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.

Simulated CPU Chart

AMD Athlon II X3 455Intel Core i3-550Intel Core i3-560Intel Core i3-2120
Intel Core i5-2300
Simulated With:
AMD Athlon II X3 450
Intel Core i3-540
Intel Core i3-540Intel Core i3-2100
Intel Core i5-2500K
Target Clock Speed:
3300 MHz
3200 MHz
3330 MHz
3200 MHz
2800 MHz
(3100 Turbo)
Actual Clock Speed: 3304 MHz
3197 MHz
3335 MHz
3186 MHz
2807 MHz
(3097 Turbo)
Target Memory Speed:
669 MHz
@ 9-9-9-20-1T
669 MHz
@ 9-9-9-20-1T
669 MHz
@ 9-9-9-20-1T
669 MHz
@ 9-9-9-20-33-1T
669 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.


Intel LGA 1156 Test System
AMD Test System
Intel LGA 1155 Test System
CPU

Intel Core i3-550
3.2 GHz
(Clarkdale)*
Intel Core i3-560
3.33 GHz
(Clarkdale)*

*simulated by overclocking a Core i3-540

AMD 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 450

Intel 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

Motherboard

Gigabyte H55M-UD2H LGA 1156
Chipset: Intel H55

Gigabyte GA-MA790XT-UD4P Socket AM3
Chipset: AMD 790X

Asus P8P67 Pro
Chipset: Intel P67
Networking
Onboard Gigabit LAN controller
Memory

OCZ PC3-16000
  2 x 2 GB, 1338 MT/s, CL 9-9-9-20-1T

Graphics

GeForce GTX 480 Reference
700 MHz GPU, 1 GB GDDR5 at 924 MHz

Hard Drive

Western Digital Caviar Black 750 GB
7200 RPM, 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s

Power

ePOWER EP-1200E10-T2 1200W
ATX12V, EPS12V

Software and Drivers
Operating System
Microsoft Windows 7 x64
DirectX versionDirectX 11
Graphics Drivers

GeForce 266.58 WHQL

Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Metro 2033
Version 1.0.0.1, DirectX 11, benchmark tool, High Quality,
No AA, 16x AF, advanced physX disabled, tesselation enabled, DOF disabled
Aliens vs Predator
Version 1.0.0.0, Aliens vs Predator DirectX 11 benchmark
Default Settings, No AA, 16x AF
Lost Planet 2
Version 1.0.1.129, DirectX 11,
Highest Settings, 4x AA, In-game benchmark Test A
F1 2010
Version 1.1.1.129, DirectX 11, in-game benchmark
Ultra Detail Settings, 4x AA
Just Cause 2
Version 1.0.0.2, DirectX 10, Concrete Jungle Benchmark
Highest Details, 4x AA, 16x AF, Bokeh Filter & GPU Water Simulation off
StarCraft 2
Version: 2.1.2.2105, Ultra-High Settings
Tom's Hardware Guide Benchmark
This thread is closed for comments
138 comments
    Your comment
  • 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
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131651

    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
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813131634

    **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
    @lunyone

    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
    Quote:
    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.
  • dco
    So glad you did the bench's in 1920x1080 instead setting the resolution really low to make the differences more prominent. Much more realistic and usable as a real world benchmark. good read.
  • haplo602
    what are you guys at Tom's smoking lately ?

    quote from the conclusion page:
    "Because our charts are arranged in order of processor price, with the most expensive at the top and the least expensive at the bottom,"

    but the first page shows the X6 being the most expensive CPU !!!

    Also I miss the price/performance graph:

    X3 455 = 88.99USD
    i5 2400 = 189.99USD

    from the average game performance graph:

    i5 2400 offers 148% of X3 455 performance but it is priced at 213% of the X3 455 !!!

    how about graphing the performance progression and cost progression in one graph to actualy see the best value for money ? the last graph only focuses on relative performance but price increase is not considered (at least only in the relative more/less expensive way).
  • haplo602
    oh yes one more thing. missing out on lga775 is a huge mistake. this way people have to run through several benchmarks to establish their still working rigs relative performance to the SB ships.

    and ... do NOT test HT on I/O intensive workloads (winrar). run something like super pi or a physics simulation on the CPU. I/O limited workloads are the most favorable HT scenario.
  • Bigmac80
    To bad they didn't add the i5 2500k since it's only $199.99 at microcenter..
  • joytech22
    Good to see Intel making great progress in the budget market.
    But they still have nothing to combat AMD's APU + GPU combo.

    Wait yes they do, i3..

    I wonder if AMD's planning to go out in a bombshell..
    Or will they make a comeback to remember them by?
  • Im not agree with you Toms Hardware. There is a lot of difference btw Intel and AMD cpus in blizzard games because in those games GPU isnt the cap. And Intel is way faster than AMD...

    Its stupid compare CPUs in games where the graphic card scores under 50pfs...
  • jj463rd
    I think AMD needs to lower their prices again.Comparing to the Phenom II X4 955 BE with the i3-2100 on your conclusion chart the Phenom II X4 955 BE should be priced at $115 to $125 to be competitive.Of course AMD will have a couple months until their new CPU line comes out though so they do have some time.
  • SpadeM
    In Europe the price difference between 2300 and 2400 is around 4$ in some markets so even better :P. I do have a request though, could you switch from winrar to 7zip for multitasking testing on future reviews? All in all, it's nice to see where things stand at now, even though only AMD is available on the market till ... april or may.
  • rambostyrer
    Nice article there.

    would have been interesting to see some overclocked benchmark though, to see how the unlocked muliplyer of the Phenoms would do against Sandy bridge with no unlocked muliplyer.

    And I know it's an older game, but GTA has the reputation of being a real cpu killer, so would have been interesting with that ass well.

    And what did i learn? that my next cpu, will be a Phenom II 955, an upgrade from my current Athlon II 445.
  • darkchazz
    Wait for bulldozer , then compare it with SB :/
  • masterofevil22
    Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't it much more difficult or impossible to OC the 2300/2400??

    Why not do a max OC comparison of these CPU's?? Especially given that at this price range most people who are buying these chips for their own rigs are trying to maximize their dollar and are probably at least considering doing so.

    Too many "simulated" cpu's??
  • digiex
    In the last graph, I really like if it was sorted from highest to lowest and see all the Intel processors on the top.
  • andy5174
    masterofevil22Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't it much more difficult or impossible to OC the 2300/2400?? Why not do a max OC comparison of these CPU's?? Especially given that at this price range most people who are buying these chips for their own rigs are trying to maximize their dollar and are probably at least considering doing so. Too many "simulated" cpu's??

    Amd supporters are finally willing to talk about OCed performance considering non-K SandyBridge is not OCable.

    How about paying $15 dollars more for the 2500K and OCed it to 4.4GHz? 2500K can achieve 4.4GHz easily with stock cooler which gives you a lot more performance without requiring paying extra cost ($80+) for a high end cooler. You will then end up with a much better performance for less cost than the PII-X6@4GHz+high end cooler.
  • Communism
    All the non-overclockable SB procs are failures to anyone not running so-called "mission critical" things on their comps.

    My old ass E4300 (which I got at the time for CHEAPER than the current SB procs) OCed to 3.5 ghz trashes the dual-core SB procs that can't overclock

    Outside those who are willing to spend money on the SB mobos and are in the price range ($250 ish) for the 2500k/2600k, SB is completely pointless for overclockers of any stripe.

    Since the AMD chips atm are still complete failures, people like me who are stuck with OCed core 2 duos and core 2 quads have nothing to look forward to in affordable high performance procs that are worth upgrading to until Bulldozer from the looks of it.