Ultra Budget CPUs

When keeping costs down is the primary consideration, options become far more limited. The good news is that you can still get quite a bit of performance, even when looking at CPUs priced around $75 or less. Getting a dual core processor is not yet possible in this price range, even with the lowest end Pentium D models. Those chips pack a lot of power into a cheap package, but they will also consume quite a bit more power. Any initial savings that you might get by purchasing such a CPU are going to be wiped out over the next year or two in electricity costs, so you might be better off saving money for a little longer if you are after more performance.

For those who aren't primarily concerned with performance, single core processors are still perfectly viable. We often talk about the advantages of getting a dual core processor, but the simple fact of the matter is that many people do not use their computers in ways that truly benefit from having multiple CPU cores. There are many people who will never do any video encoding, 3D rendering, or heavy multitasking. If the primary use of a computer is going to be typical office tasks, surfing the Internet, and reading and writing e-mail, just about any current CPU is going to be more than fast enough. The cheapest single core processors may be inadequate for gaming, and they might also be significantly slower when it comes to certain applications. Longevity is also going to be a concern, and running Windows Vista on an Ultra Budget computer is going to be difficult (particularly if you don't have enough RAM). If all you want is a decent computer that can run most current applications without difficulty, and you don't plan on upgrading software and applications much (if at all) over the next few years, these economical CPUs are definitely worth considering.

We're primarily going to focus on newer platforms here, but we will have some words later for potential upgrades of older platforms. Most likely, you really won't be able to "upgrade" an older platform to a faster CPU without spending more than $75 anyway, and often a new motherboard will be required. The primary contenders are going to be AMD's socket AM2 and Intel's socket 775, with the Sempron and Athlon 64 single core chips going up against Celeron D and Pentium 4. Pentium D doesn't quite make it into this category, with prices that bottom out at around $95. As we've already mentioned, however, the power requirements of the Intel NetBurst processors are significantly higher than the competition, and Intel doesn't offer any of their Core product line in this price range. Unless you're looking for some extra heating for your house, or perhaps if you don't have to pay the power bill, we would recommend staying away from the low-end Intel processors. The Pentium 4 lineup only has two chips that would qualify for this Ultra Budget price segment, the Pentium 4 511 (2.80GHz 1MB 533FSB) - $72 and the Pentium 4 524 (3.06GHz 1MB 533FSB) - $73. Obviously, the latter would be the better choice.

There are many more Celeron D CPUs that fall into the Ultra Budget category. Prices bottom out at around the $50 mark, with the difference between the slowest Celeron D 326 (2.53GHz 256K 533FSB) - $54 and the Celeron D 346 (3.06GHz 256K 533FSB) - $60 only being $6, and the cheapest Celeron D at present is actually the Celeron D 331 (2.66GHz 256K 533FSB) - $51. If you don't want to spend any more than about $55, you can still get the Celeron D 336 (2.80GHz 256K 533FSB) - $57 for a few dollars more. A more interesting option than any of these other Celeron D chips, however, would be the Celeron D 356 (3.33GHz 512K 533FSB) - $76. What makes this CPU interesting is that it uses the Intel 65nm process, which allows it to run cooler and it also allows Intel to cram in more transistors while still maintaining a budget price. That means you get 512K of cache, which helps it to be more competitive in terms of performance. You could also look for the Celeron D 347 (3.06GHz 512K 533FSB), although it only tends to be a few dollars cheaper, and the 352 is generally out of stock these days. If overclocking floats your boat, these 65nm chips should also be able to reach speeds of over 4.00GHz - not that we would really worry too much about overclocking when talking about these budget CPUs, but it can be done.

Moving over to the AMD side of things, the cheapest Athlon 64 AM2 chips cost over $75, so we'll cover them in the next category. They are still worth mentioning simply because they have the same or higher clock speeds than the Sempron 3200+ and 3400+, only with more cache. The Sempron 3200+ (1.80GHz 128K) - $61 and 3400+ (1.80GHz 256K) - $80 are cheaper, true, but in the case of the 3400+ you should just spend the extra few dollars for the added clock speed and cache of the Athlon 3500+ (2.2GHz 512K) - $84. The only other AMD AM2 offerings that actually fall into the sub $75 price bracket are the Sempron 2800+ (1.60GHz 128K) and Sempron 3000+ (1.60GHz 256K), both of which run at AMD's lowest 1.6GHz rating. These are currently priced at $50 and $58 respectively, and when you combine the lower power requirements with the lower motherboard prices of budget AM2 motherboards, either of these two processors would be a good choice for building an Ultra Budget computer system. We would still recommend spending a bit more for the 3500+, though.

One area that we won't address with specific recommendations in our Holiday 2006 Buyer's Guides is the option to get component bundles. In some cases, you can find bundles like a CPU + motherboard combo were you essentially get the motherboard for free, or at least a drastically reduced price. These are typically budget motherboards, but if you are already looking at building a budget computer, the extra features that come with a higher grade motherboard might not be necessary. You might even be able to move up from a single core processor to a dual core configuration for only a few dollars more if you find the right deal. Such specials come and go on a regular basis, which is why we don't generally list them in articles, but you can check out the Hot Deals section of our forums to see if there's anything exciting going on.

Index Entry Level 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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