With new technology constantly being developed and released into the high end market, it is sometimes easy to overlook the slightly less glamorous world of budget microprocessors. It's been a while since we've taken a look at what AMD and Intel have to offer in the area of low cost computing, and our curiosity recently got the better of us.

We were particularly curious about what you could get for $100, and it turns out that there are quite a few CPUs that you can get for less than the price of a motherboard. Currently, the budget market is made up of low end Athlon XP, Celeron, and Duron processors. There aren't any Pentium 4 processors that come in under our $100 price point, but we've included the Pentium 4 1.8A (Northwood) as a reference point for the Celeron processors.

Performance is always being pushed in the high end market, but it is arguably even more important in the low end systems. If we are trying to save money on a computer system, we want our dollar to go as far as possible, so price/performance is the most important factor when determining components to fill a budget box. Just because we want to save money doesn't mean we want to suffer a huge performance loss. With the price of PCs that perform well dropping all the time, it becomes easier for those who haven't yet entered the digital realm to join the party. Of course, the last thing someone wants when they first start up their new computer is to be frustrated by lackluster performance. Hopefully this article will serve to help people make the best possible decision when it comes to budget computing.

These Sub-$100 CPUs serve as decent upgrades for aging systems (e.g. the P3-800 that is barely chugging along) when combined with a new motherboard, but they are also the heart and soul of many of today's sub-$1000 PCs that you'd find in the retail market. Walk into any Best Buy or CompUSA and you'll find tons of PCs selling from $400 - $600. The OEMs making these systems are cutting corners in every way possible, so you had better believe that one of these CPUs we're comparing today will be under the hood. Retail customers should pay close attention to the results of this roundup — they may be even more shocking than expected.

When looking to get the absolute maximum performance out of every dollar spent, overclocking should be considered. We are hoping to address the overclockability of these budget processors in an upcoming article, but for now, we will only be looking at stock speeds.

Before we get to the tests, let's take a look at the processors.

The Contenders
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  • Keeksy - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    Great article. I never knew the Celeron was such a bad performer. If I had to build a new machine on budget, I'd definitely go with a Barton Athlon.

    Hey, what's with the freaking huge ads at the top of every page? Really annoying.
  • pxc - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    I'm a little happier about the Duron 1.8GHz/motherboard combo I purchased now for $60 on black Friday. :D As a bonus, it's a 1.5v core and came unlocked. With 2 pencil traces and a short wire, it's an 11.5x 333MHz FSB Duron which still performs great without the rest of the cache enabled and has headroom for overclocking.

    The Celerons are really affected by the low speed memory (@ PC2100 on the test system) more than any other processors. Those processors would still lag in this review, the Celerons would have scaled better on other chipsets that allow better memory/FSB ratios. For example, PC3200 on single channel to match the bandwidth of the 400MHz FSB (SiS and VIA) or dual channel PC2100 (SiS648).
  • FishTankX - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    ..Why does it say 'It is clear which *card* 'offers the better performance'??
  • Pandaren - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    Is anyone suprised at all by these test results? THG OC'ed a Celeron to 3 GHz a few months ago and even then, the Pentium 4 2.0A beat the pants off the Celeron.

    Fact is that most consumers don't give a rats @ss if they will get half the FPS in a game they will never buy or play. For email, Microsoft Word, and AOHell, a 2.6 GHz Celeron will seem the same as a 1.6 GHz Duron to the average person.

    I am sure that Compaq and other retail companies are well aware of the current Celeron's shortcomings. I am also sure that they will pay this article no heed and that they really don't care. The Celeron is mediocre enough.

    What I'd like to see is Celeron M (Banias-512) based desktops in the budget segment. This 800 MHz wonder provides all the office firepower most people need, and probably doesn't even need a fan to keep it cool.
  • Boonesmi - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    and whats is really pitiful is that the 1.6ghz duron is faster then the P4 1.8A in most tests

    and the duron only costs $41 LOL
  • Boonesmi - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link


    celerons suck more then i though!!
  • mattsaccount - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    The message is clear! Celerons are even worse than I thought...

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