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Best Gaming CPU: Under $100

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: July 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 Athlon II X3 available, and it sports a well-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 capability, 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, and in fact it's a re-branded Athlon II X4. Having said that, its 3.2 GHz clock is respectable. Moreover, this quad-core part is still capable of delivering solid performance in threaded applications at a price point hovering around $100.

Pentium G850

Pentium G850
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2
Clock Speed: 2.9 GHz
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 3 MB
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

The new Pentium G850 is no slouch either. However, it only offers half of the execution cores as AMD's alternative, 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 and elevated efficiency (the Pentium is only a 65 W part, whereas AMD's Phenom II X4 is a 95 W component).

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'll trade blows depending on whether the software is threaded or not. On average, though, both chips should facilitate similar gaming performance.

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