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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  • arejerjejjerjre - Sunday, December 7, 2003 - link

    Actually Its the P4 EE that wins by a mile :)

    and for this test seen here results are clearly tampered! Own experience proves it! I just don't know how someone could believe so blindly those test results! :) LOL
    If someone would send me some money or duron based computer and a celeron cpu I would perform the tests for you all and you would see that that the results are wrong!
  • Gage8 - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    grammar correction...
    (Ed seemed to have harsh words)
  • Gage8 - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Ed over at OC didn't seem to have some harsh words over this article. However, I liked the duron/celery comparison. That was quite enlightening.
  • Pumpkinierre - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Sorry #52 Derek, about that statement- must be the UV mod in my case blurring the eyes. However I have seen other articles where larger caches 'get in the way' with some apps. And I still stand by my base postulate that caches inherently increase system latency particularly for programs requiring fast spontaneous user control ie gaming. Unless the whole of the .exe program and settings can be contained in the cache (which basically voids system memory) then the cache has to be purged and refreshed with the required instructions and data at the whim of the user. The ideal for gaming is CPU and RAM running at the same speed- no cache. Large caches are perfect for predictable usage programs: Office,CAD/2D Graphics,Video encoding/streaming,server etc(hence large cache Xeons and opterons).The internal CPU registers and buffers are 32bit (4bytes)-so not much information is required but it must be the correct information. This is why the P4 L1 cache is only 8K cf. to the earlier P3 which had 16K-quicker to purge if wrong info, and the fact that it is inclusive to the L2 cache which again decreases the latency should the user decide to return to that part of the game in the next instant of play. This (in conjunction with large memory bandwidth) is why P4s feel smoother in play. The other alternative is no L2 cache and a slightly larger L1 cache (128 or 256K split data/commands is enough) explaining the Duron's longevity despite slow CPU speed and hence my ideal K8 CPU(see #51).
    CPU testing for gaming should be carried out by an operator playing the game. Demo testing involves the required sections of the game program with an input control file- all loaded into cache and all nicely predictable. In an operator driven test, the true measure of the CPU is largest MINIMUM frame rate and the true measure of the whole system is smallest differential bet. maximum and minimum frame rates. If you took these as your tests and measure you'd find your celerons (and Duron) doing well for their price.
  • JungleMan1 - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Arejeje whatever your name is

    Desktop processors: AMD wins by a mile with Athlon FX

    Mobile: I might have to give the upper hand to Intel on this one, Pentium M is a nice chip

    Low end: HAHAHAHAHAHAH!! Celeron loses flat-out, as you can see in this article! Please, someone ban this tard!
  • arejerjejjerjre - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Did I mention that amds heat problems are the last straw the stock cooler is terrible! Only whith water can you cool your Amd cpu enough!!

    Intel provides a very good heatsink and fan that doesnt need to be replaced only the thermal paste should be removed!

    Now I know a way you amd folks could benefit from your machine you could use it to heat the house think about it! Garbage could be but in to use!!!!!!
  • arejerjejjerjre - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    It seems that you amd folks live in the biggest denial of all time!! LOL

    desktop processors amd loses(P4 EE vs crappy name p4 wins)

    laptop processors amd loses (1,6ghz Pentium M better than 2400+)

    low end duron vs celeron amd loses(intel wins but poorly :(, but thats going to change when the newer celerons come)

    I just wonder if amd is going to survive with new factory being built :) Lately they had had so big losses that its just a miracle they have even survived the competition!! Business is business and theres no room for amd there!
  • Shinei - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    It's not the size of your stick, it's how well you use it that counts. Develop a CPU that only does 1.4GHz but processes 20 instructions per clock and it doesn't MATTER if you have a 3.2GHz chip, it just can't compete in pure computational strength. Megahertz myth hard at work.
  • AnonymouseUser - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    novice said: "Definitely proving once again that clockspeed doesn't really mean much and AMD's "Performance Rating System" is not just a marketing tool."

    Wow! You are only a NOVICE and figured that out! Many "Pros" still can't seem to grasp that simple concept. Makes me wonder who verified them as "Pros". Then again, maybe they've just become brain-dead from trying to figure out which Intel CPU is the faster version.

  • CRAMITPAL - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    The Intel fanboys just live in DENIAL even when their favorite hardware review sites show them hard data time and time again, that AMD's Duron/Athlon/A64/FX/Opteron are faster than Intel's best and AMD's products cost less, run cooler and are available NOW. Ya gotta wonder how long these folks can survive in DENIAL???

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