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Picking A Sub-$200 Gaming CPU: FX, An APU, Or A Pentium?

Test System And Benchmarks

Our goal is to demonstrate real-world gaming environments. With that in mind, we chose to test at high detail settings and a resolution of 1920x1080. We're including a Core i5-2500K operating at 4 GHz in order to measure to see if these lower-priced models compare favorably to a higher-end overclocked processor.

Testing LGA 1155-, AM3+-, and FM1-based processors requires three separate platforms. Our trio takes advantage of the same memory and storage subsystem in order to factor out those variables. All test systems employ the fastest single-GPU graphics card available, AMD's Radeon HD 7970. Yes, we realize the $550 choice is unrealistic in a budget-oriented configuration. However, our intention is eliminating potential bottlenecks, and the 7970 helps flesh out each processor's merits.

Our Socket FM1-equipped system centers on Asus' F1A75-V Pro, a full-sized ATX version of the F1A75-M Pro that provided top performance in our A75-based motherboard round-up.

The Socket AM3+-based machine employs Biostar's TA990FXE motherboard, which features the 990FX chipset. It recently proved itself a capable overclocker in our recent System Builder Marathon.

This comparison's LGA 1155 platform is built on Asus’ P8P67 Pro, a board that proved to be the best overclocker in one of our P67 motherboard round-ups.

We weren't able to find an FX-4100 in stock in time for this piece, so we simulate that chip using an FX-6100. By disabling a single Bulldozer module (two integer cores) in the Asus board's firmware, we create the same configuration as the cheaper chip, except for its operating frequency. The FX-4100 runs at 3.6 GHz, but can reach 3.8 GHz via Turbo Core. Since we're unable to manually specify the upper and lower limits for this CPU, though, we set it to run at a constant 3.8 GHz. In theory, this gives our simulated processor a 200 MHz advantage in heavily-threaded workloads. However, that shouldn't apply to most gaming environments. And since this model is unlocked, every FX-4100 can be reliably forced to this clock speed anyway.

InterfaceSocket FM1Socket AM3+LGA 1155
CPU/APUAMD A4-3400 (Llano) 2.7 GHzAMD Athlon II X4 631 (Llano) 2.6 GHzAMD A8-3870K (Llano) 3.0 GHzAMD Athlon II X3 455 (Rana) 3.3 GHzAMD Athlon II X4 645 (Propus) 3.1 GHzAMD Phenom II X4 955 (Deneb) 3.2 GHzAMD Phenom II X4 980 (Deneb) 3.7 GHzAMD Phenom II X6 1090T (Thuban) 3.2 GHz Base, 3.6 GHz Turbo CoreAMD FX-4100 (Zambezi) 3.6 GHz Base, 3.8 GHz Turbo CoreAMD FX-6100 (Zambezi) 3.3 GHz Base, 3.9 GHz Turbo CoreAMD FX-8120 (Zambezi) 3.1 GHz Base, 3.4 GHz Turbo CoreIntel Pentium G630 (Sandy Bridge) 3.0 GHzIntel Pentium G860 (Sandy Bridge) 2.7 GHzIntel Core i3-2100 (Sandy Bridge) 3.1 GHzIntel Core i5-2400 (Sandy Bridge)3.1 GHz Base, 3.4 GHz Turbo BoostIntel Core i5-2500K (Sandy Bridge) Overclocked to 4.0 GHz
MotherboardAsus F1A75-V ProSocket FM1 Chipset: AMD A75Biostar TA990FXESocket AM3+ Chipset: AMD 990FXAsus P8P67 ProLGA 1155 Chipset: Intel P67
NetworkingOn-board Gigabit LAN controller
MemoryOCZ PC3-16000  2 x 2 GB, 1338 MT/s, CL 8-8-8-20-1T
GraphicsAMD Radeon HD 7970925 MHz GPU, 3 GB GDDR5 at 1375 MHz
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black 750 GB 7200 RPM, 32 MB Cache, SATA 3Gb/s
PowerePower EP-1200E10-T2 1200 W ATX12V, EPS12V
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 7 x6, Service Pack 1, KB2645594 and KB2646060 installed
DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics DriversAMD Radeon HD 7970 Win 7 x64 Driver, 1/9/2012
Benchmark Configuration
3D Games
Metro 2033Version 1.0.0.1, Built-In Benchmark
Battlefield 3Version 1.0.0.0, Operation Swordbreaker, FRAPS runs
Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimVersion 1.2.14.0, FRAPS runs
DiRT 3Version 1.2.0.0, Built-In Benchmark
Just Cause 2Version 1.0.0.2, Concrete Jungle Benchmark
StarCraft 2Version: 1.4.2.20141, Tom's Hardware Guide Benchmark