Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: February 2011

Best Gaming CPU: Under $110

Best Gaming CPU for ~$80:

Athlon II X3 450 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X3 450
Codename: Rana
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 3.2 GHz
Socket: AM2+/AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Athlon II X3 450 is the second-fastest triple-core Athlon II available, and it sports an ideal combination of three execution cores, a high clock rate, a low price, and respectable overclocking headroom. Despite the deceptively low buy-in, this processor delivers some serious gaming capability.

AMD's own Athlon II X4 635 will outperform the X3 in modern CPU-heavy game titles. But at a price point $20 cheaper, the Athlon II X3 450 remains a good low-budget option.

Best Gaming CPU for $100:

Athlon II X4 635 (Check Prices)

Athlon II X4 635
Codename: Propus
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.9 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 4 x 128 KB
L2 Cache: 4 x 512 KB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

The Athlon II X4 lineup continues to evolve gracefully as its clock speed steadily increases over time. We've also seen the chip lineup's price drop. And, games are starting to take better advantage of multiple CPU cores. Moreover, as a general-purpose CPU (during the hours you don't spend gaming), the quad-core solution is going to be superior to dual- and triple-core competitors.

Now found as low as $100, this particular model is well within the grasp of budget-oriented gamers, and it represents a solid starting point for any value-based system, gaming or otherwise.

Read our review of the Athlon II X4, right here.

Honorable Mention:
Pentium Dual-Core E6800 (Check Prices)

Pentium Dual-Core E6800
Codename: Wolfdale-2M
Process: 45 nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.33 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2 MB
Front Side Bus: 1066 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

The 3.33 GHz Pentium E6800 replaced the 3.2 GHz Pentium E6700 as the fastest budget dual-core available for the LGA 775 interface.

While the E6800 doesn't have any dormant cores that could be unlocked (like the Phenom II X2 555), it has a solid reputation for overclocking well, and it makes a good upgrade option for tweakers with older LGA 775-based systems who are not yet ready to put money into a new motherboard and CPU.

For folks considering a full upgrade, the Socket AM3 and LGA 1155 platforms are probably better choices. Of course, in order to get onboard with LGA 1155 at this price point, you'll have to go with the least expensive Core i3 available. That part isn't available yet, and when it is, it'll likely cost somewhere around $130. For folks looking to spend $100 or less on their processor, Socket AM3 is the only low-cost option we'd recommend for now.

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  • I've said it before, but I'll say it again. It is the cost of the platform which matters - if you're not changing your M/B then that limits your choice of CPU (and for an upgrade, it is the delta in performance which matters when deciding if a CPU is worth buying, and I don't think there's really scope to work out all the options there).
    Still find this an interesting monthly article, but I would not base my buying decision on it because "for xx bucks" is not a like-for-like comparision IMHO.
  • I honestly don't fully understand why there are categories which get "none" as the reccomendation. If you're setting something as a price-point, then there has to be a product worth buying in that range. If you say "none" because there is something far more tempting one level up, or much better value one level below, then just say that. Or leave that price point out all together.

    The fact that there is an "honorable mention" means that "If you are spending this much on a CPU, buy this one" which is the same as "at this price-point, buy this CPU", aka "the best CPU for this price-point" aka what this article is about.

    Who am I kidding, noone reads these UK comments anyway.