Battle at $50
We have done plenty of CPU reviews in the last 9+ years we’ve been doing this hardware-review thing. Most of the time, we review the latest processors from Intel and AMD; when they release a new technology, out go the review samples in the highest speeds available. Intel especially likes to impress with their “Extreme Edition” versions, which blow whatever else is around out of the water.
However, we have recently started focusing on more attainable processors (while still covering the latest). Our last CPU review put Intel’s latest Dual Core CPU – the E8500 against AMD’s latest Dual Core – the aging X2 6400+. Both of these can be found for just around $200, which is a pretty good ‘sweet spot’ for those who intend to build a high end PC.
However, for those who have other goals in mind, we haven’t forgotten about you! What if you are building an ‘econobox’ where you want to get the most out of a system, while spending as little as possible? After all, if you are building a gaming system, you will want to invest as much as you can into the video card which often doesn’t leave much left over for anything else. For you guys, we have pitted AMD against Intel in a $50 Dual Core WAR.
Finding a brand new CPU for under $50 used to mean that you would basically be stuck with two-year old technology or worse. However, both Intel and AMD have figured out ways to cover huge market segments with just one type of core (well, one of them has done a better job of it, and you can guess who that is). Therefore, you can now get a CPU that is essentially the same as a $200 or $300 product, for just under $50. The only major differences being the name, the clock speed, and the amount of cache that is installed.
Celeron Dual Core E1200
While Intel is focusing on the “Core” name with “Core 2″ and “Core i7″, they haven’t completely abandoned the Pentium and Celeron names. The latest CPUs to use these names may sound ancient, but are all based on Conroe and Allendale – the same 65nm cores used by Core 2 Duo.
The Celeron E1200 is based on the 65m, Allendale core, which carries 512KB of cache, shared by both cores. It is clocked at 1.60 GHz, and runs on an 800 MHz FSB. Its TDP rating is 65W
It runs at 1.16-1.31 volts, and supports most of the “Core” features – EIST, XD bit, multimedia instructions up to SSE3, and even supports x86-64 bit computing. About the only things it is missing compared to a Conroe-based Core 2 Duo are the cache, lower FSB, and virtualization support.
Athlon 64 X2 4200+
On the AMD side, we have the 4200+. However, because of AMD’s absurd naming scheme, there are actually no less than five products that bare that exact name, dating back as far as 2005. The one we have here is the latest one, released in 2007.
It’s based on the 65nm “Brisbane” core, and runs at 2.20 GHz. It has a total of 1MB of L2 cache (512KB dedicated to each core), and runs on the standard 1000 MHz HyperTransport bus (socket AM2). Like the Celeron, it has a TDP of 65W, but AMD measures their TDP differently, so these numbers do not correlate. Its VCore ranges from 1.325-1.375V. It also supports the latest features, such as NX bit, Enhanced 3DNow!, SSE3, Cool n’ Quiet, and AMD’s x86-64 bit implementation. Unlike the Celeron, all modern X2 processors support hardware virtualization.
The Overclocking Equation
So we have two $50 processors with similar specs. Both are essentially ‘underclocked’ versions of relatively new cores, so they should have a lot of overclocking headroom. After all, isn’t that the whole point of a $50 CPU? Make it run like a $300 CPU!
On paper, the X2 4200+ starts out with a distinct advantage, with each core getting 512KB of its own cache as opposed to having to share a single 512KB. And while the Allendale-based Celeron has better per-clock performance, 1600 MHz versus 2200 MHz is quite a gap to overcome.
The only way around that would be for the Celeron to overtake the X2 by having more overclocking headroom. AMD’s Brisbane cores top out at around 3.1 GHz, while the fastest Conroes are also around 3 GHz. So while the Celeron might have a lower starting point, it has a lot more overclocking potential on paper, and with its superior per-clock performance may just beat the X2 and be the better $50 CPU. Let’s find out!