Best gaming CPU for $110-$130: None
As mentioned previously, the Athlon II X3 440 features such value-oriented (and yet wholly solid) gaming performance that it is difficult to recommend spending up to $130 for similar results. Having said that, other factors can come into play. For these reasons, the following CPUs are being given honorable mentions.
Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition (Check Prices)
|Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition|
|CPU Cores:|| 3|
|Clock Speed:|| 2.8 GHz|
|L1 Cache:|| 3 x 128KB|
|L2 Cache:|| 3 x 512KB|
|L3 Cache:|| 6MB|
|HyperTransport:|| 4,000 MT/s|
|Thermal Envelope:|| 95W|
We try and stick to retail processors when it comes to CPU recommendations because the costs of a cooler introduces a sizable variable. But in the case of the Phenom II X3 720, flagging retail availability forces us to make an exception.
The OEM version of this CPU can now be found as low as $90. Add a $20 aftermarket cooler (such as the Cooler Master Hyper TX3), and you have a triple-core unlocked CPU on your hands for $110.
We're a bit torn here. On the one hand, we know that overclocking is the surest way to negate your warranty coverage. However, the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition not only has that unlocked multiplier, but we've also had some luck unlocking the fourth core on a handful of samples. The chance may or may not be worth the extra money you drop on this chip. Bear in mind, though, that it's an "expensive" model for AMD to sell, and it probably won't be around much longer. The retail version has all but disappeared.
Core i3-530 (Check Prices)
|CPU Cores/Threads:|| 2/4|
|Clock Speed:|| 2.93 GHz|
|Socket:|| LGA 1156|
|L1 Cache:|| 4 x 32KB|
|L2 Cache:|| 2 x 256KB|
|L3 Cache:|| 4MB|
|Thermal Envelope:|| 73W|
The Core i3-530 is a promising gaming CPU, despite the fact that it comes to the table with just two physical cores. More importantly, it opens up a viable budget alternative to the Socket AM3 platform. At $115, this CPU is a great starting point.
Stock performance is usually quite good from what we've seen, although you can't expect Hyper-Threading to yield the same performance gains as an additional physical core or two.
If you don't believe us, check out Thomas Soderstrom's look at gaming performance on a Core i3-530.
Core 2 Duo E7500 (Check Prices)
|Core 2 Duo E7500|
|CPU Cores:|| 2|
|Clock Speed:|| 2.93 GHz|
|Socket:|| LGA 775|
|L2 Cache:|| 3MB|
|Front Side Bus:|| 1,066 MT/s|
|Thermal Envelope:|| 65W|
At 2.93 GHz, the Core 2 Duo E7500 remains a good match-up against the Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition. Even without an unlocked multiplier, the E7500 is an excellent overclocker and won't disappoint. And the $120 price point is an acceptable premium to pay for LGA 775 upgraders who don't want to invest in a new motherboard.
It has a high clock rate, but its dual-core design won't be as nimble as AMD's triple-core offerings when it comes to multi-threaded apps. Most folks considering this CPU are probably trying to squeeze longevity from an older LGA 775 platform. If you're looking to upgrade your motherboard as well, it'd be best to consider a Phenom II or Core i3 instead.