CPU Buyer's Guide

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

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Low-end processors

Not surprisingly, system buyers and builders have a plethora of options at the low end of the CPU scale.

Typically fabricated with low clock speeds, small L2 caches and a lack of extra features, the processors in this category are most appropriate for basic, non-multitasking computing functions: word processing, working with spreadsheets, Web browsing and the like. One big drawback of both Intel's Celeron line and AMD's Sempron line is that they are all single-core, which will result in a performance hit in multitasking environments.

With this said, the caliber of processors at the low-end offer isn't awful, and the pricing makes them extremely attractive for basic workstations and non-media-intensive home use.

Intel's low-end processors

Pentium D 840, 830, 820, 805
Celeron D 360, 356, 355, 352, 351, 350, 347, 346, 345, 341, 336, 335, 331, 330, 326, 325

Intel's low-range lineup is split amongst two product lines: The Pentium category and the Celeron category.

The Pentium D 800 series offers dual-core processors based on last year's technology. At $93 for the D 820 and the D 805, these processors are a great bargain. Because both CPUs are the same price, smart buyers will avoid the 805; it runs at 2.66 GHz to the 820's 2.8 GHz and the FSB runs at only 533 MHz compared to 800 MHz for the 820. Both processors offer 1MB of L2 cache per core and 64-bit support. Neither supports virtualization.

Celeron D processors are prototype low-end CPUs. These single-core processors (confusingly, the "D" in "Celeron D" does not refer to dual-core) offer affordable performance, but lack large L2 caches and virtualization. This category has FSB speeds of 533 MHz (compared to 800 MHz for Pentium D CPUs and 1066 MHz for Core 2 CPUs), and only some offer 64-bit support. These are noted in our specifications chart.

AMD's low-end processors
Sempron 3800+, 3600+, 3500+, 3400+, 3300+, 3200+, 3000+

AMD's low-end processor line consists solely of the company's Sempron processors, ranging from the Sempron 3800+ to the Sempron 3000+. Clock speeds vary from 2.2 GHz at the high end to 1.6 GHz at the low end. Like the Celeron line, Sempron processors are all single core.

All Sempron processors support 64-bit extensions, although given the basic tasks these processors are made for, this is a dubious benefit. It's highly unlikely these CPUs will ever see the light of a 64-bit operating system or applications. At the high end, Sempron processors offer 256K L2 caches. At the low end, all you get is 128K. Pricing ranges from $100 at the high end to $50 for the slowest Semprons.

In this price category, you get what you pay for -- which isn't a lot. The trade-off is that with processors this cheap, it's possible to buy PCs in the sub-$600 range.

See specs and pricing for low-end CPUs.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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