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Picking A Sub-£160 Gaming CPU: FX, An APU, Or A Pentium?

Picking A Sub-£160 Gaming CPU: FX, An APU, Or A Pentium?
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We really like to hunt down great values in the processor space. Since our last round-up of affordable CPUs, AMD released its Llano-based APUs and Bulldozer-based FX family. Also, Intel introduced a handful of Sandy Bridge-based Pentium chips.

Whenever there are significant changes in the CPU market, we like to collect as many sub-£160 models as possible and put together a gaming comparison. Certainly a lot has happened since the last time we did this. Perhaps most obviously, the Phenom II and Athlon II families have started giving way to the FX series, along with the A4, A6, and A8 APUs. Intel, meanwhile, now has Sandy Bridge-based Pentium processors.

First, let's talk about AMD's new offerings. The company's Bulldozer micro-architecture landed in the desktop space as the Zambezi die, which came to be branded FX. There are only four processors in the entire family: the quad-core FX-4100, the hexa-core FX-6100, and the octa-core FX-8120 and FX 8150. They all sport unlocked multipliers, and, even in the face of less-than-elegant efficiency numbers, they're known to overclock pretty well. Unfortunately, the FX processors also make sacrifices in IPC, negatively affecting performance in lightly-threaded applications compared to older AMD CPUs and anything from Intel.

Nevertheless, we're still curious to see how these CPUs fare in gaming environments (especially the £90 FX-4100). And since all of the FX processors are easy to overclock, we'll also test them at more aggressive frequency settings to see how well they scale. In order to ensure the FX line-up puts its best foot forward, we also installed the new Windows 7 scheduler updates KB2645594 and KB2646060.

AMD also has its APUs, which combine traditional processing and a graphics engine on a piece of silicon referred to as Llano. Manufactured at 32 nm, these chips employ the Stars architecture utilized by the familiar Phenom IIs, along with mainstream Radeon graphics designs that facilitate respectable 3D performance. Although the APUs don't come with the Phenom's big L3 caches, the individual execution cores are slightly more efficient. We’re interested in seeing how these products perform complemented by discrete graphics cards compared to the other sub-£160 options. Two APUs are waiting for our affections: the dual-core A4-3400 and the multiplier-unlocked quad-core A8-3870K. We also have a quad-core Athlon II X4 631 to test, which is functionally identical to the A6-3650's processing component. It's cheaper though, because the integrated graphics are disabled.

Finally, we're taking a look at Intel's new Pentium processors manufactured at 32 nm and based on the Sandy Bridge architecture. Does a relatively small 3 MB shared L3 cache and dual-core, Hyper-Threading-less design hold these budget-oriented models back? Or, do the £70 Pentium G860 and £60 Pentium G630 give gamers on budgets ample muscle?

The Sub-£160 Gaming CPU Line-up

Today we have the following sub-£160 CPUs, plus a £180 Core i5-2500K for comparison:

*UK Editor's Note: Just FYI, the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T is becoming harder to find in the United Kingdom, which is why the average price for this CPU is so high. However, it still managed to slip into the price category in the U.S., so we've left it in for the sake of completeness.


AMD
FX-4100
AMD
FX-6100
AMD
FX-8120
AMD
A4-3400
AMD Athlon II
X4 631
AMD
A8-3870K
Codename: ZambeziZambeziZambeziLlano
Llano
Llano
Process: 32 nm 32 nm 32 nm 32 nm 32 nm32 nm
Cores (Threads): 4682
44
Clock Speed (Turbo): 3.6 (3.8) GHz
3.3 (3.9) GHz3.1 (4.0) GHz2.7 GHz
2.6 GHz
3.0 GHz
Interface: AM3+AM3+AM3+FM1FM1FM1
L3 Cache: 8 MB8 MB8 MBN/A
N/A
N/A
Thermal Envelope:
95 W
95 W
125 W65 W
65 W100 W
Online Price:
£90
£120
£160
£55
£65
£105

AMD Athlon II
X3 455
AMD Athlon II
X4 645
AMD Phenom II
X4 955
AMD Phenom II
X4 980
AMD Phenom II
X6 1090T
Codename: RanaPropusDenebDenebDeneb
Process: 45 nm 45 nm45 nm 45 nm 45 nm
Cores (Threads): 3444
6
Clock Speed (Turbo): 3.3 GHz
3.1 GHz3.2 GHz3.7 GHz
3.2 (3.6) GHz
Interface: AM2+/AM3/AM3+AM2+/AM3/AM3+AM2+/AM3/AM3+AM2+/AM3/AM3+AM2+/AM3/AM3+
L3 Cache: N/A
N/A
6 MB6 MB6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
95 W
95 W
125 W125 W125 W
Online Price:
£65
£95
£120
£160
£220*

Intel
Pentium G630
Intel
Pentium G860
Intel
Core i3-2100
Intel
Core i5-2400
Intel
Core i5-2500K
Codename: Sandy BridgeSandy BridgeSandy BridgeSandy BridgeSandy Bridge
Process: 32 nm 32 nm32 nm32 nm32 nm
Cores (Threads): 2
22 (4)44
Clock Speed (Turbo): 2.7 GHz
3.0 GHz3.1 GHz3.1 (3.4) GHz

3.3 (3.7) GHz

Interface: LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155
L3 Cache: 3 MB
3 MB
3 MB
6 MB6 MB
Thermal Envelope:
65 W
65 W
65 W95 W95 W
Online Price:
£60
£70
£90
£150
£180
Display all 13 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    13thmonkey , 30 January 2012 15:16
    why stop the 2500K at 4Ghz in the OC's tests?
    It would have been good (but difficult) to have some older CPUs in their, i.e. some of the core 2 duos/quads that people (me included) are considering for an upgrade, looking on another site's Bench tool for instance I can see that a Q9550 is similar to a I3-2100, but having that here would have been useful, although your suppliers might not like it if it doesn't show much of a change.
  • 2 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 15:51
    Why the i3-2100 rather than the i3-2120? Was this to avoid rubbing AMD's nose in it?
    I'm thinking of going with an i3-2125 to allow some light gaming in an HTPC (when I get around to upgrading) as I don't see anything from AMD coming close at the moment :-(
  • 2 Hide
    EDVINASM , 30 January 2012 17:12
    aje21Why the i3-2100 rather than the i3-2120? Was this to avoid rubbing AMD's nose in it?I'm thinking of going with an i3-2125 to allow some light gaming in an HTPC (when I get around to upgrading) as I don't see anything from AMD coming close at the moment :-(


    Because i3 2100 is better value for money than 2125 one. No increase whatsoever in games, just 30 in notes down the drain.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , 30 January 2012 17:33
    Why no overclock on the 1090t? At around 4-4.2Ghz I would expect it to be up around the i3 2100 on the charts perhaps higher in some benches.
  • 2 Hide
    Dandalf , 30 January 2012 20:32
    Thanks Don, an enlightening if depressing series of benchmarks! I was hunting for a lower powered micro-atx machine and was considering the new Pentium G630, mostly because (unlike FM1) 1155 has a clear upgrade path all the way to i7, but this article seals the deal!

    Such a shame about AMD's processors... still hoping to see an improvement with Piledriver for when my next gaming upgrade comes around! At least the red team can count on my custom for one of their shiny new GPUs ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 22:38
    edvinasmBecause i3 2100 is better value for money than 2125 one. No increase whatsoever in games, just 30 in notes down the drain.

    I think you missed my point, I was thinking of a 2125 for myself (i.e. no discrete GPU) so I can use QuickSync for transcoding, plus a vague chance of casual gaming in older titles. Just a shame that the platform (with HDMI and 2125) comes to so much :-( If the APUs from AMD were better priced and performed better then they might be of interest.
    For the comparison I was thinking that the 2120 is £5 more than the 2100 for 200MHz higher clock. Perhaps that small increase in performance isn't worth the extra dosh, but it might have given the i3 a bit more of a lead in the charts.
  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 22:44
    Juk3syWhy no overclock on the 1090t? At around 4-4.2Ghz I would expect it to be up around the i3 2100 on the charts perhaps higher in some benches.

    Sad for AMD that a processor which can just make it into the comparison based on U.S. pricing (it's nearly 2.5 times more expensive in the U.K.) would need such an overclock to catch a £90 part from Intel.
  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 22:46
    Shame there is no "value" chart which plots relative performance against relative price.
  • 2 Hide
    bobbyp86 , 30 January 2012 23:02
    It's about time that all games were developed with quad core processors in mind if you ask me. I'm not upgrading from my OC 955 to play games that cba to use the other half of the processor.
  • 2 Hide
    diellur , 31 January 2012 03:30
    Intel are storming along as both the budget and mid-to-high range CPU of choice for a gaming system...I can't see the lack of competition being a good thing at all. :( 
  • 0 Hide
    Brett928S2 , 31 January 2012 03:42
    Hi :) 

    Where is the 1100T ?

    Was there a particular reason it was missed out ?

    All the best Brett :) 
  • 0 Hide
    HEXiT , 3 February 2012 17:14
    diellurIntel are storming along as both the budget and mid-to-high range CPU of choice for a gaming system...I can't see the lack of competition being a good thing at all.

    your not wrong there. if this keeps up intel will have no good reason to stay competitive on prices. which means we dont get good performance for reasonable outlay...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 7 December 2012 19:57
    I got a new ready built PC really cheap with a FX6100. Got a geforce 570 in it and SSD. Probably very cheap cos no-one wants it after reading the reviews!!! Got a bigger cooler for it and overclocked it. Well what can I say, it runs all my games at 1080p and full details and no stuttering. So I can't ask for more. Very happy.
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