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Best Gaming CPU: Under $110

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

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

The Athlon II X3 450 is the second-fastest triple-core Athlon II available, and it sports an ideal combination of three execution 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.

AMD's own Athlon II X4 635 will outperform the X3 in modern CPU-heavy game titles. But at a price point $20 cheaper, the Athlon II X3 450 remains a good low-budget option.

Best Gaming CPU for $100:

Athlon II X4 635 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X4 635
Codename: Propus
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.9 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Athlon II X4 lineup continues to evolve gracefully as its clock speed steadily increases over time. We've also seen the chip lineup's price drop. And, games are starting to take better advantage of multiple CPU cores. Moreover, as a general-purpose CPU (during the hours you don't spend gaming), the quad-core solution is going to be superior to dual- and triple-core competitors.

Now found as low as $100, this particular model is well within the grasp of budget-oriented gamers, and it represents a solid starting point for any value-based system, gaming or otherwise.

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

Honorable Mention:
Pentium Dual-Core E6800 (Check Prices)

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 3.33 GHz Pentium E6800 replaced 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 reputation for overclocking well, and it 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 1155 platforms are probably better choices. Of course, in order to get onboard with LGA 1155 at this price point, you'll have to go with the least expensive Core i3 available. That part isn't available yet, and when it is, it'll likely cost somewhere around $130. For folks looking to spend $100 or less on their processor, Socket AM3 is the only low-cost option we'd recommend for now.

Display all 72 comments.
  • 1 Hide
    agnickolov , February 23, 2011 4:14 AM
    We are all waiting with bated breath the new updated Cougar Point motherboards...
  • 2 Hide
    wribbs , February 23, 2011 5:33 AM
    Well as you said yourself you're not counting on motherboards to be available for the SB chips until March so I wasn't expecting to see them return for this month's round of Best Gaming CPUs For The Money. I think they should have been left out as this is February's guide. I would agree though that people building now should wait for their return though.

    I also think we need some sort of inclusion of typical motherboard cost for each CPU.
  • 0 Hide
    fstrthnu , February 23, 2011 5:36 AM
    I'm almost scared to see what Intel's going to throw at us for the new $750-1000 category. Hexacore or even octacore Intel Extreme-Edition Sandy Bridge? Yowza!
  • 2 Hide
    fstrthnu , February 23, 2011 5:37 AM
    fstrthnuI'm almost scared to see what Intel's going to throw at us for the new $750-1000 category. Hexacore or even octacore Intel Extreme-Edition Sandy Bridge? Yowza!

    Er, that is, their new addition for that price point, not that it's an all-new category. The 980x is still there for whoever's foolish enough to buy it at this point
  • 1 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , February 23, 2011 5:49 AM
    I am not planning to upgrade this year. I have a good system that is definitely more than adequate for the work I do.
  • 0 Hide
    binoyski , February 23, 2011 6:17 AM
    Don Woligroski, please!, please!, when you wrote "we already have a story in the works that should prove this definitively" regarding multi-gpu setups(p67 & NF200), again, please!, include 5670x1080 resolutions, not just single monitor gaming. You know peeps using 2x(22/23/24) 1080p monitors for their gaming. I want to really see benchmarks w/c motherboard will perform better than the others.
  • 2 Hide
    jj463rd , February 23, 2011 6:59 AM
    Hopefully AMD's Zambezi (Bulldozer) will reach the top of the CPU hierarchy and be at least on equal footing with Intel in the next couple of months.
    Sadly only their Phenom II X4 975 BE is on a second tier (and just barely).
    Yes,it would be nice to have AMD have a high performance desktop CPU since 2006 even if just for a couple of months time.
  • 1 Hide
    pinkfloydminnesota , February 23, 2011 7:38 AM
    Excellent. I wish the graphics card best of would break down to as few options.
  • 0 Hide
    7amood , February 23, 2011 8:25 AM
    This is one of the most anticipated articles (along with GPU of the month)
    it only needs more info such as:
    base clock
    multiplier range
    base voltage

    this is the third time for me to requiest these.
    If you have these CPUs during review, why don't u add the info here, it's a necessity for overclockers.

    plzthnxbai
  • -1 Hide
    Onus , February 23, 2011 9:18 AM
    Where do the i5-2400 and i5-2400S fall on the chart?
  • 2 Hide
    darkchazz , February 23, 2011 9:49 AM
    wow my Phenom II 955 is still on this list :D 
  • -1 Hide
    philologos , February 23, 2011 10:29 AM
    Umm... why is the Phenom II X4 975 six levels above the 970? There is a whopping 100 MHz difference between the two.
  • 0 Hide
    jfby , February 23, 2011 10:41 AM
    It's tough when an i7-930 or similar is no longer on the list. Oh well; it gets the job done and at 4.0 GHz I think it will get it done for some time.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , February 23, 2011 10:45 AM
    That there are so few CPU recommendations is good, and I'm hoping illustrates a point. Concerning GPUs, everyone knows that certain ones are simply not up to the task of running modern games at all, let alone well.
    Considering CPUs however, while clearly an i5-2500K will squish an Athlon II (or a C2D), are there any games that the Athlon II simply can't play? There are settings changes that affect how powerful a GPU needs to be, but can anything similar be done to make a game playable on a weak CPU?
  • 3 Hide
    joshyboy82 , February 23, 2011 10:46 AM
    Who cares if AMD is on the top or not. The better the Intel processor is, the cheaper AMD is. We all win. Those who want the best always pay the premium, and those who want the cheapest never get the best. Fanboy shit makes no sense to me, buy the best you can afford. The end.
  • 1 Hide
    tpi2007 , February 23, 2011 10:48 AM
    wribbsWell as you said yourself you're not counting on motherboards to be available for the SB chips until March so I wasn't expecting to see them return for this month's round of Best Gaming CPUs For The Money. I think they should have been left out as this is February's guide. I would agree though that people building now should wait for their return though.I also think we need some sort of inclusion of typical motherboard cost for each CPU.



    I agree with everything you said, except removing Sandy Bridge from the list (at least completely). But I don't agree with the author of the article Don Woligroski either.

    The responsible thing to do right now is put all of the Sandy Bridge processors in the Honorable mention section, with a specific note before introducing each processor saying they will regain their recommended position when motherboards are available again.

    I mean, you can't seriously recommend a CPU that does not have a motherboard to go with on sale right now, no matter if it is available in 15 days or a month. Imagine Intel discovers another problem (I hope not) and the relaunch has to be delayed again ? These recommendations should be for CPU's on sale now you can actually build a computer with. Sure, you know the performance of Sandy Bridge, but if a week ago AMD had shipped to you a sample of each Bulldozer CPU along with retail price, would you put them up in the recommendations, despite them not being available to the public ?

    For all we know, the general public will only have access to the revised Motherboards by the time you write the next article, in a month!

    And if the boards arrive sooner, why not just update this article when they do ? What is the problem with that ?
  • 0 Hide
    kresso , February 23, 2011 11:34 AM
    tpi2007I agree with everything you said, except removing Sandy Bridge from the list (at least completely). But I don't agree with the author of the article Don Woligroski either.The responsible thing to do right now is put all of the Sandy Bridge processors in the Honorable mention section, with a specific note before introducing each processor saying they will regain their recommended position when motherboards are available again.I mean, you can't seriously recommend a CPU that does not have a motherboard to go with on sale right now, no matter if it is available in 15 days or a month. Imagine Intel discovers another problem (I hope not) and the relaunch has to be delayed again ? These recommendations should be for CPU's on sale now you can actually build a computer with. Sure, you know the performance of Sandy Bridge, but if a week ago AMD had shipped to you a sample of each Bulldozer CPU along with retail price, would you put them up in the recommendations, despite them not being available to the public ? For all we know, the general public will only have access to the revised Motherboards by the time you write the next article, in a month! And if the boards arrive sooner, why not just update this article when they do ? What is the problem with that ?


    I don't agree. I think that the list is just fine. There is no problem with the Sandy Bridge processors, and performance is as they say. Yes there is the motherboard problem, but that is clearly stated.
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , February 23, 2011 11:39 AM
    You left out the Phenom II X4 820 that is going for $105 on newegg for free ship plus it is a 95w edition. For the same price as many athlon x4 s why bother when you can get this.
  • -1 Hide
    tsk_cable , February 23, 2011 11:58 AM
    nforce4maxYou left out the Phenom II X4 820 that is going for $105 on newegg for free ship plus it is a 95w edition. For the same price as many athlon x4 s why bother when you can get this.


    Phenon II x4 820 don't have L3 cache as the Athlons, so its a matter of clock / prices
  • -1 Hide
    bhaberle , February 23, 2011 12:07 PM
    I also think that the list is fine. We have already seen the final product of SB. They are just fixing an issue. It will be back in no time, and I will be sure to be there to buy it. =D
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