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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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Top Comments
  • 15 Hide
    killerclick , June 8, 2010 8:42 AM
    AMD again rules this list (up to the $200 price point).
  • 15 Hide
    black06 , June 8, 2010 6:23 AM
    "Its 3.6 GHz clock speed does give it the distinction of being the fastest Clarkdale-based CPU available. Actually, it has the highest clock speed of any Intel CPU ever released."

    Weren't there some 3.8 GHz Pentium 4's? Wikipedia lists a Prescott core shipping at 3.8Ghz, and that sounds like what I remember from the time.
  • 11 Hide
    dirtmountain , June 8, 2010 7:40 AM
    Another excellent article in this continuing series. I know you're probably buried in work, but any chance a "Best Gaming Motherboards for the Money" may become a regular feature as well? I know i'd sure like to see a brief overview of available affordable gaming mobos.
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    wintermint , June 8, 2010 6:12 AM
    Good job. I always look forward to these kind of articles!
  • 15 Hide
    black06 , June 8, 2010 6:23 AM
    "Its 3.6 GHz clock speed does give it the distinction of being the fastest Clarkdale-based CPU available. Actually, it has the highest clock speed of any Intel CPU ever released."

    Weren't there some 3.8 GHz Pentium 4's? Wikipedia lists a Prescott core shipping at 3.8Ghz, and that sounds like what I remember from the time.
  • -9 Hide
    basket687 , June 8, 2010 6:38 AM
    black06"Its 3.6 GHz clock speed does give it the distinction of being the fastest Clarkdale-based CPU available. Actually, it has the highest clock speed of any Intel CPU ever released."Weren't there some 3.8 GHz Pentium 4's? Wikipedia lists a Prescott core shipping at 3.8Ghz, and that sounds like what I remember from the time.


    We all know that we can't compare different processor families using clock speed as a measure, but even though you can argue that the i5 680 can turbo to 3.86 and that is higher than the 3.8 of the Prescott.
  • 10 Hide
    HansVonOhain , June 8, 2010 6:41 AM
    Agreed with Black. But those pentiums were able to cook a dinner for you, whereas this chip is very cool. I am expecting to see some world records for highest overclocks set.

    As usual Toms, I enjoy reading these kind of articles. This is what I visit the site for, not some BS like 'a cat touched an iPad, and made it turn on." ZOMG
  • 7 Hide
    thedreadfather , June 8, 2010 7:12 AM
    basket687We all know that we can't compare different processor families using clock speed as a measure, but even though you can argue that the i5 680 can turbo to 3.86 and that is higher than the 3.8 of the Prescott.

    I believe the criteria is for highest base clock frequency, not Turbo and not actual speed.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , June 8, 2010 7:22 AM
    Could you please create a non-gaming CPU hierarchy?
    For those of us more interested in scientific, encoding, graphics applications and the like.
  • 1 Hide
    johnbilicki , June 8, 2010 7:31 AM
    No, 3.8GHz if the fastest stock speed CPU Intel has ever shipped; it's a single core and working with one for a week it was clear a balance of cores and frequency is important.
  • 11 Hide
    dirtmountain , June 8, 2010 7:40 AM
    Another excellent article in this continuing series. I know you're probably buried in work, but any chance a "Best Gaming Motherboards for the Money" may become a regular feature as well? I know i'd sure like to see a brief overview of available affordable gaming mobos.
  • -3 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , June 8, 2010 7:47 AM
    Ahh its still refreshing to see my old trusty cpu here still for about 6months and running on this list! Are they still selling the e7500? I love this cpu so much that im still using it over my i7920.... (also bec I still dont have a good x58 mb yet)
  • -4 Hide
    letsgetsteve , June 8, 2010 8:11 AM
    Please add the Intel K series to your charts. I think they are ground breaking enough to include them. I just find it amazing that Intel is finally starting to see what enthusiast's want and are giving to us at much less rediculas prices. I can find an i7 875K for under $300, that one hell of an improvement from the i7 870 going for just under $700 last week.
  • 15 Hide
    killerclick , June 8, 2010 8:42 AM
    AMD again rules this list (up to the $200 price point).
  • -3 Hide
    crazybaldhead , June 8, 2010 10:40 AM
    It's hierarchy and not heirarchy. Please, fix this at last.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , June 8, 2010 12:42 PM
    Where is Thuban? Not even a reference?
  • 2 Hide
    haplo602 , June 8, 2010 12:59 PM
    soslCould you please create a non-gaming CPU hierarchy?For those of us more interested in scientific, encoding, graphics applications and the like.


    can you also do an article about the Xeon/Opteron part of the CPU landscape ? I am trying to decide on a 2nd hand workstation, however finding any reasonable comparisons on Xeon and Opteron (especialy Opteron to Athlon/Phenom equivalency) is a mission impossible.
  • 6 Hide
    haplo602 , June 8, 2010 1:05 PM
    JofaTESTWhere is Thuban? Not even a reference?


    Thuban does not add anything to quadcore Phenoms for gaming.
  • -1 Hide
    nforce4max , June 8, 2010 1:24 PM
    I am going to stick with my 8250e that I got running at 2.6ghz even though I got the upgrade bug again. I am wanting to get a 16gb (4x4gb) DDR2 ECC (unbuff) kit and ditch the page file.
  • 3 Hide
    JofaMang , June 8, 2010 1:33 PM
    Quote:
    Thuban does not add anything to quadcore Phenoms for gaming.


    But they are overclocking better than their quadcore contemporaries, and OC potential is a factor to be considered (as it has been thus far)
  • -4 Hide
    joejamesatou , June 8, 2010 1:47 PM
    I know this line has been in the last few gaming CPU round ups about the Core i7, but can we finally put this one out to pasture?

    "The motherboards and DDR3 RAM that the i7 architecture requires will bring the total platform cost higher than other systems, but the resulting performance should be worth the purchase price. "

    Budget X58 boards are pretty easy to find, and DDR3 is cheaper than DDR2.
  • -2 Hide
    triplebug , June 8, 2010 2:32 PM
    i5-750, your best bet.
  • 0 Hide
    cleeve , June 8, 2010 2:41 PM
    JofaMangBut they are overclocking better than their quadcore contemporaries, and OC potential is a factor to be considered (as it has been thus far)


    They're not worth it compared to an X4 in the Gaming arena, and extra overclocking headroom--if any--is not offset by the large price increase.
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