Reviews in this Group Test
Right now, the best balance of performance and value comes from Intel’s Sandy Bridge (socket 1155) chips. Their benchmark scores snake out far beyond anything AMD has to offer – and indeed beyond the best of Intel’s own socket 1156 range – yet even the top-end models are comparatively affordable.
If you’re looking for a mid-priced desktop processor that will breeze through today’s most demanding applications, look no further.
For those who demand maximum parallel processing power, the older Core i7s in the 1366 package may still have a role to play. They’re the only chips that can beat Sandy Bridge, with multitasking performance a particular strong point. But, as the graph makes clear, pricing is erratic, with the similarly-performing Core i7-970 costing twice as much as the Core i7-2500.
If you’re on a more modest budget, AMD comes into its own. The Phenom II X4 series gives strong performance at reasonable prices, and if you pick a Black Edition, you can tweak the clock speed to rival, or even beat, the latest Core i3s.
Squeeze the price more tightly and the best value comes from the Athlon II X2 series for basic computing power. The Sempron processors are the cheapest here, but their performance is so poor it’s off the left-hand side of our graph; we can’t recommend them for any desktop role.
Clearly, Sandy Bridge is setting the pace of the market as a whole. In terms of future support, it’s the safest platform to invest in. Intel’s 1156 range will surely be phased out before long, since it’s no longer economical, and a successor to the 1366 platform is expected before the end of the year. AMD’s AM3 socket is also due for an upgrade this summer, to accommodate the firm’s forthcoming Fusion processors; it could be worth waiting to see what happens next.
Yet, this is always the way with technology: there’s always something newer around the corner. So if any of this month’s CPUs fits your needs, we suggest you dive in, enjoy your purchase and don’t look back.
To fairly compare the dozens of CPUs on the market, we subject them all to our new benchmark suite, in configurations as similar as their differing architectures would allow.
Each chip is tested at its stock speeds, in a mainstream motherboard with 4GB of 1066MHz of DDR3 RAM and a 1TB, 7200rpm hard disk. Although some processors have built-in graphics, we use a low-end AMD graphics card in all our tests, to ensure a level playing field.