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 - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    MoronBasher buy a celeron machine and compare the results to anandtechs review you'll see the difference yourself! (By the way i didnt say that a celeron could ever beat anything else then amds low end!)

    I wonder why they used so high latencies in the tests? Of course because they noticed a celeron would perform poorly with that kind of settings!
  • arejerjejjerjre - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Now I know why the internet has been so slow lately!!!!!!! Its because Intel based servers have been replaced with amds crappy systems!!!!!!!
  • MoronBasher - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    People, keep returning your "dead" procs back to the store, cuz guys like me get them for free. LOL!!!

    What i found amzing was the fact that anandtech used ddr400 and they also used pretty high latency timings
  • novice - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Wow, while the socket 370 Celerons also trailed the Durons, at least they were close. The current crop is really sad, compared to the AMD products. Definitely proving once again that clockspeed doesn't really mean much and AMD's "Performance Rating System" is not just a marketing tool.
  • MoronBasher - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    arejerjejjerjre, you are a moron. Do you honestly believe amd chips just die? I am a computer maintenance technician and from the returns we get from stupid customers, it's not the proc that's the problem, it was the mobo... i could guarantee 99% of the time, the proc is not to blame. i have a 2500+ and a 2.8C and i have no problems with either. Errors? usually comes from drivers. or a moron like you who doesn't know how to set a computer up properly.
  • DerekWilson - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    from #51:

    "This latency is seen in some of the tests where the Barton performs worse than lesser clocked A-XPs despite a larger L2 cache."

    The first XP chip clocked lower than the Barton is the 2200+ (1.800 GHz) which doesn't ever come close to touching the 1.833 GHz 2500+ Barton. AFAIK, all Athlon XP L2 caches (including Duron) have the same latency. I don't know this for a fact (though I highly suspect it), but it would be an easy test (just need to plug in sisoft sandra and look at cache latency).

    Honestly, the fact that there are only a very few benchmarks where the HIGHER clocked 2400+ (2 GHz) can touch the Barton shows how important large cache size is in increasing overall system performance. Even the high latency L3 cache (which is still much lower latency than main memory) on the P4 EE helps to push performance much higher than on similarly clocked P4 CPUs.

    The whole point of any ondie cache is to reduce latency between main memory and the processor. Having a large L1 L2 and even L3 cache doesn't increase latency, it decreases it overall. Without a cache, every single memory access takes a large number of cpu cycles to get to the processor, and much time is spent waiting for data.

    Things get complicated when looking between Intel and AMD. AMD has a larger low latency L1 cache, but Intel's L2 cache is lower latency than AMD's L2 cache. But I think I'll save that analysis for another day :-)

    Really the only advantage (aside from the cost savings) of cutting out a large ammount of cache is that you can more easily clock the chip higher. But that only really gives you a performance advantage if you can increase the clock enough to overcome the performance loss due to the lack of cache. The original Celerons could actually exceed this performance and that's why they were so sought after. The difference here is that P4 architecture is so much more sensitive to memory latency that we really can't hope for these kinds of performance gains.

    I don't think that even overclocking a P4Celeron to 3.6GHz would help enough to matter. But hopefully we'll find out in an upcoming article ;-)
  • Pumpkinierre - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    What people forget about the original celeron 300 (no L2 cache) was that it was lousy in benchmarks but gamers loved it because of its low latency and overclockability both of which are hindered by cache addition. The same applied to K6-2(no L2 cache) vs K6-3(256Mb L2). This is why these celerons are still out there as the demo benchmarks dont reflect the true gaming experience ie spontaneous response by the user. The other requirement is raw grunt(floating point calculation), province of the K7, which explains the Duron's longevity despite low clock speed. This CPU also has a very small 64K exclusive L2 cache, ideal for low system latency (and 64Kb is the memory unit of the X-86 based systems). This latency is seen in some of the tests where the Barton performs worse than lesser clocked A-XPs despite a larger L2 cache. And as I stated above real world gaming accentuates this quality further.
    Its true that the vast gain in cpu speed cf. memory speed has required a middle man ie cache. But if that middle man doesnt have the goods then re ordering takes time. My favorite theoretical gaming CPU would be a K8 without L2 cache (perhaps with 256Kb L1 cache) which in conjunction with the on die memory controller and optimised fpu would have very low system latency.
  • sonyboy851 - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    all of you AMD haters need to get a clue. 48: what nforce 2 board did you use? And AMD systems are just as stable as Intel ones. Why have IBM and Sun chosen AMD Optorons for their servers? I doubt its because they are unstable. Maybe its because Intel cant offer such a great product.

    Anyways, this is a budget review, so I shouldnt even mention that. So you think Celerons are good? Is that what your saying?
  • CRAMITPAL - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    Same old shit from the criminally insane Intel fanboys. Must really bruise your ego to have your face punched in every day by online reviews showing how pathetic Intel products are! Get use to it as things are only going to get worse for Intel and it's fanboys.

    Xbit Labs is reporting Intel can't even produce EE's and that the Flame Throwing Prescotts are a disaster. Intel has so many production and design problems that they can't resolve, they may need to release Tejas as an even bigger FLAME THROWER than Prescott. And by all accounts the Xeon even with L3 is dead.

    I'd suggest anyone with a clue, buy stock in water-cooling companies and liquid nitrogen producers.
  • arejerjejjerjre - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    And for those amd folk out there! You will never have the stability and flexibility what intel based machine can offer! I've seen too many amds aka too many problems,errors,etc!
    Theres allways something that doesnt work on an amd system!!! :)

    By the way if anyone hasnt noticed NFORCE 2 is the worse I've ever seen! Nothing works as it should! :) LOL!

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