Who's Got Game? Twelve Sub-$200 CPUs Compared

Test System And Benchmarks

Testing LGA 1156-, LGA 1155-, and AM3-based CPUs requires three separate platforms. All use the same memory and hard drive to eliminate those factors as performance variables.

The LGA 1155 platform is built on Asus’ P8P67 Pro, a board that proved to be the best overclocker in our P67 motherboard roundup. Additionally, this platform includes an integrated Bluetooth transceiver and a separate controller for twin eSATA ports. Though the platform includes three PCIe x16 slots, the third is limited to x4 signaling rates. Moreover, it doesn't include Nvidia's NF200 bridge chip, so you're only able to do two-way SLI here. For more information on the P8P67 Pro, check out P67 Motherboard Roundup: Nine $150-200 Boards. For those concerned that performance in our tests could be affected by the Cougar Point SATA issue, don’t worry. We’re using the 6 Gb/s SATA ports, and the issue only affects the 3 Gb/s ports.

We're using Gigabyte's GA-MA790XT-UD4P in our AMD-based platform. This board features the 790X chipset, which should have no trouble delivering similar performance as any of the 800-series chipsets.

Intel's LGA 1156-based system employs Gigabyte's H55M-UD2H, a board that we've seen perform well in a number of articles, including the previous sub-$150 gaming CPU comparison.

A single GeForce GTX 480 drives all three of these builds. Just to be clear, we selected this card not because it's something we recommend pairing with a low-end CPU, but because it's a powerful board that should serve to alleviate any potential graphics bottleneck in our quest to explore CPU performance.

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Simulated CPU Chart
Row 0 - Cell 0 AMD Athlon II X3 455Intel Core i3-550Intel Core i3-560Intel Core i3-2120Intel Core i5-2300
Simulated With:AMD Athlon II X3 450Intel Core i3-540Intel Core i3-540Intel Core i3-2100Intel Core i5-2500K
Target Clock Speed:3300 MHz3200 MHz3330 MHz3200 MHz2800 MHz(3100 Turbo)
Actual Clock Speed:3304 MHz3197 MHz3335 MHz3186 MHz2807 MHz (3097 Turbo)
Target Memory Speed:669 MHz@ 9-9-9-20-1T669 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-1T669 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-1T669 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-33-1T669 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-33-1T
Actual memory Speed:688 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-1T(19 MHz o/c)695 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-1T(36 MHz o/c)725 MHz @ 10-10-10-22-1T(56 MHz o/c)707 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-33-1T(48 MHz o/c)646 MHz @ 9-9-9-20-33-1T(23 MHz u/c)

Because some of our CPUs have to be simulated, memory clocks are a little tricky. We're staying as close to the base specification (669 MHz memory with 9-9-9-20-1T timings) as possible.

Despite the small memory speed inconsistency for these simulated processors, the results fall precisely where we would expect them to be at standard clocks. Any performance differences appear to be well within the margin of error.

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Header Cell - Column 0 Intel LGA 1156 Test SystemAMD Test SystemIntel LGA 1155 Test System
CPUIntel Core i3-550 3.2 GHz (Clarkdale)*Intel Core i3-560 3.33 GHz (Clarkdale)**simulated by overclocking a Core i3-540AMD Athlon II X3 455 3.3 GHz (Rana)**AMD Athlon II X4 640 3 GHz (Propus)AMD Phenom II X4 925 2.8 GHz (Deneb)AMD Phenom II X4 945 3.2 GHz (Deneb)AMD Phenom II X4 970 3.5 GHz (Deneb)AMD Phenom II X6 1075T 3.1 GHz (3.4 GHz Turbo) (Thuban)**simulated by overclocking an Athlon II X3 450Intel Core i3-2100 3.1 GHz (Sandy Bridge)Intel Core i3-2120 3.3 GHz (Sandy bridge)***Intel Core i5-2300 2.8 GHz (3.1 GHz Turbo) (Sandy Bridge)****Intel Core i5-2400 3.1 GHz (3.4 GHz Turbo) (Sandy bridge)***simulated by overclocking a Core i3-2100****simulated by underclocking a Core i3-2500K
MotherboardGigabyte H55M-UD2H LGA 1156 Chipset: Intel H55Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-UD4P Socket AM3 Chipset: AMD 790XAsus P8P67 Pro Chipset: Intel P67
NetworkingOnboard Gigabit LAN controller
MemoryOCZ PC3-16000  2 x 2 GB, 1338 MT/s, CL 9-9-9-20-1T
GraphicsGeForce GTX 480 Reference700 MHz GPU, 1 GB GDDR5 at 924 MHz
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black 750 GB 7200 RPM, 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
PowerePOWER EP-1200E10-T2 1200W ATX12V, EPS12V
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 x64
DirectX versionDirectX 11
Graphics DriversGeForce 266.58 WHQL
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Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Metro 2033Version, DirectX 11, benchmark tool, High Quality, No AA, 16x AF, advanced physX disabled, tesselation enabled, DOF disabled
Aliens vs PredatorVersion, Aliens vs Predator DirectX 11 benchmark Default Settings, No AA, 16x AF
Lost Planet 2Version, DirectX 11, Highest Settings, 4x AA, In-game benchmark Test A
F1 2010Version, DirectX 11, in-game benchmark Ultra Detail Settings, 4x AA
Just Cause 2Version, DirectX 10, Concrete Jungle Benchmark Highest Details, 4x AA, 16x AF, Bokeh Filter & GPU Water Simulation off
StarCraft 2Version:, Ultra-High SettingsTom's Hardware Guide Benchmark
  • Simulated CPU Chart: 3330 GHz

    o_O I'd like me one of those
  • alidan
    id just love to point out, i personally will never again make a mistake of getting a hyperthreaded cpu over real cores. i made that mistake once, and never again.

    a pc will never be gaming only, unless you have more than one, in that case, for for the cheaper dual core hyperthreaded, but if you do anything else, get a real quadcore and don't even take into consideration the logical cores.
  • lunyone
    I'm still thinking the AMD Athlon II x3's and x4's are the best buys around. If you take comparable configurations from AMD and Intel, AMD wins easily. Here is what I'm talking about below:

    AMD build w/AMD Athlon II x3 455 w/Asus 870 based mobo:
    $89 for Athlon II x3 455
    $90 for AMD mobo (Asus) w/6xSATA 3, 6 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, 4 x DDR3 slots.
    ASUS M4A87TD/USB3 AM3 AMD 870 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 AMD Motherboard

    Intel build w/i3 550 w/P55 based mobo (Asus also):
    $130 i3 550
    $150-$10 MIRc Comparable mobo (Asus also) 6xSATA 3, 6 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, 4 DDR3 slots.
    ASUS P7P55D-E LX LGA 1156 Intel P55 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard

    **These are all Newegg prices**
    AMD build (using the same Case/PSU/RAM/DVD parts in both systems)
    $179 + shared parts.

    Intel build (same parts shared w/AMD build)
    $280 + shared parts.

    This equals out to ~$100 price difference between the 2 builds, which to me is quite a bit!

    So in general when trying to factor in "Value" for the gaming buck I still see the AMD based system being the better buy. Assuming your using mobo's with about the same features. If you notice the Intel based mobo's will cost you more for similar AMD based mobo's. This is where a lot of the value comes from AMD. Don't get me wrong here, the Intel based system is very good system too, you just have to pay more for them.
  • amirp

    Yes the amd build is pretty cheap, but swap you're i3 550 with the i3 2100 and the p55 mobo with the p67 mobo, and you have a build that is now worth the $100 over the amd build
  • amirp
    sorry I meant to add, the drawback is waiting for the SB mobo's to arrive

    also I think this conclusion summarizes well AMD's predicament in a months time:
    "the Core i3-2100 performs as well as (or slightly better than) AMD's Phenom II X4 970 flagship."

  • dco
    Up until now, AMD's Pentium II X4

    I almost missed this typo an AMD pentium hmmm something seems wrong.
  • So what everyone is saying is - AMD's old technology is getting beat by Intel's newest? This is to be expected.

    If the point is that Intel has the best budget system at the current prices - then yes, the point is made. But it looks more like you're trying to prove Intel is better just before AMD launches a new generation of CPU's. While I can't speak for anyone else, I'm at least going to give their next generation a chance.
  • kashifme21
    Why even bother upgrading when most games are console ports, and dont need more then 3-4 yr old hardware to run maxed out?

    Certainly no one needs quad cores for web browsing and word lol.
  • hardcore_gamer
    Don't forget the fact that these sandy-bridge CPUS can not be overclocked
  • iam2thecrowe
    id like to see a core 2 duo comparison to the new cpu's. Everyone says they are old and slow, but in reality they are similar to an i3 without hyperthreading.