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Top 3 Value CPUs for the Holidays

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 5/19/2011

Perhaps your friend has an old computer which needs new life, or maybe you're simply building a new rig for a fellow geek on cheap. This guide will help you find the best processor for under $100 dollars.

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    Updates

    The latest version of this guide can be found in the Summer 2009 Budget Processor Guide.

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    The Basics

    Buying a new budget processor as a gift - or a bit of self-indulgence - is an exciting but difficult task. The options are numerous, but both online retailers and brick-and-mortar shops lack easy to understand information about what you need to buy. If you're baffled about where to start, these three suggestions will get you on the right track. All of them are great processors, and they all can be found for under $100 dollars.

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    3. Intel Celeron 430 1.8Ghz

    Price: $39.99 on Newegg as of 11/25/08

    The Intel Celeron 430 is by far the least illustrious CPU of Intel's product line-up. It is a 1.8 Ghz single-core chip with very little cache living in a world dominated by chips with clockspeeds well over 2Ghz and more cores than most programs know what to do with. As a result, its easy to miss the fact that the Intel Celeron is still a very good product, and well worth a look if you need a computer on a budceleron get.

    The value in the Celeron 430 doesn't come from the chip itself, but rather from the work that most computers are asked to perform. Although some users need computers capable of playing the latest video games or using expensive professional programs such as Adoboe Photoshop, many people simply need a computer which can browse the internet and play Bejeweled. For those users, the Intel Celeron 430 is the easiest, cheapest processor to buy.

    The only catch? The Celeron 430 isn't fast enough to run high-resolution video, and the Intel-based chipsets that it is often pared with do nothing to reduce the load. Any Celeron 430 PC which might be used to watch high-resolution video should be paired with a chipset that has good on-board video, such as Nvidia's Geforce 9300 series. Another option is buying a cheap video card, such as the Radeon 4350.

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    2. AMD Athlon 64 X2 5200+ 2.7 Ghz

    Price: $63.99 on Newegg as of 11/24/08

    x2 1 The AMD Athlon X2 is, as far as I know, the oldest CPU processor that is still widely available for purchase. The First Athlon processors debuted in 1999, and dual-core models of the Athlon series first hit the online shelves in 2005. For a processor, thats ancient; when I bought a new Athlon X2 six months ago, I half expected it to come grammaphone audio support.

    But despite its age, there are still a lot of reasons to like the Athlon X2. No, the Athlon X2 5200+ won't ever outrun a Core 2 Duo. However, at prices ranging from $65-$80 dollars, the Athlon X2 5200+ is mainly set against Intel's higher-end Celeron processors, which are clocked at slower speeds.

    The Athlon 5200+ is a favorite of mine, but you'd be hard pressed to go wrong with any of the Athlon X2 line. If you know someone who is using an older AM2 socket computer and is starting to complain about its performance, a new Athlon X2 is an easy upgrade. The Athlon X2 line-up is also a good choice for a home-theater PC, as it can be paired up with AMD's excellent 780G motherboard chipset.

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    1. Intel Pentium E5200 2.5Ghz

    Price: 75.99 on Newegg as of 11/24/08pentium dc 

    Though Intel has now debuted the new Core i7 architecture, Intel is showing every sign that it wants to get the most out of its older processors. As a result, Intel has launched numerous new products in the last few months, fitting every possible niche. Some of these products have, in fact, been highly redundant, but some are truly great values. The Intel Pentium E5200 is an example of the later.

    What is great about the E5200 is that though it only costs around $80 dollars at most online retailers, it uses Intel's newest manufacturing process. It is a 45nm chip, which means it will run very cool and use relatively little power, and it has access to all of Intel's latest tricks.

    Those tricks add up to impressive performance. The E5200 may not have the power of a E8400 or even E7200, and its midget-sized cache also handicaps performance. But not everyone needs a bleeding-edge, fire-breathing processor. Some people only need a solid processor with respectable performance, and for those users, the E5200 fits the bill perfectly. And if you're buying for an enthusiast, but you're onla tight budget, don't despair. Most of these processors can be over-clocked quite a bit, making them significantly more powerful. Just be sure to buy a decent heat-sink as well!