Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: February 2011
By

What about this other CPU that’s not on the list? How do I know if it’s a good deal or not?

This will happen. In fact, it’s guaranteed to happen because availability and prices change quickly. So how do you know if that CPU you have your eye on is a good buy in its price range?

Here is a resource to help you judge if a CPU is a reasonable value or not: the gaming CPU hierarchy chart, which groups CPUs with similar overall gaming performance levels into tiers. The top tier contains the highest-performing gaming CPUs available and gaming performance decreases as you go down the tiers from there.

However, a word of caution: this hierarchy is based on the average performance each CPU achieved in our charts test suite using only four game titles: Crysis, Unreal Tournament 3, World in Conflict, and Supreme Commander. While we feel this represents an acceptable cross-section of typical gaming scenarios, a specific game title will likely perform differently. Some games, for example, will be severely graphics subsystem-limited, while others may react positively to more CPU cores, larger amounts of CPU cache, or even a specific architecture. We also did not have access to every CPU on the market, so some of the CPU performance estimates are based on the numbers similar architectures deliver. Indeed, this hierarchy chart is useful as a general guideline, but certainly not as a gospel one-size-fits-all perfect CPU comparison resource.

You can use this hierarchy to compare the pricing between two processors, to see which one is a better deal, and also to determine if an upgrade is worthwhile. I don’t recommend upgrading your CPU unless the potential replacement is at least three tiers higher. Otherwise, the upgrade is somewhat parallel and you may not notice a worthwhile difference in game performance.

Gaming CPU Hierarchy Chart
IntelAMD
Core i7-2600, -2600K
Core i7-965, -975 Extreme, -980X Extreme, -990X Extreme
Core i7-970, -960
Core i5-2500, -2500K

Core i7-860, -870, -875K, -920, -930, -940, -950,
Core i5-750, -760
Core 2 Extreme QX9775, QX9770, QX9650
Core 2 Quad Q9650
Core i3-2100
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 975
Core 2 Extreme QX6850, QX6800
Core 2 Quad Q9550, Q9450, Q9400
Core i5-650, -655K, -660, -661, -670, -680
Phenom II X6 1100T BE, 1090T BE, 1075T
Phenom II X4 Black Edition 970, 965, 955
Core 2 Extreme QX6700
Core 2 Quad Q6700, Q9300, Q8400, Q6600, Q8300
Core 2 Duo E8600, E8500, E8400, E7600
Core i3 -530, -540, -550
Phenom II X6 1055T
Phenom II X4 945, 940, 920, 910, 910e, 810
Phenom II X3 Black Edition 720, 740
Athlon II X4 645, 640, 635, 630
Athlon II X3 455, 450, 445, 440, 435
Core 2 Extreme X6800
Core 2 Quad Q8200
Core 2 Duo E8300, E8200, E8190, E7500, E7400, E6850, E6750
Phenom II X4 905e, 805
Phenom II X3 710, 705e
Phenom II X2 565 BE, 560 BE, 555 BE, 550 BE, 545
Phenom X4 9950
Athlon II X4 620
Athlon II X3 425
Core 2 Duo E7200, E6550, E7300, E6540, E6700
Pentium Dual-Core E5700, E5800, E6300, E6500, E6600, E6700
Pentium G9650
Phenom X4 9850, 9750, 9650, 9600
Phenom X3 8850, 8750
Athlon II X2 265, 260, 255
Athlon 64 X2 6400+
Core 2 Duo E4700, E4600, E6600, E4500, E6420
Pentium Dual-Core E5400, E5300, E5200
Phenom X4 9500, 9550, 9450e, 9350e
Phenom X3 8650, 8600, 8550, 8450e, 8450, 8400, 8250e
Athlon II X2 240, 245, 250
Athlon X2 7850, 7750
Athlon 64 X2 6000+, 5600+
Core 2 Duo E4400, E4300, E6400, E6320
Celeron E3300
Phenom X4 9150e, 9100e
Athlon X2 7550, 7450, 5050e, 4850e/b
Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 5200+, 5000+, 4800+
Core 2 Duo E5500, E6300
Pentium Dual-Core E2220, E2200, E2210
Celeron E3200
Athlon X2 6550, 6500, 4450e/b,
Athlon X2 4600+, 4400+, 4200+, BE-2400
Pentium Dual-Core E2180
Celeron E1600
Athlon 64 X2 4000+, 3800+
Athlon X2 4050e, BE-2300
Pentium Dual-Core E2160, E2140
Celeron E1500, E1400, E1200

Summary

There you have it folks: the best gaming CPUs for the money this month. Now all that’s left to do is to find and purchase them.

Also remember that the stores don’t follow this list. Things will change over the course of the month and you’ll probably have to adapt your buying strategy to deal with fluctuating prices. Good luck!

Follow us on Twitter for more tech news, reviews, and exclusive updates!

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 72 comments.
This thread is closed for 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
Display more comments