Other than a few random drops here and there, Intel Core 2 price levels have stayed remarkably stable. This is a surprise, especially in light of AMD's consistent price cuts on the Phenom X3 and X4 processors, the vast majority of which now sit below $200. Though Intel still has the high-end market to itself, it's a tough match-up in the $100 to $150 range.
As for our top Intel performance choice, we're sticking with the 3.16GHz Core 2 Duo E8500, the company's highest-clocked dual-core CPU, which sits just below $190. The 3.0GHz Core 2 Duo E8400 is another good option, while quad-core shoppers have some attractive choices in the 2.5GHz Core 2 Quad Q9300 ($260) and 2.83GHz model Q9550 ($320), as well as the old Core 2 Quad Q6600 standby for under $200.
Entry-level Intel processor options revolve around the dual-core Celeron E1200 (1.6GHz) and E1400 (2.0GHz) chips. With no change in the price of either model -- around $50 and $65, respectively --there's no reason not to spend the extra $15 and hit the top clock speed. Since alternatives from Intel are limited, your may want to explore the low-cost AMD dual-core selection, where you can snag a 2.7GHz Athlon 64 X2 5200+ for less than $75.
In this section, we evaluate potential upgrades for Core 2-compliant Intel systems, using platforms that fully support Intel multicore processors. Whether upgrading or buying a new system, the 3.16GHz Core 2 Duo E8500 is a killer option and a steal of a deal at around $190. The only problem is that older platforms may not be fully compatible with both the 1333MHz front-side bus and 45-nanometer architecture of this CPU.
Moving to an older 3.0GHz Core 2 Duo E6850 solves the 45nm portion, but you'll still need a system that can handle FSB1333. The safest route, and the only one for older dual-core platforms, is to stick with a first-generation 65nm/1066MHz processor such as the 2.4GHz Core 2 Quad Q6600.
Before making any CPU upgrade, first confirm the front-side bus speeds your current Intel platform supports, along with ensuring proper BIOS, memory, and cooling requirements. Most older platforms are still dependent on motherboard BIOS support, so check your vendor's Web site to confirm exactly which processors your board can accommodate. Unless you have a relatively new motherboard with confirmed CPU support, it's best to avoid the latest 45-nanometer and 1333/1600MHz Core 2 processors.
The Phenom X3 and X4 processors have enjoyed some consistent price cuts over the past couple of months, but right now we seem to be in another lull -- last week's only notable drop brought the 2.4GHz Phenom X4 9750 below $180, though at least there were no price increases to report.
There are some good values throughout the Phenom line, especially for existing platform owners. The 2.1GHz Phenom X3 8450 is hovering around $100, with the 2.2GHz Phenom X4 9550 is now under $150. We also like the new price of the Phenom X4 9750, as it supplies a 2.4GHz quad-core for only $10 more than the triple-core X3 8750.
Compared to the Athlon 64 X2 family, even the limited price activity in the Phenom camp must have looked like a wild party: The only price change in AMD's dual-core line was a few dollars off the Athlon 64 X2 5200+. For now, the 2.6GHz Athlon 64 X2 5000+ ($66), 2.8GHz X2 5400+ ($87), and 3.0GHz X2 6000+ are all good bets for entry-level AMD systems.
Now that Socket AM2+ is the new standard platform for new AMD systems, existing Socket AM2 systems represent an incredible upgrade opportunity, as you can not only select an Athlon 64 X2 processor but also take the plunge and try out a new Phenom X3 or X4. AMD has introduced the Phenom 9150e (1.8GHz) and 9350e (2.0GHz) processors, which feature a very low thermal design power of 65 watts --an important feature for upgrades. The 2.4GHz Phenom X3 8750 triple-core and the 2.5GHz X4 9850 quad offer higher performance, and TDP ratings on par with high-end Athlon 64 X2 parts.
The choice of Socket AM2 upgrade CPUs is still dependent on motherboard support, so be sure to check platform, BIOS, memory, and CPU specifications before making the buy. Newer multicore processors may require a BIOS update at the very least, so confirm support before making any purchase. Due to the higher TDP of Phenom X3 and X4 processors, please check your cooling solution and upgrade it if necessary. A configuration-info page on AMD's Web site confirms motherboard support for a given CPU.
While there were no sweeping changes to the overall price of DDR memory, we did find a few small price drops. In the single-module area, this affected high-end 1GB PC3200 modules, while matched-pair savings were most visible among low-latency 2x1GB PC3200 and faster kits. Otherwise, it was another very stable week, as the majority of DDR listings continue to stagnate.
There is a distinct line between the single-module and matched-pair DDR2 markets, with the former staying consistent from week to week while the latter offers some noticeable price drops. Last week brought virtually no change in the single-module DDR2 listings, but we found discounts in many matched-pair areas, especially the DDR2-800 2x2GB range.
The pace of DDR3 price decreases has been tailing off lately, and although this remains the most active area of the memory market, we're no longer seeing across-the-board drops. Lately, a few DDR3 dual-channel kits have shown significant drops, but the majority have stayed put, forcing DDR3 deal-hunters to look a bit harder than usual.
... along with information on how we find OEM and retail CPU and memory prices and how individual prices can help you gauge broader trends for buying or upgrading decisions, see our sister site Sharky Extreme
This article was first published on Sharky Extreme.