Entry Level CPUs

We already mentioned a few of the pricier "Ultra Budget" processors on the previous page, so we won't bother repeating many of those items. The cut off for the Ultra Budget category is around $75, and for the Entry Level processors we're going to draw the line at $125. What does that mean in terms of performance and features relative to the Ultra Budget category? First, a few of the Pentium D processors become truly viable options in terms of cost, although as we mentioned before the power requirements will likely more than account for the price difference between a Pentium D and something like a Core 2 Duo during the lifetime of the computer. Running 24/7, a CPU that uses 50W more power will cost about $40 per year extra. If you don't leave your computer running very often, you might only be looking at more like $10 per year in added electricity costs, at which point the extra performance could be useful. However, if you're only using your computer infrequently, then you have to ask yourself whether or not you really need a higher performance computer in the first place. Beyond those considerations, what sort of processor can you get for under $125?

Starting once again with the Intel side, there's really not much point in getting any of the single core NetBurst processors in this price range. There are a couple slightly faster Pentium 4 models available, like the Pentium 531 (3.00GHz 1MB 800FSB) for $79 shipped or the Pentium 541 (3.20GHz 1MB 800FSB) for $92. The AMD model numbers for the Athlon 64 line compare pretty favorably with Pentium 4 clock speeds, so those two chips equate to the Athlon 64 3000+ and 3200+, respectively, with the performance and pricing advantage both going to AMD, especially once you add in the 3500+. Given the lack of L2 cache, you should forget about the higher priced Celeron D offerings. If you are interested in a Celeron D chip, the best option is the previously mentioned Celeron D 356 (3.33GHz 512K 533FSB) for $65. That is the fastest Celeron D chip available, and it remains reasonably priced.

If you want the added processing power of a dual core Pentium D, and you don't care about the added power requirements, there are three models that fall into the Entry Level price sector. Starting with the least expensive, we have the venerable Pentium D 805 (2.66GHz 2x1MB 533FSB), which has actually gone up in price slightly over the past month or two and is currently selling for $95. Given the similar prices, you might as well opt for the Pentium D 820 (2.80GHz 2x1MB 800FSB) which is only five dollars more at $100. Both of those processors use the older Smithfield core, which means they use even more power than some of the later model Pentium D CPUs, and each core "only" comes with 1MB of cache, but the 820 has a faster FSB speed along with a pure clock speed advantage. If you want the newer Presler core, which doubles the L2 cache and uses slightly less power, the Pentium D 915 (2.80GHz 2x1MB 800FSB) is your best bet at $120. The 915 has the same specs as the old Pentium D 920, only with a lower price. All of the remaining Pentium D processors begin to cost as much as the lower end Athlon X2 and Core 2 Duo chips, so we would definitely stay away from those.

On the AMD side of the fence, dual core chips are still just out of reach, with the lowest priced Athlon X2 3600+ (2.00GHz 2x256K) going for about $140. That means that we're stuck with faster single core CPUs in this price segment, which is still a decent option for the near future, provided you aren't the type that routinely pushes your CPU to the limit. We mentioned the 3000+ and 3200+ already, and both of those are great budget CPUs priced well under $100. The next step up is the Athlon 64 3500+ (2.20GHz 512K), going for $92. An additional 200MHz speed increase comes in the form of the Athlon 64 3800+ (2.40GHz 512K), which sells for $118.

If we had to choose one CPU as the overall best Entry Level CPU, right now our recommendation would be the Athlon 64 3500+. The fact that it only costs $92 certainly helps (sometimes less in some package deals), which is almost half of what you will spend to get into the bottom of the dual core CPU offerings. Running at 2.2GHz, the Athlon 64 3500+ is also plenty fast for most people, and only serious gamers or those who do video editing/encoding or other professional work are likely to truly need a faster CPU right now. The 3500+ is also a favorite among overclockers, generally reaching clock speeds of 2.6GHz without too much trouble, while some people have been able to push the CPUs as far as 3.0GHz (though we wouldn't count on that). In fact, this isn't just our favorite Budget CPU, but we would highly recommend users looking at Ultra Budget CPUs spend a few dollars extra to get an Athlon 64 3500+ over one of the cheaper offerings. It definitely strikes the best combination of price/performance right now. If you can still find the Athlon 3000+ or 3200+ at a better price, those might be a bit more attractive for overclockers, but they are becoming scarce these days.

Ultra Budget CPUs Midrange 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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