Introduction

It's that time of year again where everyone is thinking about the various gifts they might want - both to give and to receive. Figuring out which computer parts make the most sense to buy can be difficult, even more so for the less technical people out there. What's the difference between dual core and single core processors? What about the new quad core offering? Is it really worth spending two to four times as much money to get a high-end processor instead of one of the cheaper models? And what about the potential for upgrades? These are all important questions, and similar questions arise for practically every single computer component.

In order to help provide answers to these questions, we're going to step away from the regular AnandTech Buyer's Guides for a moment and provide a series of Holiday Buyer's Guides. The goal is to cover all of the important components in the next couple of weeks, with advice on which parts are the best buys for the holidays. Similar to our regular Buyer's Guides, we will be looking at component choices for various price segments. As we are focusing on individual components, we're going to break things down further in some cases, so we will have an Ultra Budget section, Entry Level, Midrange, High-End, and Extreme Performance recommendations. We won't just be focusing on a single choice for each category either, but we will be comparing and contrasting what is available in each price segment and why one option might make more sense for some people, while a slightly different choice might be better for others. We will also have a look at the upgrade potential for various platforms and provide suggestions on where a new CPU is a good idea and where you are best off to simply ditch your old system and start fresh. We'll start today with the core (no pun or Intel bias intended) of any system: the CPU.

As usual, not only do we have the various price segments to cover, but we also have to worry about AMD versus Intel. Some people are fierce devotees of one particular brand, but such loyalty will often force you to make subpar component choices. For users looking to upgrade, you may not have as many options available when considering which processor to get - unless you want to also upgrade your motherboard and perhaps memory as well. We have said as much several times in the past, but these days Intel now has a firm grasp on the high-end computing segment when it comes to processors. Our recommendations are going to reflect this, but keep in mind that this is the exact opposite of what we had last year, where the recommendations were all strongly in favor of AMD. That doesn't mean that AMD is no longer worth buying when it comes to CPUs, but for the most part our AMD recommendations are going to be in the budget segments and once you get over a couple hundred dollars it becomes hard to justify purchasing an AMD CPU for a new system. Perhaps we will see such trends reverse themselves over the coming year, and if so we will be sure to change our recommendations as well.

So what are the hottest CPUs on the planet right now - and thankfully we're no longer worried as much about temperatures when we say "hottest", now that the NetBurst era has come to an end - and which ones should you be thinking about getting? We'll start at the bottom of the price spectrum, and then move up from there. As a final comment before we get to the actual processors, there are going to be a lot of sales that come and go over the holiday season, as well as things like mail-in rebates. The text reflects prices at a particular snapshot in time, but prices are in a constant state of flux, so we encourage you to follow the linked prices to get up-to-date information. And of course, you can also go straight to our Real-Time Pricing Engine to do some research on your own.

Ultra Budget CPUs
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  • mpc7488 - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Agreed. The summary table at the end is the "quick" answer, and all of the detail is great as a rationale for making a choice. Nicely done. Reply
  • valnar - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    They listed pretty much every CPU and categorized them by price. How is this worthy of an article? This takes PC (meaning "politically correct") to the extreme, doesn't it?

    In other words, buy whatever you want, with what you can afford. You can't make a wrong choice.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Actually, we don't recommend everything. I guess I have to add a summary table to make it clear what our overall picks are, since the text didn't do it for some of you. Reply
  • Murst - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    I recently had some issues with my CPU/MB (I'm actually unable to determine which since I do not know anyone who has a socket 939 and my MB does not post).

    I'm looking to fix my issue without spending a ton of cash. Therefore, replacing the fewest number of parts in my computer is my goal. I've already decided that I will be replacing my CPU + MB. Currently I have a 6800GT (AGP) and upgrading to a card with equal performance is just a waste of money IMO.

    Are there any boards out there for the C2D that can handle AGP cards? Or am I stuck with AMD if I do not want to replace my graphics card?

    I've already accepted the fact that I'll have to buy new RAM if I'm switching to C2D, but anything more is just too much cash atm.
    Reply
  • Spacecomber - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    http://www.anandtech.com/mb/showdoc.aspx?i=2797&am...">Asrock 775Dual-VSTA

    Besides the AGP/PCI-E option, this board also offers a DDR2/DDR option. For the money, it makes a nice intermediate step up.

    Check the Anandtech Motherboard forums for a thread on this board to find out more about what people have experienced with it. Also, Anandtech did some further testing with this board in subsequent articles found in their motherboard articles section.
    Reply
  • Murst - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Thanks, this is exactly what I'm looking for :) Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Gary did testing with a variety of AGP motherboards and Core 2 Duo a month or two back, so you might want to browse around and look at those articles. If you're simply looking to keep costs down, the ASRock VSTA is probably the cheapest option, but I'm hesitant to recommend it as the best choice. ECS and a couple other boards are also available with DDR and/or AGP support for Core 2 Duo. Such boards should work okay, and as long as you don't want to overclock they are reasonable option.

    As for your graphics card, keep in mind that a 7600 GT is going to be as fast as a 6800 GT, and often even a bit faster. I would say you should either keep both your memory and GPU and go with one of the AGP + DDR boards, or you should ditch all four components (CPU, motherboard, memory, GPU) and start from scratch.
    Reply
  • Murst - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Yeah, my primary concern is a cheap replacement atm so that my computer is usable. I'm looking for decent performance in WoW on a 1200x1024 resolution, so nothing that's really that demanding.

    The game ran just fine with a 3500+, so switching to a e6300 with a cheap MB shouldn't be much (if any) performance loss, especially since its not CPU limited.

    Its actually a huge bonus that I can keep my current RAM. By taking a quick look at newegg, I can get the 6300 and MB for around 240 including shipping, so that's definetally not a bad deal.

    I can only wish about upgrading more parts, but I'll be buying a house in a few months so my budget is rather limited!

    Thanks again

    P.S. OCing isn't an issue... last time I OC'd something was back in like 98 =/ I'd get no noticable gain from OCing based on my usage.
    Reply
  • Elwe - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Not for nothing, but if that is what you are looking for, Fry's has some very good deals for new bundled Core 2 Duo processors and basic motherboards. They seem to rotate between the e6300 and e6400 for the lower end, but basically they give you an ECS board for free.

    If you have not already placed an order, $150 is a good deal (if you can get to a Fry's).
    http://www.frys-electronics-ads.com/#CPU">http://www.frys-electronics-ads.com/#CPU
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Actually, the Fry's E6300 is a great deal, considering the E6300 goes for $180 most places right now. Heck, you can toss the mobo and still get a better price than for example at Newegg.com! Reply

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