PC Hardware Trends: AMD's Most Affordable R700s: Page 2

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Intel CPU Prices

Even after continued price cuts to the AMD Phenom X3 and X4 lines, Intel has held back from lowering prices on any of its Core 2 Duo, Quad, or Extreme processors. Sure, there have been a few small price drops here and there, but the majority of these are minuscule, such as $10 to $20 off a $1,400-plus part like the 3.2GHz Core 2 Extreme QX9770. This means virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things, and there has been no significant change in the overall Core 2 price list.

That also means we're looking at a quick repeat of our Intel best-buy list, where the 3.16GHz Core 2 Duo E8500 continues to reign supreme with its amazing $190 price tag. The Core 2 Duo E8400 is another good value, clocked just a bit lower at 3.0GHz, while quad-core shoppers should check out the 2.5GHz Core 2 Quad Q9300 and 2.83GHz model Q9550, priced at $255 and $325, respectively.

Since Intel's Core 2 CPUs have shown such stable pricing, it's no surprise to see the same from the Celeron lineup. The price of both the 1.6GHz Celeron E1200 and 2.0GHz model E1400 remained at their usual levels, checking in at around $50 and $65, respectively. At these prices, go for the gusto and snag a full 2.0GHz Celeron E1400. The competitive problem Intel has is in the $65-to-$100 range, where AMD processors like the 2.7GHz Athlon 64 X2 5200+ ($66) and 3.0GHz Athlon 64 X2 6000+ ($92) offer a lot of bang for the buck.

Intel Upgrades

In this section, we evaluate potential upgrades for Core 2-compliant systems, using platforms that fully support Intel multicore processors. Whether it's upgrading an existing system or buying a new one, the wildly popular Core 2 Duo E8500 offers 3.16GHz at under $190. This is a no-brainer choice, but it also means your platform needs to support both the 45-nanometer-process Wolfdale architecture and Intel's 1333MHz front-side bus. If Wolfdale is getting you down, the $170 Core 2 Duo E6850 (3.0GHz) with FSB1333 is a potential option, but the safest route is to just snag a first-generation 65-nanometer, 1066MHz-bus Core 2 processor, like the venerable 2.4GHz Core 2 Quad Q6600 for under $200.

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 dependent on motherboard BIOS support, so check your vendor's Web site to confirm exactly which processors your board can support. Unless you have a relatively new motherboard with confirmed CPU support, it's usually best to avoid the latest 45nm and 1333/1600MHz-bus Core 2 processors.

AMD CPU Prices

Our previous update found the AMD camp entrenched in a stable pricing pattern, after months of random price cuts had pushed the majority of Phenom processors below $200. Well, the past few weeks have seen the holdouts join in: Now the highest-priced Phenom is the flagship X4 9950 Black Edition at only $180, which represents almost a 25-percent price drop.

The Phenom X4 9550 is now below $140, while the Phenom X3 8450 is hovering right around the $100 mark. Even the low-power Phenom X4 9150e got into the act, shaving almost 20 percent off its price. In terms of value, we still like the 2.4GHz Phenom X4 9750 and 2.5GHz X4 9850, as these supply high-end performance at a lower TDP than the flagship 2.6GHz X4 9950 Black Edition.

Although AMD sometimes forgets to invite the Athlon 64 X2 line to its price-cutting parties, it was there this time. Several of AMD's dual-core processors received healthy price cuts, including the Athlon 64 X2 5400+, 5600+, and 6000+. The overall price/performance ratio continues to get better -- with the steadily falling prices of its Phenom X3 parts, AMD had little choice but to drive all but the top-end Athlon 64 X2 6400+ to under $100. We really like the 3.0GHz Athlon 64 X2 6000+ at its new price of $92, which represents almost a 20-percent cut.

AMD Upgrades

Now that Socket AM2+ is the standard platform for new AMD systems, existing Socket AM2 systems represent the primary upgrade territory. Owners of AM2 systems have a wide range of upgrade choices, including not only the Athlon 64 X2 line but the backward-compatible Phenom X3 and X4. For existing systems, we really like the low-power Phenom 9150e (1.8GHz) and 9350e (2.0GHz), which both feature an incredible 65-watt TDP. The 2.4GHz Phenom X3 8750 triple-core and 2.5GHz X4 9850 quad-core are higher-performance options, but with TDP ratings on par with mainstream and high-end Athlon 64 X2 models.

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 processors may require a BIOS update at the very least, so confirm support before making your purchase. Due to the higher TDP of most Phenom X3 and X4 processors, please check your cooling solution and upgrade if necessary. A configuration page on AMD's Web site confirms motherboard support for a given CPU.

Memory Trends

The overall price of DDR memory followed familiar trends, showing very slight downward movement in both the single-module and matched-pair sections -- a nice change from the past few weeks' "one step forward, one step back" action, in which any noticeable price drops were answered by equivalent price increases. If you look close enough, there are some potential DDR deals available.

Once again, DDR2 price changes differed greatly depending on whether you looked at single modules or dual-channel kits. The former were as stable as usual, while the latter continued to show noticeable price drops in a few areas. The most active was the DDR2/1066 to /1200 range, with 2x1GB and 2x2GB kits showing the biggest savings. The DDR2/800 2x2GB kits that were so active last time out were quiet this week.

The DDR3 memory market continues to be an intriguing one, especially as we've moved beyond the "all price drops, all the time" trends of early 2008. Today, any price cuts occur more sporadically and simply do not cut as deep. Most of the fat is gone at the entry-level and mid-range, so we're finding most of the savings in the deluxe DDR3/1800 and /2000 segment, where high prices are still the norm.

This article was first published on Hardware Central.


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