Current Cost: $189
Consecutive Guides: New
Price Change: N/A
The sub-$200 price tag of the Core 2 Duo E8500 might be a bit surprising given our $4K system budget, but this remains one of Intel's highest-clocked processors, falling back of only the 3.2 GHz Core 2 Extreme QX9770, which will also run you over $1400. And this is only the starting point for the Core 2 Duo E8500, and although we never base our selection on its overclocking potential, speeds of 4.0 GHz and higher are very hard to ignore.
The base specifications of the Core 2 Duo E8500 include a 45nm Wolfdale core running at a clock speed of 3.16 GHz, 6MB of L2 SmartCache, a 1333 MHz front-side bus, a default core voltage of 1.225V, a thermal specification of 72.4°C, and a TDP of only 65W. This processor uses the LGA775 processor package, and includes support for SSE4, Execute Disable Bit, Intel EM64T, and Enhanced SpeedStep.
One thing to remember is that we're building the top gaming systems, where dual core is enough, and the highest clocked Core 2 will not only provide better value, but also the fastest performance on today's games. Overclocking is also better on the cooler-running dual core models, and both core voltage and TDP ratings will be lower. For example, the Core 2 Quad Q9650 raises the max TDP to 95W, from the 65W of the Core 2 Duo E8500.
But that doesn't mean the 3.0 GHz Core 2 Quad Q9650 isn't a viable performance option, but at almost $600 and clocked lower than our Core 2 Duo E8500, we skipped it for our main guide selection. But for those who want the extra multi-tasking performance, this is still a great bet, and can easily be overclocked to Core 2 Extreme QX9770 territory and beyond, thereby saving you almost a grand.
In our previous guide, we mulled over the potential of the AMD Phenom, but as the 2.3 GHz Phenom 9600 Black Edition was the top speed available, we instead chose to go with the 3.2 GHz Athlon 64 X2 6400+, which offered slightly better performance. But that was then, and this is now, and AMD has upgraded clock speeds to a full 2.6 GHz, while dropping prices significantly. The 2.6 GHz Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition is the obvious choice this month, not only for its performance, but also for the unlocked multiplier.
The Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition runs at 2.6 GHz and features a true quad core design, with 2MB of combined L2 cache and 2MB of shared L3 cache. It supports the 940-pin AM2+ package and features an onboard, dual-channel/128-bit DDR2 memory controller running at up to 1066 MHz speeds. It also runs at a full 2.0 GHz HT 3.0 clock and since this is a Black Edition, the multiplier is fully unlocked. The only potential issue is the higher max TDP rating, which checks in at 140W, or slightly higher than the 125W TDP of the Athlon 64 X2 6400+ and Phenom X4 9750/9850.
The choice of a CPU cooler can be a very personal one, as we all have our favorites. But as a general option, we're sticking with the powerful Thermalright IFX-14, which is a nice upgrade from our longtime Thermalright Ultra 120 Extreme selection. The IFX-14 offers several improvements, such as a larger heatsink and the addition of a second cooling-sink to handle the back side of the CPU socket.
The IFX-14 features custom brackets and a simple 2-screw attachment, allowing it to handle both Socket AM2/AM2+ and LGA775 motherboards, while utilizing either 120mm or 140mm cooling fans (not included).
The Scythe S-Flex SFF21E is a popular fan with enthusiasts, mostly due to its 1200-RPM speed and 49CFM airflow combined with a nearly-silent 20.1 decibel rating. It's also great option for "bare" Thermalright coolers, and provides a nice match in terms of cooling power, ambient noise and overall value. We are adding in extra pair of Scythe fans for case cooling, and these should be installed in the side panel to assist the two default 120mm fans included with the Cooler Master Stacker 830.