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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  • Shin - Saturday, December 02, 2006 - link

    Hi, I'm interested with your guide regarding the midrange. But there are couple things that still not clear for me.
    1. In term of price, you said that the AMD's system is $50 cheaper. but in term of performance (stock performance), how fast Intel E6300 against X2 3800?
    2. If I want to overclock, how far can I overclock using the "suggested" midrange mobo and RAM? for both AMD and Intel.
    3. If I want to get the 50% increase in performance, what kind of Mobo, RAM and probably better cooling system should I buy? and how much it will cost me?

    Thx.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, December 02, 2006 - link

    1 - X2 3800+ vs. E6300 can be seen http://www.anandtech.com/cpuchipsets/showdoc.aspx?...">in this article.

    2 - I haven't actually suggested a midrange mobo/RAM yet, but decent DDR2-800 and motherboard means you can take either platform at least to 400 MHz. That would be a 100% overclock on AM2, using a base DDR2-400 (1:1) ratio - which won't happen, as the CPU will never hit that high. On Core 2, that's a 50% overclock.

    3 - Best recommendation, get the Biostar 965PT or the Gigabyte 965P-S3 as an ~$110 motherboard, then get some DDR2-800 CL4 RAM for around $250. That should easily get you to 2.8 GHz with an E6300, even with the stock CPU cooler. Throw in something like a Thermalright, Thermaltake, or Scythe heatsink and you can go even further. RAM might hold you back a bit, though, so going with the E6400 and shooting for 3.2 GHz and beyond is a good choice.

    If you want to overclock an X2 3800+, get the EPoX 570 SLI or just about any of the 590 SLI boards. Plan on topping out at 3.0 GHz at best, however, and more likely around 2.8 GHz - and that's with something like the Scythe Infinity HSF. With the stock HSF plan on more like 2.5 GHz.
    Reply
  • Shin - Tuesday, December 05, 2006 - link

    Thx. For your reply. Will wait for your next guide for Mobo and RAM.
    I have one request regarding guide for mobo/RAM, can you suggest the mobo/RAM for user who don't wish to overclock and the other one for overclocker.

    Thx and merry xmas.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    It's nice to see the 3500+ processor get some love, as it's really can be great bang for the buck, as it overclocks easily. I bought the NewEgg $99 deal for the Athlon 3400+ (same as the 3500+) and motherboard, and have it overclocked to 2.6 Ghz with little effort using the included motherboard and low cost RAM. My old motherboard sold for $50, so overall it was an inexpensive upgrade. Reply
  • rileychris - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    I would think there are a lot of folks with Socket 939, AMD 3200 (or similar), DDR that could still get a reasonable process upgrade at a decent price. Can't you get a dual core for socket 939 for around $175? Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    quote:

    A 50% increase in price that brings a 10% increase in performance is par for the course.


    That's ONLY really true for the user that already has a system that can have the new CPUs actually. For the new users that have to get more than just the CPU, the quote isn't really right.

    $200 vs $400 CPU for say 10% faster

    But say the actual cost is:
    $200 CPU
    $200 for RAM
    $120 for motherboard
    Total $520 for the $200 CPU vs $720 for the $400 CPU.

    Though the pricing difference isn't always 38%($720/$520), it is definitely less than the 2x pricing difference for the INDIVIDUAL CPU.


    Taking the prices for the computer store I usually buy(NCIX, all prices are canadian dollars):

    E6600: $379
    E6700: $639
    OCZ Gold XTC PC2-6400 2GB 2X1GB DDR2-800 CL5-5-5-12 240PIN DIMM Dual Channel Memory Kit: $279
    Gigabyte GA-965P-DS3 ATX LGA775 Conroe P965 DDR2 PCI-E16 3PCI-E1 3PCI SATA2 GBLAN Audio Motherboard: $173

    Total E6600 with Tax(14%): $947.34
    Total E6700 with Tax: $1243.74

    $1243.74/$947.34=31%

    Which is pretty good, considering most users don't upgrade every new CPU release, or even upgrade the current one.
    Reply
  • Missing Ghost - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    What's about recommending socket 754 for people that want an extremely low-cost rig but already have lots of DDR1 RAM? Reply
  • pottervillian - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    quote:

    This takes PC (meaning "politically correct") to the extreme, doesn't it?


    but what about this?

    quote:

    And from all of us here at AnandTech, we would like to send you Seasons Greetings and wish you a very Happy Holidays!


    Merry Christmas!!!

    P.S. You Did a great job on the article, and I Look forward the rest of the series!
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    Merry Christmas to you too! However, even though it's being politically correct, I didn't feel there was any need to potentially offend any Jews, Muslims, [insert whatever] by sticking with Merry Christmas. Besides, I couldn't actually tell you for sure what the various religious affiliations of the rest of the AnandTech staff are. Now leave me alone while I celebrate my pagan holiday! ;-) Reply
  • lopri - Monday, November 27, 2006 - link

    I said 'nearly' but that's just for other folks who might disagree on author's selection here and there. I personally think this is a perfect guide for anyone who's looking to buy CPUs coming this holiday season. I thank Jarred for his time, effort, and reasoning based on seemingly vast ammount of research. I think this article should be abstracted, posted, and stickied in the CPU/OC forum so we get less ammount of clutter in the forum. Reply

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