4100, please make a direct comparison with the X4 955. Not the 965, not the 980, not the A8-3850. The 955.
  • 2 Hide
    gmcizzle , November 28, 2011 4:39 AM
    Wow, Intel dominates basically every price range in the consumer field. I think giving AMD the $80 range was just out of pity, since the G850 beats the Athlon II X3 455, as mention above.
  • -1 Hide
    jrharbort , November 28, 2011 5:05 AM
    The recommendations have remained unchanged for the past few months, with the exception of the $600+ range thanks to the introduction of the LGA2011 platform.

    I used to recommend AMD for quite a while over Intel for budget gamers, but Sandy Bridge really pushed Intel above and beyond anything that AMD can offer at multiple price points. For once, Intel's prices are actually justified.

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 28, 2011 8:22 AM
    I'm a gamer, just got the Intel Core i7-2600K from best-gaming-computer.info for around $300 and it satisfies all my gaming needs. I was tempted to go with the Core i7-3930K for even more speed but the double price tag 0f $600 turned me off. I can play any game now this this and don't see the need for anything faster. Maybe eventually.
  • -1 Hide
    assassin123 , November 28, 2011 8:32 AM
    can anyone tell me in now day intel is good or amd i know great performance but i want to know it
  • 0 Hide
    jemm , November 28, 2011 9:42 AM
    Great article!
  • -2 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , November 28, 2011 11:58 AM
    Intel is actually the best for gaming at all price points.

    Celeron G530: $57
    Athlon II X2 250: $62

    The G530 beats the 250 by 15-25% in gaming.

    Pentium G620: $72
    Athlon II X3 445: $75

    The G620 beats the 445 in gaming by 5-15%.

    Pentium G850: $88
    Athlon II X4 640: $100

    The G850 beats the 640 in gaming by 5-15%.

    Core i3-2100: $125; Core i3-2120: $130
    Phenom II X4 955: $125; Phenom II X4 965: $130

    Both beat the 955 and 965 in gaming by 5-10%, respectively.

    Everything above these get no competition at all from AMD when it comes to gaming. The Phenom II X6 1090T isn't a gaming processor; if you want that you get a 955/965.
  • 0 Hide
    jdw_swb , November 28, 2011 12:18 PM
    The 2500K is such an amazing gaming CPU.

    It will really take something special, both in price and performance, to beat it.
  • 0 Hide
    elbert , November 28, 2011 1:36 PM
    Please benchmark the Athlon II X4 631. It runs about equal to 300~400MHz higher clocked older athlon II's and is lower priced. At $89.99 its a much better deal than the X3's and price wise better than any older X4's. Possible this CPU can give the FX-4100 a run for the money.
  • 1 Hide
    giovanni86 , November 28, 2011 1:55 PM
    I always enjoy these each month, wish they had one for each component of a PC. But that would be quite a lot of work but i would like to see more articles on specific hardware like Motherboards, power supply's, hard-drives/SSD's, cases, CPU coolers. Might be a lot of work, i'd do it if i worked there =D. As always Core i5-2500K owns all, waiting on what IVY bridge offers, otherwise that $600 i-3930k seems like the best future proof bet.
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