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Best Gaming CPU: Mid-range

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: July 2012
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Best Gaming CPU for £85: None

Honourable Mention:
FX-4100

FX-4100
Codename: Zambezi
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.6 GHz (3.8 GHz)
Socket: AM3+
L2 Cache: 4 x 1 MB
L3 Cache:   8 MB
HyperTransport: 4000 MT/s
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

At its stock clock rate, AMD's FX-4100 isn't a particularly compelling gaming product compared to lower-priced options from Intel. However, enthusiasts are sure to appreciate its unlocked ratio multiplier and plenty of headroom to scale up. When it's pushed, this processor helps enable similar frame rates as some of our favorite Core i3 CPUs, though it uses significantly more power in the process. Nevertheless, with Phenom IIs quickly disappearing from retail, the FX-4100 remains AMD's best value in the gaming CPU space, earning an honourable mention.


Best Gaming CPU for £90:
Core i3-2120

Core i3-2120
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 2/4
Clock Speed: 3.3 GHz
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 2 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 3 MB
Thermal Envelope:
65 W

As our sub-£160 CPU gaming comparison article proved, the budget Core i3-2120 is a surprisingly capable gaming processor with the ability to beat some of the quad-core CPUs we've recommended at this price in the past.

Yes, you have to essentially forsake the potential for overclocking, given (what we consider to be) enthusiast-unfriendly locks on the multiplier and a base clock with very little room to scale beyond 100 MHz. But its stock performance is compelling, and this CPU still warrants a recommendation.

Read our review of the Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

Best Gaming CPU for £145:
Core i5-2310

Core i5-2310
Codename: Sandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 2.9 GHz (3.2 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
95 W

Intel's Sandy Bridge microarchitechture is undeniably fast. Test data suggests that the Core i5-2310 can stand toe-to-toe with older LGA 1366-based processors when it comes to gaming performance. We're not talking about the entry-level models, either. This affordable processor has the chops to compete with Intel's thousand-dollar Extreme Edition chips.

Read our review of the Sandy Bridge-based CPUs here.

Best Gaming CPU for £150:
Core i5-3450

Core i5-3450
Codename: Ivy Bridge
Process: 22 nm
CPU Cores/Threads: 4
Clock Speed (Max. Turbo): 3.1 GHz (3.5 GHz)
Socket: LGA 1155
L2 Cache: 4 x 256 KB
L3 Cache: 6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
77 W

As fast as Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture is in gaming workloads, the 22 nm Ivy Bridge design performs slightly better per clock cycle, while using less power. For £150, the Core i5-3450 promises to be a solid contender with predictable performance, based on our experiences with Sandy Bridge-based chips in the same price range.

It is also worth noting that the third-gen Core processor features a lower TDP and includes 16 lanes of PCI Express 3.0 connectivity. If you're buying a 7-series motherboard and Radeon HD 7000- or GeForce GTX 600-series graphics card anyway, enabling a faster connection between the CPU and GPU might be an important check-list feature (even if it isn't currently an important performance consideration).

Read our review of the Ivy Bridge-based CPUs here.

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  • 1 Hide
    jay_nar2012 , 22 July 2012 08:32
    Has anyone tried gaming with an Atom or C-50?
  • 1 Hide
    bemused_fred , 22 July 2012 15:26
    Jay_Nar2012Has anyone tried gaming with an Atom or C-50?


    It's impossible. You get 3fps in minecraft.
  • 0 Hide
    iixwh3l4nxii , 19 August 2012 01:17
    I think i'll go with the Athlon x4 631 processor, it's dirt cheap and only 1 tier under all the big boy AMD's