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Best Gaming CPU: $130-$190

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: June 2010
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Best gaming CPU for $140: None

Honorable Mention:
Core i3-540 (Check Prices)

Core i3-540
Codename: Clarkdale
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.06 GHz
Socket: LGA 1156
L1 Cache:   4 x 32KB
L2 Cache:   2 x 256KB
L3 Cache: 4MB
Thermal Envelope:
73W

Another one of Intel's new Core i3 processors, the gaming data we have seen for this i3-540 looks promising. While it isn't going to perform all that much better than the -530, its higher multiplier will be a boon to overclockers, and the slightly higher price might be justified for some.

Bear in mind that, although Intel launched this processor alongside the H55 and H57 chipsets, gamers are likely going to want to stick with P55 when they shop for an LGA 1156-equipped motherboard, even if it means ignoring the integrated graphics core built onto the Core i3-540. When used with Clarkdale-based processors, Intel's H55 and H57 chipsets aren't able to divide on-package PCI Express connectivity between CrossFire and SLI graphics configurations.

Honorable Mention:
Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.0 GHz
Socket: AM2+
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 3,600 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125W

The Phenom II X4 940 offers AMD's flagship CPU architecture combined with an unlocked multiplier and a nice 3 GHz clock speed, all for the low price of $135. The catch? This processor is socket AM2+-only, which means that you're stuck with DDR2 memory and older motherboards. But thanks to an attractive price point, the deal is too good not to mention for upgraders with AM2+ platforms.

Best gaming CPU for $160:

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 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125W

A former flagship of AMD's Phenom II family, the Phenom II X4 955 BE has been relegated to second-place status by the newer Phenom II X4 965 BE model. Now at $160, it offers a very compelling price/performance ratio for a true quad-core unlocked processor with gobs of cache. We should also mention that the 955 is now available in the newer C3 stepping, just like the 965.

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

Best gaming CPU for $180:

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition  (Check Prices)

Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition (C3 Stepping)
Codename: Deneb
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed:   3.4 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
125W

While the Phenom II X4 955 and 965 both share an unlocked multiplier, the new revision 965 model's C3 stepping has been shown to be quite overclock-friendly compared to previous models. If you're looking for an AMD processor with maximum overclocking headroom, just make sure you're buying the new 125 watt C3 stepping of the processor, not the older 140 watt version.

Read our review of the new Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, right here.

Best gaming CPU for $190: None

Honorable Mention:
Core 2 Quad Q9400 (Check Prices)

Core 2 Quad Q9400
Codename: Yorkfield
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.66 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2 x 3MB
Front Side Bus: 1,333 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95W

The Core 2 Quad line isn't as strong as Intel's lone Lynnfield-based Core i5 model, but the older processors certainly aren't slouches either. On a clock-for-clock basis, the Core 2 Quad tends to perform a little bit better than AMD's Phenom II X4.

This CPU is a strong competitor for the Phenom II X4 955 and will overclock well, despite its locked CPU multiplier. Even in the face of a somewhat low stock clock, 6MB of shared L2 cache and a speedy 1,333 MT/s front side bus help the chip compete aggressively for less than $200.

With the Phenom II X4 965 and Core i5-750 priced so close, this one should only really be a consideration for the gamer upgrading an LGA 775-based machine. This is as far as I'd recommend taking an LGA 775 platform, though. Anything more expensive than this should be nudging you toward a platform with a better upgrade path.

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