Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: April 2010 : April Updates

The team at Tom’s Hardware has given us a list of the best gaming processors for all budgets. For people who are confused which CPU to get, and don’t have the patience or the time to go through the benchmarks, this list should be really come in handy when deciding to buy hardware.

This list is for gamers who want to get the most for their money. If you don’t play games, then the CPUs on this list may not be suitable for your particular needs. Pricing is based on some of the lowest US prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices.

Best gaming CPU for $85: Athlon II X3 440

From a stock performance standpoint, the Athlon II X3 440 only offers a 100 MHz speed bump over the Athlon II X3 435. However, the higher multiplier might help if your ultimate goal is overclocking. When you consider the big picture, this CPU really offers an attractive combination of multiple CPU cores, high clock speed, low price, and overclockability. It is such a great gaming CPU, in fact, that it almost renders most of the CPUs in the $100 to $130 range redundant. As a result, most of our recommendations in this range are aimed specifically at overclockers and users upgrading an older platform.

Best gaming CPU for $140: Core i3-540

Another one of Intel’s new Core i3 processors3 , the gaming data we have seen for this i3-540 looks promising. While it isn’t going to perform all that much better than the -530, its higher multiplier will be a boon for overclockers, and the price might be justified for some.
Bear in mind that, although Intel launched this processor alongside the H55 and H57 chipsets, gamers are likely going to want to stick with P55 when they shop for an LGA 1156-equipped motherboard, even if it means ignoring the integrated graphics core built onto the Core i3-540. When used with Clarkdale-based processors, Intel’s H55 and H57 chipsets aren’t able to divide on-package PCI Express connectivity between CrossFire and SLI graphics configurations.
Best gaming CPU for $160: Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition

A former flagship of AMD’s Phenom II family, the Phenom II X4 955 BE has been relegated to second-place status by the newer Phenom II X4 965 BE model. Now at $160, it offers a very compelling price/performance ratio for a true quad-core unlocked processor with gobs of cache. We should also mention that the 955 is now available in the newer C3 stepping like its 965 brother.

Best gaming CPU for $180: Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition

While the Phenom II X4 955 and 965 both share an unlocked multiplier, the new revision 965 model’s C3 stepping has been shown to be quite overclock-friendly compared to previous models. If you’re looking for an AMD processor with the maximum overclocking headroom, just make sure you’re buying the new 125 watt C3 stepping of the processor, not the older 140 watt version.

Best gaming CPU for $200: Core i5-750

The new Core i5 brings top-of-the-line Nehalem-class performance at a $200 price point. We recently awarded it our Recommended Buy honor after seeing it stand up to more expensive CPUs in games and other demanding apps. For those desiring the best possible performance, the Core i5-750 can be overclocked to great effect, performing similarly to the $1,000 Core i7-975 Extreme at its stock settings when pushed a bit.

Best gaming CPU for $295: Core i7-930

Intel’s Core i7 has proven itself to be the most powerful gaming CPU option available, based on the data we have gathered. The Core i7-930 is a great choice for systems coupled with multiple graphics cards in an SLI or CrossFire configuration. The motherboards and DDR3 RAM that the i7 architecture requires will bring the total platform cost higher than other systems, but the resulting performance should be worth the purchase price. While the Core i5 performs similarly, there are a few applications and games that can take advantage of the Core i7 900-series’ Hyper-Threading and triple-channel memory features, so spending the extra money on the Core i7-930 can pay off, particularly if you plan to overclock. In addition, LGA 1156-based Core i5 and Core i7 processors are limited to 16 PCIe 2.0 lanes, but the LGA 1366-based Core i7-900s do not share this limitation, since they get their PCI Express connectivity from the X58 chipset. This makes the LGA 1366 Core i7 processors a good choice for CrossFire or SLI configurations with more than two graphics cards.

Best gaming CPU for $1090: Core i7-980X Extreme

This six-core monster has stolen the bragging rights for the world’s
fastest CPU from the Core i7-975 Extreme. Despite the fact that most
games don’t utilize more than three CPU cores, this is the fastest
gaming CPU currently available for purchase as our tests have shown. Is
it worth $1,090? If you have money growing on trees, are afraid to try
to overclock the Core i7-930, want the ease of overclocking that the
Extreme Edition’s unlocked multiplier provides, and are willing to pay
for the bragging rights of having six CPU cores capable of running 12
threads, then it just might be.

Otherwise, the Core i7-980X Extreme is a hard sell from a value
standpoint; you’d be better off investing more in graphics or solid
state storage.

Personally if I was in the market for a new processor I would seriously consider the i3. We previously looked at this processor here in our review “Is Intel’s Core i3-530 Fast Enough For Performance Gaming?