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Conclusion: Three Processors Stand Above The Sub-$150 Crowd

Game-Off: Seven Sub-$150 Processors Compared
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Well, that was fun. Let's have a look at the average 1920x1080 relative gaming results, with the Athlon II X2 260 representing the baseline:

Because our charts are arranged in order of processor price, with the most expensive at the top and the least expensive at the bottom, we can see three products that stand above the crowd when it comes to gaming value. Note that we didn't take multitasking performance into account in this chart.

First, available for under $90, is the Athlon II X3 445. This processor stands head and shoulders above its dual-core contemporaries under the $100 mark, and for good reason. It combines a high 3.1 GHz clock speed with three physical CPU cores for a low price, and since games rarely take advantage of more than three processor cores, the Athlon II X3 445 is a great budget gamer's choice.

The next product of interest is Intel's Core i3-530, a CPU that started out at $125 a few months ago. It seems that Intel has finally decided to compete with the lower-priced AMD models, and the Core i3-530 can now be had for $115. While this CPU does offer some great gaming performance for the dollar, its dual-core architecture (with Hyper-Threading) does show some weaknesses compared to true quad-core processors when multitasking. Even the Athlon II X3 445 demonstrates similar gaming performance when multiple applications are employed. Despite this, gaming performance is impressive enough and the price has gone down enough that the Core i3-530 cannot be ignored.

The next processor that impresses us with its gaming performance is the Phenom II X4 940/945. It beats out the more expensive Core i3-540—a CPU that hardly offers any performance increase over the cheaper Core i3-530—while delivering great multitasking performance, too. This is one of the instances where the Phenom II's large 6MB L3 cache can show a solid advantage. The Athlon II X4 640 is functionally identical and runs at the same 3 GHz clock speed, but lacks an L3 cache entirely, and the performance difference is obvious. Frankly, this surprises us, as we haven't noticed such a difference in past tests. In any case, the Phenom II X4 940 Black Edition is a great option for folks with Socket AM2+ motherboards, and buyers with AM3-based motherboards will appreciate the Phenom II X4 945.

With the value leaders out of the way, we'll have a few quick words about the CPUs that didn't perform as well in the gaming arena. In general, the Pentium G6950 isn't a good choice for a gamer. The Athlon II X4 640 didn't perform poorly, but it didn't show much of a gaming advantage over the Athlon II X3 445, despite its higher price (except when multitasking). In many cases, the Athlon II X4 showed no advantage over the cheaper triple-core processor at all, while the Core i3-530 consistently bested it. Finally, the Core i3-540 looks like a bad choice next to its Core i3-530 brother, a CPU that's $30 cheaper, yet performs almost identically with only a 133 MHz clock speed difference between them.

On a final note, it has to be mentioned that yes, all of these CPUs could be overclocked to good effect when it comes to gaming performance. Even the Pentium G6950 has a solid reputation for hitting high clocks. And after seeing these results, we can't help but wonder how the $115 Core i3-530 would fare against the $140 Phenom II X4 940 or 945 operating at its true potential. Perhaps this is something we should try to do in an upcoming comparison.

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Top Comments
  • 29 Hide
    wintermint , June 28, 2010 6:12 AM
    AMD is really improving. I'm waiting for them to manufacture 32nm CPUs like Intel :) 
  • 24 Hide
    falchard , June 28, 2010 6:18 AM
    I am glad an RTS was used in this benchmark. More CPU heavy games should be included in the benchmark for Processor benchmarking.

    With that said, there was a mention that the 6MB L3 cache may have helped the Phenom II X4 945, I wonder what would happen with a Phenom II X2 or X3 by comparison if this actually makes a significant impact. It could prove there is a significant advantage to cheaper AMD CPUs then the Athlon IIs in this benchmark.
  • 23 Hide
    qvasi_modo , June 28, 2010 6:30 AM
    AMD - bang for the buck, Intel - bling for the buck.
Other Comments
  • 29 Hide
    wintermint , June 28, 2010 6:12 AM
    AMD is really improving. I'm waiting for them to manufacture 32nm CPUs like Intel :) 
  • 23 Hide
    Tamz_msc , June 28, 2010 6:14 AM
    Interesting article-it clearly shows the advantage of having four physical cores of the Athlon II and the Phenom II X4s over the hyper-threaded Core i3s in real-world situations.No doubt that this article will benefit people who want the perfect processor for their money at this price range
  • 24 Hide
    falchard , June 28, 2010 6:18 AM
    I am glad an RTS was used in this benchmark. More CPU heavy games should be included in the benchmark for Processor benchmarking.

    With that said, there was a mention that the 6MB L3 cache may have helped the Phenom II X4 945, I wonder what would happen with a Phenom II X2 or X3 by comparison if this actually makes a significant impact. It could prove there is a significant advantage to cheaper AMD CPUs then the Athlon IIs in this benchmark.
  • 10 Hide
    Anonymous , June 28, 2010 6:23 AM
    Found a typo on the chart, I don't see why you would compare the Intel i3-530 against itself. :p 
  • 23 Hide
    qvasi_modo , June 28, 2010 6:30 AM
    AMD - bang for the buck, Intel - bling for the buck.
  • 13 Hide
    Tamz_msc , June 28, 2010 6:50 AM
    qvasi_modoAMD - bang for the buck, Intel - bling for the buck.

    Uptil a certain price range.
  • 8 Hide
    war2k9 , June 28, 2010 6:51 AM
    It is time for me to dust of my old am2+ computer and put a new amd proc in it and give it a new life.
  • 7 Hide
    cleeve , June 28, 2010 6:51 AM
    DemonslayFound a typo on the chart, I don't see why you would compare the Intel i3-530 against itself.


    Thx, fixed!
  • 6 Hide
    dirtmountain , June 28, 2010 7:42 AM
    Another very good article comparing lower cost CPUs for gaming. I especially liked the chart showing multi-tasking. I'm curious about the PhenomII x4 820 for $100 that showed up at newegg for a day or so and is now out of stock, i can't find any reviews of this stealth release.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103824
  • 6 Hide
    kiren , June 28, 2010 7:44 AM
    AMD has it in this price range as usual... Still nice to see the x4 940 and x4 640 compared, I've been wondering how big a difference to expect from the additional cache. At least with the i3 530 intel has something to show here if you just game, but I'll take a true quad any day thanks :) 
  • 10 Hide
    Tamz_msc , June 28, 2010 7:53 AM
    Quote:
    sorry but i must disagree...

    the core i3 530 was 8% faster than the athlon X4 and costs $5 less
    its a great processor it seems, a nice change from intel. but i admit, my heart sunk after seeing amd's athlon X4 get beat. its like sports, i root for AMD

    please dont quote the multitasking benchmark as no sane person compresses stuff while gaming...
    yes the athlon would probably be better overall for most people, but not for gaming

    That is why I said real world situations.People use their PCs for stuff other than gaming in most of the part they are turned on.The AMD quad cores clearly have the edge with respect to overall performance.
  • -6 Hide
    agawtrip , June 28, 2010 7:53 AM
    why is there no phenom II X2???

    http://www.newegg.com/product/product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103680

    LoL currently unavailable.......
  • 4 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , June 28, 2010 8:29 AM
    I guess this is a symbolic article where-in Toms is also telling us that we have to all eventually let go of those dusting core2 chips...

    Interesting that Aliens Vs Predator can be used as a true benchmark between GPUs and in DX11 games since the CPU differences wont really matter. One question, what if these chips were compared to a Phenom X6 or even a core i7 1366 socket chip? If not, then one can truly compare the 5870 vs the gtx480 head to head.
  • -5 Hide
    CPfreak , June 28, 2010 9:03 AM
    luke904sorry but i must disagree...the core i3 530 was 8% faster than the athlon X4 and costs $5 lessits a great processor it seems, a nice change from intel. but i admit, my heart sunk after seeing amd's athlon X4 get beat. its like sports, i root for AMDplease dont quote the multitasking benchmark as no sane person compresses stuff while gaming...yes the athlon would probably be better overall for most people, but not for gaming


    still, AMD's Phenom II X4 beats the cr*p out of the i3 and that for about 20 dollars more, so i do think AMD's quad cores are the best performers here.
  • -4 Hide
    doron , June 28, 2010 9:35 AM
    Also in the Athlon II x3 article all the games weren't set on highest graphics settings - Only set on "high" (not highest / ultra etc.) and with AA / AF disabled, which, despite the high resolution, gave the 5870 lots of room to breathe and demonstrated the cpu bottleneck. Why would anyone want to get the 5870 and not crank all the eye candy up is beyond me. I understand that the article was trying to get the point (and point taken) but I'm sure lots of people were fooled to think that they'll actually see that much more performance if they get the i7-920 while they didn't realize that it was only for educational reasons (because it wasn't said in the article). Too bad :) 
  • -8 Hide
    masterjaw , June 28, 2010 9:41 AM
    This shows how AMD rules the budget segment with their offerings. But if you analyze the Intel chips included, clearly Intel has the advantage of per core performance since only their dual cores are present in this event (because the other chips with more cores are quite expensive).

    Indeed, gaming on lower resolutions tend to depend not only on GPU but also to the CPU. This is where CPU has the most noticeable effects on gaming performance.
  • 19 Hide
    Mante , June 28, 2010 10:02 AM
    Why not x2 555???
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