Gamers: Do You Need More Than An Athlon II X3?

Why Pay More?

Every month, we publish our Best Gaming CPUs For The Money column. This is where we share our picks for the processors that we feel provide the best gaming value for your hard-earned dollar. Our recommendations are based on a lot of testing, and that testing has shown that games respond best to high clock speeds.

However, our benchmarks also show that the number of processor cores is a secondary consideration. There is a large performance jump from single- to dual-core CPUs, but most games only show a slight performance increase when a third core is added. In fact, it is rare to find a game that will take advantage of more than three processor cores and demonstrate a notable performance increase.

Since its release, the Athlon II X3 440 has had a strong impact on our recommended gaming CPU list. When you combine its high 3 GHz clock speed, trio of processor cores, and sub-$90 price tag, you end up with a real force in the gaming arena. On top of that, the third processing core allows the Athlon II X3 to be an especially great processor compared to dual-core models because that extra core can smooth out desktop performance when multitasking.

When it comes to gaming, though, the CPU can only do so much; the graphics subsystem is key. We've received some feedback on the forums suggesting that our recommendation of any processor more expensive than the Athlon II X3 440 is frivolous. The argument is that, while game performance may increase with a costlier CPU, the money is wasted because the Athlon II X3 440 is supplying all the performance that games require to achieve smooth frame rates, and that upgrading the graphics cards is the only way to remove a meaningful game performance bottleneck.

We decided to run a series of tests to really explore whether or not there's any point in investing in a CPU more powerful than the Athlon II X3 440 for gaming duty. First, we need to examine how we measure game performance and get a better understanding of how meaningful the numbers are.

  • welshmousepk
    good read, though unsurprising. certainly justifies these lower end processors in gaming rigs.

    the whole thing seems to slightly contradict the 'balanced PC' articles though. why put such a cheap CPU in a system with such a powerful GPU? is the budget really going to be THAT tight?
  • sohei
    good point in this article....if you have money have 1 solution for every application you run on your pc....(high end cpu) folks with money dont have to simple ...but if you have less money to spend AMD cpu is your (my) choice
  • Verkil
    Still no GTA4? I'm still having thoughts getting an Athlon II X3 because I'll be playing GTA4 and all your Athlon II X3 gaming benchmark does not include GTA4.
  • slinkoguy
    Looks like you guys got a Deneb core. Unlock that thing and let us see those results! :D
  • haplo602
    hmm ... I see an interesting pattern here. the latest Intel architecture is 3x as expensive yet an AMD cpu on a generation older architecture can still keep up reasonable.

    except very high end gaming, I realy do not see a reason to go after the i7.

    what I am missing from the article is the X3 vs Intel cpus in the same price range. maybe a followup would do some good :-)
  • tacoslave
    should have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming
  • Jarmo
    tacoslaveshould have overclocked the 440 because thats what most will be doing when they use this processor for gaming
    I'd guess at least 90% of users never overclock anything.
    To be fair though, probably 90% of Tom's readers do.
  • Stardude82
    Do it again with a 5750 or a GTS 250..or lower with a 5650 and a GT 240. You know something modern, but not in excess of the cost of the motherboard and CPU. This is my same problem with the G6950/720 article.. I don't think I've ever seen a good article showing differences with difference CPU's in the middle end. With more of a GPU is bottle neck, the CPU should matter even less.
  • retrac1324
    I like how Opera web browser was mistyped: Oprah
  • HalfHuman
    nice comparison. seems that the triple core is quite strong enough for gaming. i believe that xfire is crazy technology though and only an almost negligible number of gamers use it. i also do not see the point of using such a strong(expensive) video card with a budget cpu. a money conscious gamer would get a 57xx or something in that zone.

    my thought is that for single card users (not necessarily 58xx type not because it's not good but is for sure not budget friendly) and normal monitors (1680x1050) a triple or even dual core amd is enough.