AMD Or Intel: Which $100 Gaming CPU Should You Buy?

With AMD's new Athlon II X4 620 bringing quad-core computing to a $100 price point and Intel's introduction of the new dual-core Pentium E6500, we couldn't help but notice the glut of relatively powerful $100 CPUs. These offerings give gamers a great selection of processors with which to build a no-frills entertainment-oriented platform.

But which CPU is the best? Does cache, cores, or megahertz affect gaming performance in your favorite title? With all of these options, what CPU offers the best gaming value?

These are all questions we see our readers posing in the Best Gaming CPUs for the Money column each month. This time around, we're going to give you lots of data to complement those recommendations.

We benchmarked nine of the most popular games available with four CPU specimens, each of which costs close to the $100 mark: the new Athlon II X4 620, the new dual-core Pentium E6500, the Phenom II X3 710, and the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition.

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  • kenjiuchimura
    It's a shame there aren't more games that run like FO3 considering how gorgeous it is yet still being much more accessible based on its focus of CPU power instead of being topheavy on the GPU side.
  • FUtomNOreg
    If people have a delusion that games are not cpu constrained, it is because, if I recall, an article in Tom's made the assertion that any c2d >3GHz was sufficient.
  • curnel_D
    Don WoligroskiOne final factor we didn't have time to test this time around is overclocking. When overclocked, would the Phenom II 550 Black Edition become a monster? Would the dual-core Pentium E6500 pull a rabbit from its hat? Or would the Athlon II X4 620 and Phenom II X3 710 be able to hold on to their strengths? If this is something you'd like us to explore, please let us know in the comments section.

    OC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.
  • wintermint
    AMD is really evening the playing field with their low cost CPU :) but they should start challenging the Core i7 :(
  • siliconchampion
    I would have to say that overclocking results would be extremely useful. May I suggest that you run the same benchmarks again at two levels, the maximum overclock at stock voltage, and again with maximum stable overclock. Then compare the results to today's benches.

    I would have to agree with some of the poster's above that overclockability is a key factor in this price segment.
  • curnel_D
    kenjiuchimuraIt's a shame there aren't more games that run like FO3 considering how gorgeous it is yet still being much more accessible based on its focus of CPU power instead of being topheavy on the GPU side.

    360 ports generally run really smooth on adequite PC hardware, simply because of the archetectual similarities. I personally dont think that FO3's graphic technology is all that great, but the art direction that Bethesda took made it a great looking game.

    Another game that does this really well is Operation Flashpoint 2. Technically speaking, the grapics arent that great. And I notice alot of places where textures and polys arent what they should be for a PC game. But aside from that, the game looks fantastic and runs very smooth even at the highest settings, and it all has to do with art, not technology.
  • ohim
    TheCapuletThe Pentium DC can effortlesly overclock to 3.6, giving it a steep clock edge. And under good air cooling can easily hit the 4Ghz mark. With quality air cooling getting so cheap these days, it's not hard to imagine budget gamers buying great cooling while skimping on the processor budget because of overclocking. This article would have been perfect if it included the OC information and a few quick benchies to show the results. The OC potential makes ALL the difference in the world at this price point.

    First of all OC is out of the question here in this article since a 100$ CPU is clearly not for an enthusiast user (not even i with a PII 940 don`t use OC) , second OC`ing will only lead to huge power consumption fron the pc performance / watt will drop like hell.
  • mrsiberia
    I would love to see what impact OC has... Imo it's always interesting with budget hardware.
  • curnel_D
    wintermintWhich of the 4 CPU listed in the article is more future-proof?

    The AthalonII X4 would deffinately be the more futureproof of the four. Programs and games are rapidly being developed and upgraded to use 4+ threads. And when threaded applications finally hits mainstream, you'll appriciate those one or two cores a whole lot more. (Not to mention the platform itself lends itself to future upgrades a whole lot better than the 775 platform.)
  • tacoslave
    well amd always pwns on the lower end but what i want to see is them pull out a demon with shiny guns that can gut an i7 clean. then we can start the partying (and new systems)
  • IzzyCraft
    Curnel_DOC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.

    Yup that's the most interesting part of this. E6300 and the 550 are the most expected to oc well and benefit from it the most which is a factor for the crowd that reads these articles.
  • ohimWell i don`t get it you become a cheap bastard on cheap parts and go OC and rise your electrical bill and risk damagin your CPU ... so where`s the benefit ?

    What's the benifit of harrassing people who arent driving daddy's bently to the PC store to squander away all their allowance on overpriced parts?

    Get a life dude.
  • masterjaw
    Nice article but buying a budget CPU will also be affected by its potentials. So it would be nice if you would add up the overclocking areas of these CPUs.
  • rip187
    Ohim its for the same reason that us "cheap bastards" buy a i7 920 and overclock it rather than buying an I7 that costs twice or 4 times as much. The benefits outweigh the risks.
  • brockh
    I feel this would've been more interesting with the 720. I know it's $20 more, but hey. :P
  • Proximon
    Yes, I would especially like to see what you can squeeze out of those motherboards.
    This exact question has been bugging me all week, and here you are with the answers... Have you been reading my posts??? :)
    Anyway, I strongly suspect that any 785G board is just all around better than any G41, another factor. 785G seems to aim for a wider audience.
    Wouldn't a P43 board be closer in price to a 785G? Might that be a fairer comparison?
  • dirtmountain
    A very well done article. The multitasking benchmark was a real eye opener. I'd like to see an overclocking look at these 4 CPUs, i'm not as interested in anything extreme as I am in stable and cool overclocks.
  • Honis
    Good article!

    An overclock article is more than a little over due for the $100 and lower level CPUs.
  • SpadeM
    I think it's important to note that out of the nine games we tested, only two of them--Crysis and Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.--demonstrated any notable performance decrease between 1280x1024 and 1920x1200. This is a real wake-up call to folks who believe that all modern games are limited only by the graphics hardware and that the CPU is almost irrelevant when it comes to gaming. Clearly, the benchmarks demonstrated that this isn't the case, and the CPU has a very significant impact on game performance.

    Yes and no, but that would have been uncontested if you'd have benched an intel quad core or even the 1000$ i7 (kind of like 100$ vs 1000$ processor battle in gaming). I know that common sense dictates that if u buy a 1000$ processor you will pair it with the appropriate graphics card and not just a 4890, but still in theory for a cpu to cpu comparison it would have sense.
  • thedexmonster
    Not everyone wants to destroy their hardware faster than necessary!!! Overclocking potential is definitely a plus, but not absolutely necessary for a budget build! Relatively speaking, there aren't very many people who actually know how to maintain a computer system! I clean a 1/4" of dust off the CPU fan with no exhaust fan installed all the time! Put overclocking in someones head and they'll just think they don't have to spend as much money.
  • rycroft
    Please overclock these processors! I am very interested in seeing their limitations and what kind of a performance boost we could expect.
  • stumpystumped
    I don't get why they used G41, for one you are buying a graphics card already what's the point of having a MB with integrated graphics? P43 is way better than G41 and similar price. P45 MB are also cheap these days. Pretty much all Pent Dual Core / Core 2 OCs easily to 3.8Ghz so buying a cheap lowest end Pentium Dual Core and OC it to whatever you want.
  • shubham1401
    This is a very good article.

    I would surely like to see OC'ed results...
  • mitch074
    While I personally wouldn't begrudge an OC benchmark for these chips, I'd appreciate a run of 64-bit Linux benchmarks.

    But then, that's just me.