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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  • Murst - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    Dude, you rock ;)

    I'll be getting this tonight. Way better than the newegg deal. Only problem is that it doesn't come with a heatsink/fan, but that can be easily fixed with minimal investment.

    ATM I'm using the Thermalright XP-120, so its not really an option here cause of its size.
    Reply
  • Spacecomber - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    I haven't kept up with the availability and price differences between the socket 939 and the AM2 Athlon 64's, but it seemed to me the last time I priced these entry level processors that the socket 939 was still the better deal. Basically, you could get a full Athlon 64 3000 instead of having to use a Sempron processor for the same price.

    You also had the advantage that you weren't going to have to pay the premium that DDRII memory would cost you over regular DDR.

    I know that socket 939 is a dead-end with no further AMD support (EOL), but while the supplies last, they still seem to find a use for those whose main criteria is getting solid computing power for office applications at the lowest cost. At this point, I'd rather put the money saved into extra system memory, which will likely help with the useful life of these computers, probably more so than worrying about whether a processor upgrade will be available a few years from now (which is always a gamble).
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    DDR2 memory and is currently priced about the same as DDR memory, if not a few dollars cheaper. Motherboards are also going to be about the same price, and a lot of the processors for socket 939 are becoming more expensive than the equivalent AM2 processors. All things being equal in price, there's really no reason to get socket 939 anymore, at least as a new system. A lot of people already have DDR memory, so the potential to use your old RAM is still there, but that's about the only reason I see to consider 939. I don't think the total price difference between 939 and AM2 would be more than $5 or $10. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    Since it sounds like the premium of going with an AM2 system is shrinking to the point of being negligible (if still present at all), I did a quick price check through NewEgg to see how things stack up at the low end.

    I agree, there is no real difference between motherboards and memory, now, between the two systems (socket 939 and socket AM@). 6100 chipset micro-ATX boards can be found for around $60 for either socket, for example. And, picking Corsair's Value Select line for a quick comparison of DDR2-533, DDR2-667, and PC3200 DDR memory in a 2x512MB kit, the cost virtually is the same for all of these ($105-$107).

    However, at least at NewEgg, there still seems to be a small gap between what your money will buy in the way of an inexpensive socket 939 processor and a socket AM2 processor. Although NewEgg didn't have an Athlon 64 3000 (939), they did have an Athlon 64 3200 for $62 in a socket 939 version. At this price point, they only have a Sempron 64 3200 for the socket AM2. The least expensive Athlon 64 for the AM2 socket is the Athlon 64 3500 for $92. This isn't much more than the socket 939 version of the Athlon 64 3500, which sells for $84.

    So, the gap is really only at the lowest end of the processor range, where you are still faced with choosing either a socket 939 Athlon 64 or a socket AM2 Sempron. At this time, it probably does make sense to go ahead and accept the slight premium ($30) to move up to the least expensive Athlon 64 in a socket AM2 form, which will be a slightly faster clocked processor, as well.

    Presumably, even this small gap will also disappear as the socket 939 processors dry up and the availability of low end AM2 Athlon 64s increases.
    Reply
  • johnsonx - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Your price quote on the Sempron 3200+ at $77 really jumped out at me, as I purchased those a couple of weeks ago at about $63. So I checked NewEgg just now, and they're only $61. Where are you getting $77? I don't think they've been that high in months.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...">http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82...

    Also, there's little point in discussing the Sempron 2800+ and 3000+, as they pretty well aren't available; I haven't been able to get any for over a month at least (or if I could get them, they'd cost more than the 3200+). NewEgg does have bare 2800's at only $40, but that's most likely a short term deal.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    All of the prices are linked directly to the RTPE so you can see where I got them. Looks like some of the Newegg prices are missing, unfortunately. :( Guess I'll have to edit things slightly. Reply
  • johnsonx - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Ah, yes, I see what you mean. The RTPE shows the NewEgg price for the 3400, but not for the 3200. It also looks like the 2800+ and 3000+ availability is a little better now than they were last time I went looking for them, but the fact that NewEgg has dropped the retail 2800 altogether is telling methinks. I don't remember the last time I saw the 3000+ in stock at NewEgg either, so I'm guessing both those low-end Semprons are going the way of the Dodo.

    I agree with the ultra-budget section in general though: on the AMD side, either buy the cheapest Sempron you can get, or ante up for a real Athlon64.

    A side question though: do you know whether Cool'n'Quiet now works on all AM2 Sempron's? On Socket-754, only the 3000 and up (1.8Ghz and up) had it enabled. If it's still only on the 1.8's and up, then that makes $61 for the 3200 a better buy than a 2800 for $50 (at least to me).
    Reply
  • Patrese - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    It only doesn't work on the 2800 and 3000 (1,6GHz) Semprons. And I guess they´re hard to find in the US because they´re selling really well in the parts of the world in which the ultra budget segment responds for a bigger part of the market. Here in Brazil, for instance, it's pretty easy to find one of them, and they sell really well. Reply
  • rqle - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    i said anything above midrange and above go with intel for overclocker. Til 65nm comes out for AMD, its processor max around 2.4-2.6ghz with very few going over 2.8ghz. Where hiting 3ghz with intel is a cake walk even if it $20-30 difference. Reply
  • Calin - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    You should assume that even with transition to 65nm, AMD's overclocking will remain most of the same - just as it happened with Intel's Pentium4. Reply

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