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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.
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.
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.