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
POST A COMMENT

30 Comments

View All Comments

  • 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

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now