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Best Gaming CPU: $110-$200

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: February 2011
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Best Gaming CPU for $110-$130: None

Our upcoming roundup of twelve sub-$200 processors shows that there is currently little reason to go beyond an Athlon II X4 in this price range. But it also lets us know that Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Core i3-2300 and -2320 have the potential to bring impressive gaming performance down to the $130 price point. Previously, we had to pay $200 or more for equivalent speed.

For now the Phenom II X4 955 keeps its recommendation at $140. However, the Core i3-2300 will probably steal that nod away in the next month, so long as it becomes available for purchase.

Best Gaming CPU for $140:

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 Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition was relegated to fourth-place status by the new Phenom II X4 975 BE model.

Despite its position in the pecking order, Phenom II X4 955 offers the best gaming value. It is a true quad-core processor with a sizable 6 MB L3 cache. But even more impressive at this price is its unlocked multiplier. From our experience, the great majority of Phenom II X4 955 processors can run just as fast as the Phenom II X4 975 with a simple BIOS multiplier change from 16x to 18x. That's an easy way to put this $140 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 lineup, arriving at retail as early as March. For now, we'll allow the 955 to keep its recommendation. But we're going to revisit this when the Core i3-2300 becomes available.

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

Best Gaming CPU for $195:
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

Sandy Bridge is here, and Intel's new microarchitechture is fast. Initial test data suggests that the new 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 new Core i5-2000 processors hit the afterburners and fly right by. Plus, the LGA 1156 interface is essentially dead, so it'd seem silly to sink any money into it at this point.

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

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