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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: June 2010

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: June 2010
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Intel's new Core i5-680 and Pentium E5500 are already available, and while AMD's new Athlon II lineup hasn't quite reached the same retail presence quite yet, the existing Athlon II line recently dropped in price. Check this month's column for details!

If you don’t have the time to research the 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.

June Updates

The month of May treated CPU buyers with a number of new models from Intel and AMD, all derivatives of existing processors.

Intel introduced two new CPUs, the Core i5-680 and Pentium E5500 dual-core. The Core i5-680 is a speed bump of the existing Core i5-670, with the same 4MB of L3 cache and dual-core/quad-thread capabilities. 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 LGA 1156/1366 CPU ever released. At $309, this isn't a processor that we can recommend for its value, but it is an interesting CPU all the same. As far as the Pentium E5500 is concerned, as far as we can tell, it appears to be a dual-core Pentium E6300 with the bus speed lowered to 800 MHz from 1066 MHz. Both the E5500 and E6300 share the same 2.8 GHz clock speed, 2MB of L2 cache, and 45 nm manufacturing process. At $15 more than the E6300, the E5500 won't be picking up any recommendations from us, either.

AMD repeated its refresh of the Athlon II line, just as it did a few months ago, with a 100 MHz speed increase at the same price point for the Athlon II X2, X3, and X4 processors. The key new models are the Athlon II X2 260 (3.2 GHz, $76 MSRP), the Athlon II X3 445 (3.1 GHz, $87 MSRP), and the Athlon II X4 640 (3.0 GHz, $122 MSRP). There are also three energy-efficient models released: the Athlon II X2 425e, X3 415e, and X4 610e. Unfortunately, none of these have a good price/performance ratio for gamers, and are targeted at performance-per-watt.

It's a bummer, then, that the new Athlon II line hasn't been accompanied by availability, and we're having trouble finding the new CPUs for sale. The good news is that the older models were hit with a price reduction that will keep buyers happy in the meantime. You can see how this pans out in our sub-$125 recommendations.

Aside from new models, some prices have shifted a little, but there hasn't been anything earth-shattering to report. It did catch our eye that the Core i5-530 can be found for $115 online, perhaps an indicator that Intel wants to put some pressure on AMD's budget price range dominance.

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.

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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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