Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: November ’09

If you don’t have the time to research the 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.

November Updates

AMD has introduced some new CPUs since our last installment; most notably, the Athlon II X3 family. The new Athlon II X3 435 combines three CPU cores, a fast 2.9 GHz clock rate, and a low $90 price tag. Since today’s games tend to utilize no more than three CPU cores on average, the Athlon II X3 435 is a fantastic gaming processor for the enthusiast on a budget. Our Athlon II X3 435 sample overclocked to 3.7 GHz fairly easily, so there’s a lot to like about this low-cost processor. In addition to the X3 435, AMD has also created an Athlon II X3 425 with a 2.8 GHz clock speed, available for about $80.

There are a number of other new AMD CPUs available, mostly a host of low-power Athlon II X2, X3, and X4 variants. These are great for energy-efficient applications, but they don’t offer much to gamers looking for maximum performance per dollar.

Aside from those introductions there isn’t much to report on the CPU front, with Intel dominating the $200+ market with its Core i5 and Core i7, and AMD dominating the sub-$200 market with the Phenom II X4 955 and new Athlon II.

Speaking of the Phenom II X4 955, the street price has dropped to $175, making it a great deal for a premium multiplier-unlocked processor.  The Core i5 is faster, but the $25 price difference might be enough for some tweakers to opt for the unlocked Phenom II, especially since the P55 platform tends to be a bit more expensive than AMD options at this time. Either way, there are some fantastic products out there–let’s look at the recommendations.

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 U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary. Of course, these are retail CPU prices while we do not list used or OEM CPUs.

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