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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  • CRAMITPAL - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    Another day, another reality check. God bless America and AMD !

  • KristopherKubicki - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    #11 srue: Click "print this article" and you will get all the graphs on one page. :)

  • DAPUNISHER - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    #9, That would defeat the entire purpose behind a budget CPU review. The market segment this addresses is the average consumer on a tight budget looking to get the most for their money. Enthusiasts like ourselves have different perspective than the average user. They aren't likely to ever open the case let alone upgrade just the CPU later. Also, many mainstream consumers are extending their upgrade cycle between computer purchases due to economic reasons combined with things like word processing, solitaire, E-mail and internet use not requiring more power than their P3 system they bought a couple years ago can provide.Many who would buy a AMD or Intel based budget system now might not upgrade again for 2-3years at which time the upgradability of either current platform in the budget catagory will be meaningless.

    Besides, how do you put a price on all those months they had to wait for the P4 3.2 to hit a price they could afford, or they had saved enough money to upgrade the CPU, while they could have had much better performance for those months by using the AMD? Of course the faster HDD is still a better investment for most than the better CPU IMO.
  • DAPUNISHER - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    I agree that coupling the Celery with dual channel 3200DDR and overclocking it would get it more competitive with the stock AMD CPUs in this review, but it doesn't seem it's going to give a an AMD in the same price range any trouble once it's overclocked with 3200DDR in dual channel on a nF2 board.

    As mentioned by another already, OEMs still turn out massive numbers of Celery based budget systems simply because Intel is a household name and most of the average consumers usage isn't stressful enough to make any real world performance difference that they notice. A budget system sold with a 7200rpm HDD instead of a 5400rpm model would be more likely to make a difference than the CPU for most folks.

    Anywho, neither the Duron nor Celery appeal to most enthusiasts, but it does help me sell AMD systems to clients when I can direct them to reviews like this to show how much bang for their buck in the ultra-budget catagory AMD offers :D So thanks for contributing to me making a few sells Derek :) Oh, well done on the article too, very few typos and it was fairly straight and to the point.
  • Wesley Fink - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    The overclocking story here is very important to determining true value. Pop a 2500+ in a Socket A 400 motherboard, set the FSB to 200 from the stock 166 and in most cases you have a 3200+. Even the multiplier is the same for the 2500+ and 3200+. In most cases you don't even need to up the voltage, though with some CPUs a small boost is necessary. I am hearing from readers that the recent 2500+ are not quite as good at this as those of just a few months ago, but I have had great success with every 2500+ I have used.

    3200+ performance for $86 is a bargain indeed. Certainly, in terms of overclocked performance, the 2500+ is in my mind the bargain chip of 2003.
  • jkreese - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    Yo Shinei...I think they wanted to remove the video card as a possible bottleneck to the test. Using the fastest video card gives a better CPU comparison. Although it would have been nice to see what a "value" video card would do with these same processors.
  • srue - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    Enough with the one graph per page, especially when they all say the same thing. You could have easily put 4 or more graphs on a page, but then you wouldn't have got all your banner loads. Come on people, you encourage system builders to do what's best for the customers - the least you can do is make the readers your priority as well.
  • Shinei - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    Um, what budget system drops in a 256Mb Radeon 9800 Pro/XT, again? The card would cost more than the rest of the system!!! ;)
    Would have been more realistic results with an FX5200, since that's what just about every OEM computer comes with these days, except for the extreme high end that come with 9800 Pro's for $2000+.
  • jkreese - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    I knew the Athlons would blow away the Celerons. I also know that, given the motherboards you used in this comparison, you have better upgrading choices with the Celeron that the Athlon. I could buy the 2.6 G Celeron and later upgrade to a 3.2 G Pentium 4 which would easily defeat all the Athlons in this comparison. You don't have many upgrading options with the Athlons.
  • Oxonium - Thursday, December 4, 2003 - link

    I have been able to overclock an Celeron 2.4 to 3.4 pretty easily with stock cooling and no voltage increase. But given the performance delta between the Celeron and Athlon/Duron, I'll probably be upgrading to an Athlon (Barton) for my next budget system. I'm actally looking at the mobile Athlons so I can have a cooler system.

    About the ads, I've agree they are getting more annoying lately. There are 19 alone on the home page, including the sponsored links. Plus there are some of the words in all the articles that are linked to ads, although I find this less annoying. I understand that Anandtech is a business and needs to make money to keep operating but this is getting bad.

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