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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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