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Game-Off: Seven Sub-$150 Processors Compared

Game-Off: Seven Sub-$150 Processors Compared
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Today, we're putting the newest and fastest sub-$150 processors against each other in a gaming competition to see which models offer the best bang for your buck. Will it be Intel's Core i3, its Clarkdale-based Pentium, or AMD's Athlon and Phenom II CPUs?

At Tom's Hardware, we recently explored the ability of the Core i3-530 (Is Intel's Core i3-530 Fast Enough For Performance Gaming?) and the Athlon II X3 440 (Gamers: Do You Need More Than An Athlon II X3?) to play games compared to more powerful processors.

We've seen some interesting results and used some different methods for testing gaming prowess, but we haven't yet focused on comparing a wide variety of budget CPUs with each other in the gaming arena. Until today, that is.

We test the most compelling sub-$150 CPUs to see which ones offer the best bang for the buck, and to find out whether or not the more expensive models have something to offer compared to the sub-$100 options.

Let's start with a look at the competitors.

We're going to compare what we feel are the most relevant sub-$150 CPUs. We'll avoid Intel's LGA 775 because it's a dated platform, and that leaves us with AMD's Socket AM2+/AM3 and Intel's LGA 1156 interface. This provides us with a great number of models to look at, so we'll stick with the fastest and newest processors available at retail. From the AMD camp, that gives us the Athlon II X2 260, the Athlon II X3 445, the Athlon II X4 640, and the Phenom II X4 940 and 945 processors. On the Intel side, we have the Pentium G6950, the Core i3-530, and the Core i3-540.


AMD Athlon II X2 260Intel Pentium G6950
AMD Athlon II X3 445
Intel Core i3-530
AMD Athlon II X4 640AMD Phenom II X4 940/945
Intel Core i3-540
Codename: RegorClarkdaleRanaClarkdale
Propus
Deneb
Clarkdale
Process: 45 nm 32 nm 45 nm 32 nm 45 nm45 nm32 nm
Cores (Threads): 2 2 32 (4)
4
4
2 (4)
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
2.8 GHz3.1 GHz2.93 GHz
3.0 GHz
3.0 GHz
3.06 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3LGA 1156
AM2+/AM3LGA 1156AM2+/AM3AM2+ (940)
AM2+/AM3 (945)
LGA 1156
L3 Cache: N/A
3MB
N/A4MBN/A
6MB
4MB
Thermal Envelope:
65W
73W95W73W
95W125W
73W
Online Price:
$76.99
$84.99
$84.99
$114.99
$120.99
$125.99 (X4 940)
$139.99 (X4 945)
$147.99

Looking at the stats, we can see that the Athlon II models start a lot lower on the price scale and represent true dual-, triple-, and quad-core CPUs that retail for under the $150 mark.

The Intel offerings are all dual-core processors, but the Core i3 models do support Hyper-Threading and can handle four threads at a time. Since we're concentrating on games, it will be interesting to see if Intel's Hyper-Threading feature can help the Core i3 processors keep up with true triple- and quad-core CPUs.

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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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