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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: July 2011

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: July 2011
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July sees Intel's ratio-locked Core i7-980 emerge, while AMD's A6-3650 and A8-3850 APUs show up at retail. In addition, the new Sandy Bridge-based Pentium G800 processors challenge AMD's sub-$100 gaming CPU dominance for the first time in recent memory.

If you don’t have the time to research benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right processor for your next gaming machine, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming CPUs offered for the money.

July Updates

AMD's desktop CPU/GPU hybrid was officially released at the end of last month (check out AMD A8-3850 Review: Llano Rocks Entry-Level Desktops), and Llano-based processors started tricking out slowly thereafter. So far, though, there are only two models to choose from and both are quad-core models with 100 W TDPs.

The A6-3650 is a 2.6 GHz part with integrated Radeon HD 6530D graphics, while the A8-3850 runs at 2.9 GHz with an integrated Radeon HD 6550D engine. Although the four processing cores are identical between the two SKUs (except for clock rates), the graphics silicon is significantly different. The A6-3650 includes 320 Radeon cores operating at 443 MHz, while the A8-3850 sports 400 Radeon cores at 600 MHz.

Graphics specifications aside, AMD's Llano-based APUs perform almost identically to similarly-clocked Athlon II X4s. And since they cost more than Athlon IIs, there's little incentive to recommend either APU, at least from the perspective of a gamer. At best, these processors are a good option for folks who want a well-rounded entry-level system, as the integrated Radeon HD 6530D and 6550D circuitry is capable of handling light gaming at resolutions below 1680x1050. But serious gamers should choose a discrete GPU with more power. If that's you, your money is better spent on a well-balanced processor and complementary graphics subsystem.

From Intel, we have the new Core i7-980 processor, stealth-launched straight into retail without any fanfare. Essentially a Core i7-980X with a locked multiplier, this 3.33 GHz Gulftown-based processor with six cores is capable of handling 12 threads simultaneously by virtue of Hyper-Threading. At $600, it doesn't offer much more than the 3.2 GHz Core i7-970 we've had access to for months, but it's yet another option for folks who need to run threaded apps.

While we haven't had a lot of time to test the Sandy Bridge-based Pentium G6xx and G8xx processors, we've seen enough to suspect that they're going to be viable options for gamers. Unlike the Pentium G6950, a poor performer, the new G850, G840, and G620 could be strong competitors against the sub-$100 Athlon II processors. We do have a piece on these new Pentiums in the works, and we can say that they're compelling enough to warrant a recommendation at $100.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the CPUs on this list may not be suitable for your particular needs.

The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that there are other factors that come into play, such as platform price or CPU overclockability, but we're not going to complicate things by factoring in motherboard costs. We may add honorable mentions for outstanding products in the future, though. For now, our recommendations are based on stock clock speeds and performance at that price.

Cost and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information in the text, but we can list some good chips that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest (and our PriceGrabber-based engine will help track down some of the best prices for you).

The list is based on some of the best US prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices. We do not list used or OEM CPUs available at retail.

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  • 10 Hide
    The Greater Good , July 27, 2011 6:22 AM
    wintermintNice! I've been waiting for the July update for awhile


    For what...about a month?
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    wintermint , July 27, 2011 4:43 AM
    Nice! I've been waiting for the July update for awhile :) 
  • 0 Hide
    andy7i , July 27, 2011 5:30 AM
    The Phenom II X4 840 seems to be missing from the CPU comparison chart.

    Thanks for the update!
  • 8 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , July 27, 2011 5:43 AM
    Why bother to even mention the enthusiast-unfriendly processor, the i5-2400, when the i5-2500K is 20 bucks more?

    It's the only chip worth buying in that range since, well, it usually winds to 4.5 GHz with a little care: and if you can afford a 2400, you can afford a 2500K.


    (And I still can't wait for Bulldozer.)
  • 10 Hide
    The Greater Good , July 27, 2011 6:22 AM
    wintermintNice! I've been waiting for the July update for awhile


    For what...about a month?
  • 8 Hide
    Cylent , July 27, 2011 6:51 AM
    LuckyDucky7(And I still can't wait for Bulldozer.)


    Personally, I'm waiting for Piledriver, the revised Bulldozer architecture which is scheduled for 2012.
  • 7 Hide
    nearly nil , July 27, 2011 8:42 AM
    Its nice to see that the 2500k, released in January, still retains its value. For how much longer? That depends on Bulldozer's eventual release, performance, and pricing. Ivybridge is not too far around the corner though, so get busy AMD...
  • 4 Hide
    Onus , July 27, 2011 10:10 AM
    No doubt way too late for this article, the Phenom II X3 720BE has recently re-emerged for $60 (with the promo code): http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103652
    That looks like a contender for the upcoming $500 SBM...
  • 2 Hide
    jdw_swb , July 27, 2011 10:33 AM
    The 2500K is still showing its strength. Such a powerful gaming CPU for the money.

    It's going to take something pretty special to move it from the top spot....the ball is in your court, AMD.
  • 0 Hide
    mistyirc , July 27, 2011 12:15 PM
    I've always wondered something about the i5-760 recommendation. For someone with a Pentium G6950, this is fine, but for someone with an i3 or an i5-6XX, this seems to defy the hierarchy's advice about being "three tiers higher". Is the upgrade from four logical cores to four physical cores that important for gaming?
  • 5 Hide
    Zeh , July 27, 2011 12:31 PM
    These articles always seem to be a copy+paste from the last month ever since SB arrived. Hopefully AMD will be able to change this.
  • 1 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , July 27, 2011 1:13 PM
    September 19 is the release date of BD cpus with 2,3 and 4 modules..Still 2 months away :( 
  • -4 Hide
    killerclick , July 27, 2011 3:44 PM
    Llano fails again ha ha
  • -4 Hide
    redheadgirl , July 27, 2011 6:13 PM
    I don't understand this one bit. This is about the best chip right? How can Llano be excluded when it clearly beats Sandy Bridge on graphics, and the fact that it runs DX11 and Sandy Bridge, according to what I read, can't do so. Can someone explain this?
  • 3 Hide
    crisan_tiberiu , July 27, 2011 6:39 PM
    redheadgirlI don't understand this one bit. This is about the best chip right? How can Llano be excluded when it clearly beats Sandy Bridge on graphics, and the fact that it runs DX11 and Sandy Bridge, according to what I read, can't do so. Can someone explain this?

    Its about CPU not chip.
  • 3 Hide
    ScrewySqrl , July 27, 2011 8:40 PM
    redheadgirlI don't understand this one bit. This is about the best chip right? How can Llano be excluded when it clearly beats Sandy Bridge on graphics, and the fact that it runs DX11 and Sandy Bridge, according to what I read, can't do so. Can someone explain this?


    They explained at the start of the article. While Llano beats Sandy Bridge graphically, its only with the on-board GPUs. Once you add a middling gaming card (anything 6770 or up), as a *gaming* PC is going to do, the advantage always swings back to Sandy Bridge. Llano's great for a basic PC, but for a serious gamer, it is just an Athlon II.
  • -2 Hide
    verbalizer , July 27, 2011 8:48 PM
    still much of the same, AMD is a poor man's Intel...;)
  • 1 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , July 27, 2011 9:24 PM
    Phew! Still in good shape. No need or desire to upgrade.
  • 0 Hide
    Stardude82 , July 27, 2011 9:42 PM
    ScrewySqrlOnce you add a middling gaming card (anything 6770 or up), as a *gaming* PC is going to do, the advantage always swings back to Sandy Bridge.


    You are being generous, a 5570 will handily beat 6550D even with expensive high performance RAM. Ignoring power consumption and for most games, you are much better off with a 6670 and an Athlon X2 for the same price as a A8-3850. Plus, it is uncertain about what sort of future compatibility FM1 will have.
  • -7 Hide
    stevelord , July 27, 2011 10:41 PM
    No matter what AMD releases, history shows they will be behind the curve and only able to match Intel's technology from 2 years ago.
  • -1 Hide
    KenZen2B , July 28, 2011 12:05 AM
    "No! In theory, the current ultimate gaming platform (until Intel releases the LGA 2011 interface in the second half of this year) would be a P67 chipset paired with the NF200 bridge."

    Please change your statement "in the second half of this year" since we are already in the second half of this year.
    OPTIONS:
    1. in Q4
    2. later half of Q3
    3. sometime next year
    4. it will depend on Intel
    5. "vapor" sometime in the future
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