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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October 2011

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Best Gaming CPUs For The Money: October 2011

AMD's long-awaited FX-series CPUs arrived in October, and we discuss the impact that the company's Bulldozer architecture has on gaming. AMD also introduced other products into retail, including its Phenom II X4 960T, A4-3300, and Phenom II X2 270.

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.

October Updates

AMD's FX-family launch is the most important news in this month's update. The unfortunate reality is that these ~2 billion-transistor processors don't seem to offer gamers much value beyond AMD's prior-generation CPUs. Needless to say, that's a big disappointment for AMD fans hoping they'd get a platform better able to hang with Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture. Instead, Intel's lower-cost Core i3s and Core i5s are likely better (and less expensive) options.

Seven FX models were announced during AMD's official introduction, though only four were purportedly shipped out. At the time of writing, only three models had actually made their way to e-tail: the six-core, 3.3 GHz FX-6100 for $165, the eight-core 3.1 GHz FX-8120 for $205, and the eight-core 3.6 GHz FX-8150 for $245. That's official pricing. In practice, Newegg is selling the -6100 for $190, the -8120 for $220, and the -8150 for $280. A four-core 3.6 GHz FX-4100 is expected show up soon with an MSRP of $115.

To learn more intimate details about AMD's FX, check out AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested.

In addition to FX, AMD has other new products in the channel. Most notably, we're now seeing the Phenom II X4 960T, a processor that we first introduced to you in May of 2010 (Meet Zosma: AMD's Quad-Core Phenom II X4 960T Gets Unlocked). At the time, AMD suggested that this product would probably never make it to retail, and would likely remain an exclusive option for system builders like Dell. It's a good thing that plans change. Zosma is a four-core version of the six-core Thuban design branded as AMD's Phenom II X6 family. As such, it features the first generation of AMD's Turbo Core functionality. In the case of the Phenom II X4 960T, a 3.0 GHz base clock spins as high as 3.4 GHz when thermal headroom exists. Frankly, the Phenom II X4 960T isn't as interesting as the similarly priced (and multiplier-unlocked) Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition to gamers. However, if you also run a lot of threaded software, the possibility of unlocking a couple of extra cores could make this chip more attractive. There's no guarantee you'll actually achieve stability, but we had modest luck in our first encounter with Zosma.

Aside from the 960T, AMD also released a 3.4 GHz Phenom II X2 270 and 2.5 GHz A4-3300. Those products are simply clock tweaks of existing processors, and since they're slower than the top-end models, they're not on our radar for this recommendation list.

What about Intel? The company didn't launch any new hardware in the last month. But then again, it didn't really need to. We did see a handful of $5 price reductions on the Pentium G620, G840, and Core i5-2300. While those drops are nice, they make very little difference to our list. Fortunately, the month to come should be a little more interesting. The Core i7-2700K will emerge, though, as a mere speed bump, we don't expect it to become a recommendation. We'll also see Intel's Sandy Bridge-E. For a preview of what you can expect, check out Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview.

Despite all of the news, our gaming CPU recommendations don't change much from last month. The FX series certainly does nothing to usurp the playing field. We'll see if the new architecture forces any pricing adjustments in the weeks to come. For now, though, it's business as usual, gamers.

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 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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