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Fall Processor Pricing – Finding the Best Bang for the Buck
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by Rob Williams on September 5, 2008 in AMD Processors, Intel Processors

If pondering an upgrade, the time to purchase a new processor is now. Both AMD and Intel are offering a great collection of models that fit all budgets, and we take a look to find the best options available. Whether it’s a Dual-Core or Quad-Core you’re after, there’s undoubtedly a model that fits nicely into your price range and won’t let you down.

Intel Processor Pricing

I mentioned earlier that it’s rare to find a bad time to buy a CPU, and luckily for you, that rare time is not right now. The selection is huge, especially on the Intel front. Whether or not you want something completely cheap, or really expensive, the choices are there. Dual-Core, Quad-Core? It’s your choice, because regardless of what you choose, you are likely to wind up with a power-efficient, yet powerful CPU.

There are a few things to bear in mind though, because lately, the Intel scene has shifted a bit, and if you are not keeping up with things, it’s easy to fall prey to a deal that’s not really a deal. Whenever Intel releases a new CPU, e-tailers and retailers don’t stop selling the old ones. Funny still, some of the older ones even cost more than the new ones. It’s ironic, but not uncommon.

Take the QX9650 3.0GHz, for example. It was just replaced by the Q9650, a chip that comes in with identical specs, minus the unlocked multiplier. The difference is that the Q9650 costs close to half, as you can see in the chart below. There is -no- difference between the two, except for the multiplier, so as it stands now, the QX9650 is a CPU that should never be considered, unless all you care about is achieving the highest possible overclock, and I doubt many would find that premium to be worthy.

On the budget Quad-Core side, we have two great candidates, the ‘old-school’ Q6600, which comes in at 2.4GHz and also the brand-new Q8200, a member of the 45-nm family. The former chip is one of the first Quad-Cores to come out, so it lacks a few things that 45nm offers, such as the SSE4 instruction set, but it’s still one heck of a chip. For the asking price, it’s less than $50 a core, so the multi-tasking ability / $ ratio has never been so good.

Our Intel Top Picks

Below are two tables, one Quad-Core, the other Dual-Core. All chips listed are models that Intel still includes in their roadmap and have not yet discontinued. Just because some are there, though, doesn’t mean they make any real sense to purchase. Even though Intel still prices older 65nm Dual-Cores, they’re all priced higher than equivalent 45nm Dual-Cores that are better in every regard.

You’ll also note that some processors are priced exactly the same, such as the Q9550 and Q9450, and also the E8400 and E8200. It pays to keep a close eye on things.

Quad-Core Model
Clock Speed
FSB
Cache
TDP
$ / 1,000
Core 2 Extreme QX9775
3.20GHz
1600MHz
12MB
150W
Core 2 Extreme QX9770
3.20GHz
1600MHz
12MB
136W
Core 2 Extreme QX9650
3.00GHz
1333MHz
12MB
130W
Core 2 Quad Q9650
3.00GHz
1333MHz
12MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q9550
2.83GHz
1333MHz
12MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q9450
2.66GHz
1333MHz
12MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q9400
2.66GHz
1333MHz
6MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q9300
2.50GHz
1333MHz
6MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q9100
2.26GHz
1066MHz
12MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q8200
2.33GHz
1333MHz
4MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q6700
2.66GHz
1066MHz
8MB
95W
Core 2 Quad Q6600
2.40GHz
1066MHz
8MB
95W

In both sets of graphs, you’ll notice a few of the models are actually URLs. Clicking those will lead you straight to our review to that particular model.

Dual-Core Model
Clock Speed
FSB
Cache
TDP
$ / 1,000
Core 2 Duo E8600
3.33GHz
1333MHz
6MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E8500
3.16GHz
1333MHz
6MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E8400
3.00GHz
1333MHz
6MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E8300
2.83GHz
1333MHz
6MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E8200
2.66MHz
1333MHz
6MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E7300
2.66GHz
1066MHz
3MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E7200
2.53GHz
1066MHz
3MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E4700
2.60GHz
800MHz
2MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E4600
2.40MHz
800MHz
2MB
65W
Core 2 Duo E4500
2.20GHZ
800MHz
2MB
65W

Because Intel has so many different models hanging around, it can be a tough chore picking one out. You first need to know whether or not you want a Quad-Core or Dual-Core. To purchase a Quad-Core would be future-proofing your PC to an extent, since newer games are beginning to support multi-threading. Aside from that, Quad-Cores open up better multi-tasking capabilities, as long as the rest of your system matches (4GB+ of RAM, fast hard drives). It becomes especially beneficial if you use multi-threaded multimedia applications, like video encoders and the like, since the speedups can be huge.

Still, with the advent of Quad-Cores, Dual-Cores still have their place for those who value raw speed over multi-threading. If you simply don’t need huge multi-tasking capabilities or require the use of multi-threading in many of your applications, the raw speed of a Dual-Core probably will offer more benefit. Dual-Cores by nature are faster than their Quad-Core big brothers, but cost far less, understandably.

“The Big Spender”

If you have money to spend, your only option is a Quad-Core. What you’ll get will be a blazing fast piece of silicon that offers great multi-tasking capability and huge benefits with your threaded applications. Unless you are looking to build a full-blown Skulltrail machine, the best choice for the big spender would of course be the Q9650, which features identical specs to the much-more-expensive QX9650, which was released last fall. It features a 3.0GHz clock speed, 12MB of L2 cache and everything else that makes 45nm CPUs so great, most notably the SSE4 instruction set, which really makes a difference in video encoding apps if you are using one that can take advantage.

For those with a little more modest outlook, the best mid-range offering would have to be the Q9550. This chip was released not long ago, and at 2.83GHz, it’s almost as fast as the Q9650, but costs a few hundred dollars less. Like the bigger model, it also features 12MB of L2 cache, so really, you are not missing much… just the 170MHz (ahem, which could be gained back with ‘overclocking’, quite easily). If you want all the best of what Yorkfields offer, then the Q9550 should be your cut-off point, since the lower models cut the L2 cache effectively in half. The price difference between the Q9450 and Q9550 is about $5, so it’s a no-brainer. The extra 170MHz should be worth it.

“The Modest Spender”

But what if you do want to go the ‘half-cache’ route? Since cache doesn’t make a huge difference to those not running intensive multimedia applications, scaling down even further might do a body good. The Q8200 is definitely worth consideration if you want a Quad-Core processor that in no way should break the bank. The price of that CPU currently hovers around $260, and in all honesty, that feels like a freaking steal, especially when looking back to what our options were just one year ago.

At 2.33GHz, the CPU is admittedly modest, but we are dealing with four cores, great power efficiency and a fast front-side-bus. If you have some overclocking ambition, there’s little doubt that this CPU could easily hit the same speeds as the Q9450. You’ll always be missing out on the extra L2 cache, but the speed boost will be there.

Where Dual-Cores are concerned, it’s almost impossible to make a bad choice. It really depends on what you are willing to spend, because as it is, it’s only $100 that separates the low-end from the high-end. Our two favorites are the E8400 and E7200, because each one caters to a different audience perfectly… those who want the ultimate speed and those who want an affordable chip that still manages to feel powerful.

The E8400 is essentially the Q9650, but cut in half. It offers the same speeds, half the cache, and a smaller power envelope. As evidenced in our review, it also packs some incredible overclocking potential. The same goes for the E7200, except it’s stock speed is cut down to 2.53GHz and it’s cache is again cut in half, equivalent to a fourth of what the higher-end Quad-Cores offer. It definitely ranks as my highest recommended chip if you want a Dual-Core that really stretches your dollar.

Page List:
Top

1. Introduction
2. Intel Processor Pricing
3. AMD Processor Pricing


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