So Many Choices
The idea for this review came about when AMD announced a few new CPU models a week or so ago. With these new models, and Intel’s Core i3 series, there is a huge variety of choice in all price ranges. But it is particularly interesting in the $100-150 range for a number of reasons. First of all, it is a pretty good ‘sweet spot’ to spend when building a new system. Doing so allows more budget for a good video card, or just for a good medium-budget PC overall. Secondly, the variety at this price range is staggering. You have everything from dual cores, to quad cores, to dual cores with HyperThreading, and even triple cores. And then you have CPUs with full cache, mid-sized cache, and even no final-stage cache at all. There are some brand new CPUs that slot into the $100-150 price range, and some that have come down from $250 to $300 when they were first launched.
The $100-150 price range is fascinating, and we’re going to cover it all, with 10 CPUs to look at today.
Let’s take a quick look at how they stack up against each other:
Final Stage Cache
|Core 2 Quad Q8300||Yorkfield||2.5 GHz||4/4||2x2MB||95W||11/08||$150|
|Phenom II X4 945||Deneb||3.0 GHz||4/4||6MB||95W||07/09||$150|
|Core 2 Duo E7600||Wolfdale||3.06 GHz||2/2||3MB||65W||06/09||$145|
|Core i3 540||Clarkdale||3.06 GHz||2/4||4MB||73W||01/10||$140|
|Phenom II X4 925||Deneb||2.8 GHz||4/4||6MB||95W||07/09||$140|
|Core i3 530||Clarkdale||2.93 GHz||2/4||4MB||73W||01/10||$125|
|Phenom II X3 720||Heka||2.8 GHz||3/3||6MB||95W||02/09||$125|
|Athlon II X4 635||Propus||2.9 GHz||4/4||4x512KB||95W||01/10||$120|
|Phenom II X2 555||Callisto||3.2 GHz||2/2||6MB||80W||01/10||$99|
|Athlon II X4 620||Propus||2.6 GHz||4/4||4x512KB||95W||09/09||$99|
As you can see, I arranged these based on price. Sitting at the very top is the oldest CPU with the lowest clock speed. In fact, if it wasn’t for the Core i3, this article would have been pretty much all about AMD . But now that Intel has finally paid some attention to this price range, it will be interesting to see how they do against AMD, who have been pretty much forced to stay in the sub-$200 range with even their highest-end chip (the 965 Black Edition, which currently costs about $180).
Next you have the 945, which is just below the top desktop CPU from AMD. It has a full L3 cache, and isn’t crippled in any way other than clock speed. The 925 is the same – just a lower clock speed.
Drop down $5 and you could get yourself a dual core E7600. Wolfdale, The original Phenom-Killer, was a great chip when it came out almost 2 years ago. The E7xxx series has a 3MB cache that is shared between the two cores, but is otherwise the same as the E8xxx. With just two cores, no HyperThreading, and a small cache, this chip is starting to show its age. At least at this price point.
For just $5 less, you can have another dual core that is a whole different story. We reviewed the Core i5 661 last month, and while it was impressive in some ways, it was certainly a niche product. At $145 and less though, the Core i3′s could give AMD a run for their money. With HyperThreading (but no Turbo Mode) and next-gen microarchitecture, the Core i3 should make the E7600 look obsolete (or even plain silly).
Still kicking it at $125 (or less, if you get the OEM version) is the X3 720. Basically this is the same chip as the X4 925, but with one core disabled for binning reasons (IE the chip fails as an 925 but is perfectly fine as a 720). It has a full 6MB of L3 cache, shared among the three cores. I belive this model has been discontinued by AMD, so it may not be around for long. How much that matters, we’ll find out.
Sitting at $120 is one of the cheapest true quad-cores you can get – the brand new Athlon II X4 635. It has an impressive 2.9 GHz clock speed, but no L3 cache at all. This can either be completely irrelevant, or a huge detriment, depending on application. You can also get a X4 620 for just around $100.
Also at $100 is AMD’s fastest-ever dual core – the Phenom II X2 555. This has a full 6MB L3 cache, shared between the two cores. It also has a completely unlocked multiplier, making overclocking ridiculously easy. At 3.2 GHz though, there may not be much headroom.
So you can see what I meant when I said there is a ton of variety in the $100-150 price range. And I barely even included any models that merely have a lower clock speed! Just the Phenom II X4 and Core i3.