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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  • tonyp1023 - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    I repair and build pc's in a small college town in upstate NY so I get a good sampling of whats out there in bargain PC land. My off the top of my head statistic is about five to one on dead Athlon/Duron systems compared to Intel Celeron P3/P4 systems. I have read and seen that AMD cpus are more prone to thermal failures than Intel and my repair data bears this out. Or cheap motherboards die quicker because of poorer QC on their assembly lines. Whatever, I won't build clones out of AMD's because I don't want them coming back to haunt me. A warranty is a terrible thing to have to honor (and I always do) but the Intel machines seldom come back to haunt me.
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link


    "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."

    OT a little, but "barely chugging along"? A P3-800 still runs stuff pretty well with enough RAM (which is pretty darn cheap), a 7200rpm hard disk, and if you want to game a bit, a good budget 3D graphics card. Yeah, the Duron is a great chip, so is the Athlon XP 2500+, but for those locked into a case/motherboard setup, an old P3-800 can be made to do a lot of newer tricks.
  • INTC - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    So who would put a "Budget" chip into a high end platform that included:

    ATI Radeon 9800Pro 256MB
    2 x 256MB DDR400 at 2-3-3-6 (frequency chosen by the BIOS)
    2 x Western Digital Special Edition Hard Disk Drive

    Even for enthusiasts, if you can afford a Radeon 9800Pro then you probably can afford a high-end CPU. Even if someone bought an Athlon XP 2500+ to overclock, they probably shelled out extra money somewhere (heatsink, power supply, high-end RAM, extra fans, etc.) in order to get a successful overclock so their system would not be considered "budget" any longer.

    Budget CPUs fall mostly into the ultra cheap integrated video all-in-1 systems sold at retail stores. eMachines and HP typically have Celeron systems on sale in every sale flyer almost every Sunday. Their cheapest systems feature Celeron processors and their AMD systems are typically several hundred dollars more.

    I'm not sure what percentage of the market on Celerons is through boxed processors or individual OEM chips but I've heard that Intel is able to sell every single Celeron chip that they are currently making. So, someone is buying them - a whole bunch of them!

    As for the Athlon XP and Durons, I'm not an expert in economics, but if demand surpasses supply then prices would increase for a product and the inverse is true which says that if supply is greater than demand then prices decrease in order to spark more demand. So if Celerons and P4s sell enough to get more than 80% of the market for CPUs, did AMD make too many Athlon XPs and Durons or is nobody bying them or a little of both? Maybe they should limit the quantity that they produce and their products would sell at a higher price premium - case and point are the Athlon FX and 64 chips - they haven't made very many of those so they can keep the prices high as long as demand is greater than supply.
  • CRAMITPAL - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    Well for the non-believers... Ace's Hardware has a good review of Opteron vs. Xeon that should (but won't) end the bickering regarding server performance. Between Anand's low end CPU review, Ace's Server review, and any number of A64/EE reviews, it should be obvious where the future of PC X86 computing lies. No it's not the G5 Mac as Ace's demonstrated.

    Enjoy !
  • JeremiahTheGreat - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    If AMD bothered to update its ageing MP chipset, it would indeed be! And with the rumoured dual-mp chipset from nVidia down the drain.. there's not much left in this area.

    Save for dual-opterons :)
  • jawg - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    Has anyone done any research on dual Duron setups? I think that if they are so cost effective and you wanted to have a dual processor box it would be a most noble pursuit.
  • AnonymouseUser - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    "$40 for a Celeron 1.2 (which overclocks easily to 1.6 on a 133 mhz bus). I'd be curious to see how it stacked up against the P4 Celerons."

    Why? The performance would still be abysmal at any price point. What's the point?

    "Intel can afford to charge an arm and a leg for CPUs that perform on this level, why can't AMD?"

    It's called MARKETING + ID10Ts. The world is full of uninformed consumers who are pushed to Intel by the fucking ID10T geeks (who apparently outnumber the non-ID10T geeks)...
  • HammerFan - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    Support you AMDjihad? never. While I do like AMD, one has to wonder why such high-performing CPUs are priced so low. Intel can afford to charge an arm and a leg for CPUs that perform on this level, why can't AMD?
  • AMDjihad - Friday, December 5, 2003 - link

    see intel is being beat on all fronts zserdw you faatty pugly thing. how can you suppooot intek huh you fatty. you thing. everyone suoport me dumbas
  • KGB - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    /Pet's his 1.3 Tualatin Celeron box @ 1.73 :D

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