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Gaming Shoot-Out: 18 CPUs And APUs Under $200, Benchmarked

Does AMD's FX Catch Intel Under $200?

With our testing complete, we wanted to plot out average performance at 1920x1080, with Intel's Pentium G860 standing in as our 100% baseline.

What you see below is a very different aggregate chart compared to the one that showed up in Picking A Sub-$200 Gaming CPU: FX, An APU, Or A Pentium?, particularly when it comes to the Pentium. The rest of the results seem like they fall close to where we would have expected them, based on our previous testing. AMD's processors do come closer to Intel's last-gen and Ivy Bridge-based Core i3s. Indeed, the FX-8350, FX-6300, and FX-4300 are nipping at the entry-level Intel chip. The Phenom II X4 and X6 are as well, though neither is available any more. Even quad-core APUs like the A10-5800K and A8-3870K hold their own.

The performance curve starts to fall off pretty quickly once we look at the Pentium G860, Athlon II X3 450, and the two A4 APUs.

It isn't explicitly clear what changed in the last year, since our previous look at processors under $200, to affect performance. But we are using some new games, old games that have been patched, new drivers, and a new operating system, so all of that is in play. Regardless, AMD's FX processors, its two-generation-old Phenom II X6 and X4 CPUs, and the company's Athlon II X4 look a little better compared to Intel's Core i3 than they used to. In contrast, the Sandy Bridge-based Pentium G860 falls relative to where it was.

The Pentium isn't bad, to be sure. In fact, for $70, it still does really well against the FX chips we tested that cost $125 and up, use quite a bit of power, and generate significantly more heat. Nevertheless, we see the trend toward more threaded titles continuing, compelling us to start distancing ourselves from dual-core non-Hyper-Threaded CPUs in 2013. At least for the time being, whatever quad-core Athlon II and Phenom II processors that are still available seem like smart buys.

Once those dry up, what then? Intel still holds the aces. For your dollar, the Core i5 has no competition above $160. At $130, the Core i3-3220 is tough to beat. It no longer humiliates the FX line-up in games thanks to AMD's most recent architectural update, but it's still cheaper, faster, and more power-friendly than most of the Vishera-based models.

Fortunately for AMD, its chips fare better in the non-gaming components of our benchmark suite, where its modular architecture is better able to benefit from today's threaded software. In a general-purpose workstation, that's certainly something to think about. But in a pure gaming machine, there's just no ignoring the effectiveness of Intel's Sandy and Ivy Bridge designs.