CPU Buyer's Guide

A comprehensive guide to the current crop of desktop CPUs, specifications and prices

Editor's Note: This story is a guide to the desktop processors available for purchase right now. For a look at what desktop CPUs will be coming later in 2007, see Beyond Dual Core: 2007 Desktop CPU Road Map, part of our Forecast 2007 Special Report.

For many small and large businesses as well as home users, the change of the calendar year is a time for rigorous self-reflection about technology needs. Do you need new PCs in 2007? Perhaps you're considering upgrading existing systems instead?

One of the most baffling aspects of buying a desktop PC or purchasing a CPU upgrade is deciphering the tangled code of product names, model numbers and specifications of processors from both Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp. Add the amazing pace of change the chip industry is going through -- in 2005, for instance, we felt lucky to experience the first generation of dual-core processors, while today they're ubiquitous -- and sorting out which processor to buy becomes even more confusing.

Analysts and experts have widely considered 2006 to be a year in which Intel served up a significant dose of dominance over AMD. Over the summer, Intel released the Core 2 processor architecture to rave reviews. Across the board, Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme CPUs have exhibited surprising advantages in performance, energy consumption and thermal signature.

Does that mean you should rule out AMD processors? Certainly not. Depending on your technology needs, you might find CPUs from AMD to be real bargains.

But, hey, that's why we're here. To help you identify your CPU needs, we've classified each desktop processor currently offered by both AMD and Intel. We've broken our list down into four different categories: performance, high end, midrange and low end. Each category identifies and describes multiple CPUs at various price levels, allowing you to pick and choose the price/performance ratio that works best for your budget.

If you'd rather skip the analysis in favor of easy-to-read charts detailing top specifications, features and prices for each processor, see our quick reference charts.

OK, let's get going.

CPU Buyer's Guide

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