Reviews in this Group Test
This Labs highlights the differing approaches of the two big CPU players. AMD is getting everything it can out of its current K10 architecture, spreading it down through its Athlon II and Phenom II lines in dual-, triple- and quad-core variants.
It periodically introduces newer models at slightly higher clock speeds, and the company appears to be keen on pushing its low-power alternatives as well – they cover a large portion of the price range. And all of these processors are priced incredibly aggressively.
Intel is seemingly less concerned by price. The Celeron, Pentium and Core 2 lines remain comparatively expensive, even though they’re on their way out as we write this.
But then Intel has a new architecture to fly the flag, and a startlingly busy roadmap compared to its rival.
In terms of long-term value, there’s no contest: Intel has two new platforms and a whole 32nm CPU line to nurture. AMD has no official plans to phase out its Socket AM3 platform, but what scope does it have to support exciting future processors? It’s tough to predict.
Both sides have CPUs that stand out, though. We’ve covered a massive 50 processors in this Labs, across five different socket types and a price range from $42 to $1250, so understandably it’s a tough choice.
To make things simple for you, we’ll look at a few possible scenarios.
You have an old AMD motherboard
Assuming you’re upgrading either a Socket AM2+ or AM3 motherboard, the triple-core Athlon II X3 parts immediately jump out, with performance on a par with their quad-core siblings but at lower prices.
The Athlon II X3 435 costs just $106, while the nearest-performing Intel equivalent costs twice that – the only drawback being the higher TDP of AMD’s offerings. Unless you’re really pinching the pennies, it makes little sense to go below these triple-core parts given the prices.
If you have a bit more to spend, you may as well future-proof your new system as much as possible with AMD’s flagship Phenom II X4 965. It’s the fastest you’ll get, and costs just $260.
You have an old Intel motherboard
With an existing LGA 775 motherboard you have some affordable options, although you won’t get the value of the AMD side. If you’re on a tight budget, the Pentium range offers acceptable value. The best choice looks to be the $74 E6300, which scored 1.32.
Above that, we can’t recommend anything. If you keep an eye on the sales you may find a Core 2 bargain now newer parts have arrived, but the best long-term approach is to ditch your LGA 775 board and build from scratch.
You’re building from scratch
So you’ve given your old system to charity and you’re ready to build a new system from scratch, but where do you start? If you’re on a tight budget, we’d opt for the AMD options discussed previously – the CPU and a Socket AM3 motherboard combo will generally cost you less than Intel’s offerings.
But Intel’s LGA 1156 platform has both the longevity and the processor support to be a better option. The Core i3-530 scored 1.58 in our benchmarks yet costs around $150, and it comes with integrated graphics on the CPU. This will give you a strong and affordable – if not exactly cheap – base system.
If you can push your budget higher, things get interesting. The best choice right now is the Core i5-750 with an LGA 1156 motherboard.
It scored 1.85 for $228, although there’s every chance the Core i5-600 parts will become more attractive as prices fall. Based on Intel’s plans and past form, you can expect that motherboard to last you several years.
The Core i7-800s aren’t hugely appealing. Gamers may want the enthusiast features of an LGA 1366 board and a top-end Core i7-900, but even the cheapest set would hurt you to the tune of $1500.
Only the hard-core should be paying that much when such great deals are available just a little down the performance scale.