• 08/15/2005
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CPU Buyer's Guide

We've put together a comprehensive buyer's guide to Intel's and AMD's lineups, from performance processors to the high-end, mid-range, and value categories. We have specs, prices, and pertinent performance information.
  • Similar to their Pentium Extreme Edition 840 big brother, the Pentium D 840 and 830 feature two CPU cores within a single casing, each with 1MB of L2 cache and the ability to run 64-bit code. The key difference is that the Pentium D dual-core processors lack the Extreme Edition's Hyper-Threading capabilities, which allow Windows XP to recognize it as four processors instead of two. The 840 runs at a clock speed of 3.2GHz, while the 830 runs at 3.0GHz. Both are more than capable of giving a substantial boost to users who juggle one or more CPU-hungry applications such as video, audio, or 3D rendering at the same time.

    AMD Athlon X2 4400+ and Athlon X2 4200+: AMD's responses to the Pentium D 840 and 830 are the Athlon X2 4400+ and 4200+ dual-core processors. Both run at 2.2GHz. In the 4400+, each CPU core has 1MB of L2 cache, while in the 4200+ each CPU core has 512KB of L2 cache. Higher amounts of L2 cache result in a significant performance increase, because programs can access data stored here faster than in standard memory. Not surprisingly, it adds to the overall cost of a CPU. Aside from this, the two CPUs are identical. Each permits 64-bit operations.

    For more information on dual-core CPUs and the relative differences between Intel's and AMD's approaches, check Desktop Pipeline's Seeing Double: A Primer On Dual-Core CPUs.

    One key difference AMD likes to point out between Intel's dual-core CPUs and their own is that Intel's dual-core architecture does not allow the two CPUs to communicate efficiently. For the two CPUs to exchange data, they must send the data out to the front side bus and then back to the CPU core. AMD's approach is much more efficient; however, memory limitations in the architecture of the Athlon 64 X2 series also limit performance. At this point, most experts consider this a wash.

    What isn't a wash, however, is price. The Athlon 64 4400+ costs around $650, while the 4200+ costs around $550.


    While we recommend dual-core CPUs for most office environments, a number of single-core high-end processors are worth looking at for desktop PCs that see considerable use of a single, CPU-intensive application, such as gaming or audio/video encoding.

  • Intel Pentium 4 660, Pentium 4 571, and Pentium 4 570J: With 2MB of L2 cache and a 3.6GHz processor, Intel's Pentium 4 660 is similar in nature to the Pentium 4 670 detailed in the performance category. The slower clock speed makes it a slightly more affordable $700. That's still not cheap, but it's $300 less than the 670, which might make this a great processor for the few users in your office with extravagant CPU demands.

    Similar to the 660 is the Pentium 4 571, which runs at a slightly faster 3.8GHz but features only 1MB of L2 cache. Because the 571 costs only $50 less than the 660, we're going to recommend the CPU with the larger cache. The resulting performance difference is well worth the $50. Intel also offers the Pentium 4 570J for around $650; it's exactly the same as the 571, but without 64-bit extensions. (Why you'd want to pay the same price for a processor with less functionality is beyond us.)

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