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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2013

Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: March 2013
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In this month's update, we discuss AMD's upcoming mobile Richland APU. We also talk about Intel's Pentium G2010 and the price changes we expect to see. Moreover, we're sharing some information about AMD's upcoming tablet-oriented APU, code-named Temash.

If you don’t have the time to research benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right processor for your next gaming machine, fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best gaming CPUs offered for the money.

March Updates: 

Intel

We're seeing one new CPU from Intel: the Pentium G2010. Unfortunately, armed with only two execution cores, no Hyper-Threading technology, and a 2.8 GHz core clock rate, I don't consider this to be gamer-class hardware (Ed.: Tom's Hardware editor Paul Henningsen is working on a story that will either confirm Don's opinion or contest it). The G2010 is basically an Ivy Bridge-based version of the Pentium G540 with a 10 W-lower TDP that dips down to 55 W. Because we're limiting our gaming-oriented recommendations to CPUs able to juggle at least four threads, the dual-core Pentium doesn't make this month's list.

Intel's portfolio is otherwise unchanged, and prices didn't move much. The one exception is its Core i7-3970X, which fell in price in the U.S. The company's flagship is now cheaper than the Core i7-3960X, which is likely being phased out.

AMD

AMD is replacing its Trinity-based APUs, at least in the mobile space. The company hasn't yet said when desktop versions will arrive. Code-named Richland, we're looking at an architecturally-similar processor (that is to say based on the Piledriver architecture) with improved power management functionality the company claims bolsters efficiency. Naturally, we plan to put those features to the test when we get our hands on a sample. If you hoped that Richland would feature the company's GCN architecture or more aggressive IPC-oriented improvements, however, you're going to be disappointed. 

Onto the price changes. Unlike Intel, AMD messes with its pricing a lot more often. Most notably, a promotion on the A8-3870K appears to have ended. As a result, the APU has jumped a bit in price. The FX-8350 is also pricier. That's unfortunate, considering the lower price point allowed the flagship FX to go up against the value of Intel's Core i5 more aggressively.

On a more positive note, the FX-4300 is down to just over £95, matching the Core i3-3220 and making the only true budget-oriented gaming hero in AMD's line-up more attractive.

It's unclear what we'll be seeing next from AMD. However, the company recently showed off its upcoming APU for tablets, code-named Temash, at CES and then again at Mobile World Congress. Detailed specifications weren't released, but the chip drove a prototype tablet equipped with AMD's Turbo Dock. This add-on (think the keyboard attachment for Samsung's ATIV Smart PC) supplies extra power to the tablet via an internal battery and gives it the flexibility to work at higher frequencies. In addition, it provides extra airflow to offset the increased thermal output and performance. Not really relevant to our gaming discussion here today, but potentially cool hardware to look forward to.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

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.

The criteria to get on this list are strictly price/performance. We acknowledge that there are other factors that come into play, such as platform price or CPU overclockability, but we're not going to complicate things by factoring in motherboard costs. We may add honorable mentions for outstanding products in the future, though. For now, our recommendations are based on stock clock speeds and performance at that price.

Cost and availability change on a daily basis. We can’t offer up-to-the-minute accurate pricing information in the text, but we can list some good chips that you probably won’t regret buying at the price ranges we suggest (and our PriceGrabber-based engine will help track down some of the best prices for you).

The list is based on some of the best US/UK prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices. We do not list used or OEM CPUs available at retail.       

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  • -2 Hide
    MajinCry , 20 March 2013 21:20
    "benchmark data makes it clear that the company's Hyper-Threading technology is effective in helping improve the performance of a dual-core CPU in threaded games. " Err. What? This line sounds as if it was sponsored by intel.

    HT-ing, if anything, decreases performance in games. You might get a gain in programs, but not in games.
  • 0 Hide
    bemused_fred , 21 March 2013 06:40
    MajinCry"benchmark data makes it clear that the company's Hyper-Threading technology is effective in helping improve the performance of a dual-core CPU in threaded games. " Err. What? This line sounds as if it was sponsored by intel.HT-ing, if anything, decreases performance in games. You might get a gain in programs, but not in games.


    Yes, except completely wrong.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/far-cry-3-performance-benchmark,3379-7.html

    Look at those performance gains over the pentium in a quad-core-utilizing game. That's not just a few extra megahertz and slightly more efficient architecture. That's hyper-threading for you.
  • 1 Hide
    Dave Diddly , 21 March 2013 10:05
    Excluding all the Sandybridge and Ivybridge Pentiums and Celerons is a bit of a oversight and makes this article a bit of a joke, especially as they are some of the best value processors that can run modern games quite well.
  • 1 Hide
    brianthesnail , 21 March 2013 13:05
    couldnt agree more with dave diddly... the pentiums both sandybridge and ivybridge are exceptional processors that are becoming more popular with budget minded gamers... were as the athlon II x4 640 is a joke compared to them .... its old hat and with a 95w tdp compared to 55w on the ivybridge pentiums the ivybridge pentiums are by far the better entry level cpu,s ..
    quad core is still a bit of a con for gamers .. with the exception of battlefield 3 mp most games are designed to run on dual core ( no HT ) and the pentiums deliver this at low power
  • 1 Hide
    chriss000 , 21 March 2013 22:54
    My E6600 even at stock played fallout3 GOTY, Bioshock 2, no probs.
    I am only now thinking of an upgrade.
    Much is made of new hardware before its needed.
    Hang back and play out the games that become cheap i say.
    It plays STO like a demon.
    (DAMON?)
    i Bet a g pentium duo would give plenty entertainment.
    If you want to spend a pile to play 2 new games see the chinese Dr
    for a bump feel session.
    The gen after this yrs stuff will always be cheaper.
  • 1 Hide
    blazorthon , 22 March 2013 06:17
    brianthesnailcouldnt agree more with dave diddly... the pentiums both sandybridge and ivybridge are exceptional processors that are becoming more popular with budget minded gamers... were as the athlon II x4 640 is a joke compared to them .... its old hat and with a 95w tdp compared to 55w on the ivybridge pentiums the ivybridge pentiums are by far the better entry level cpu,s .. quad core is still a bit of a con for gamers .. with the exception of battlefield 3 mp most games are designed to run on dual core ( no HT ) and the pentiums deliver this at low power


    Actually, most DX11 games scale very well on quad-threaded CPUs and several scale well across even six or eight threads.

    TDP is not relevant at all. It's not even directly comparable to power consumption and even that still has no bearing on performance.

    Athlon II x4 and especially Phenom II x4 beat the Celerons and Pentiums in most modern games. From the recent games, it's just stuff such as SC2 that still doesn't scale across even four threads properly.

    Furthermore, there are much newer CPUs such as the FX series and Trinity which, although not record breakers like Ivy Bridge in energy efficiency, are a lot more energy efficient than Athlon II and Phenom II.

    Even the i3s beat the Pentiums and Celerons significantly in most games and that the i5s oftentimes significantly beat the i3s makes this even more obvious.
  • 0 Hide
    blazorthon , 22 March 2013 06:19
    Dave DiddlyExcluding all the Sandybridge and Ivybridge Pentiums and Celerons is a bit of a oversight and makes this article a bit of a joke, especially as they are some of the best value processors that can run modern games quite well.


    No, it doesn't. They simply don't compete as well in a price/performance standing compared to some quad-threaded parts at similar price points anymore since most games nowadays can quite well take advantage of four threads. The cheaper models are still able to compete effectively. For example, the Celeron 1610 at around $50 is probably unbeatable at its price point. However, a little more expensive are some quad core parts and they do beat it handily in most modern DX11 games.
  • 0 Hide
    david cassar , 11 April 2013 19:41
    why dont they put the athlon ii x4 750k which is 65 pounds