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More Than You'd Expect
As processor prices continue to decrease, and the performance you get for your dollar continues to increase, the amount of power you can get for the price of a hundred dollar-menu cheeseburgers is as impressive as ever. That, however, is somewhat predictable; the price-to-performance ratio of common components like the desktop processor is almost always changing in favor of the consumer.
More interesting is that the under $100 dollar bracket now features a wealth of choices. While this is, in terms of price, a budget bracket, the processors in this range are hardly worthy of that label. The low-cost processors are specifically designed for systems which are meant to be cool, quiet, and small, making them excellent choices for super-cheap utilitarian PCs, while the processors near the $100 dollar ceiling are great products in their own right, packing more than enough power to perform daily tasks, watch high-definition movies, or play some games. The choice, then, is as much about what you need as what you can spend.
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AMD Sempron LE-1250
Well, folks, you can't get much simpler than this. AMD's Sempron series is the company's more affordable line of products, aimed directly at computer users who want something that is extremely low in cost and/or can be used in small computers with tiny power supplies. The Sempron name has been around since 2004, but it is a brand name rather than an architecture name, which means that the latest Semprons feature most of what you expect from a modern processor, but in small doses. It has two levels of cache, an 800Mhz Hypertransport link, and is manufactured on a 65nm process. What this means is that the LE-1250 is not an older processor, but rather a new processor made to very modest specifications. The LE-1250 is only a single-core processor, and it runs at a modest 2.2Ghz. I said small doses, remember?
Clearly, the Sempron LE-1250 is not going to be useful for doing anything related to multi-media tasks. High-definition content is out of the question, games would run poorly, and you might even find some of the fatter flash applications giving you trouble. But that said, it is worth noting that the Sempron LE-1250 is going to provide a great deal more performance than what you'll ever get out of an Atom processor, and there are millions of people with Atom-powered netbooks who don't seem unhappy with their systems. In other words, as long as your expectations are realistic, this processor will do its job. If you're looking to create your own low-budget computer, then you'd be hard pressed to find a better choice.
Speaking of budget, the Sempron LE-1250 is incredibly inexpensive. At 29.99, it is the cheapest processor that has been available in some time. Pair with a low-price motherboard and two gigabytes of DDR2 RAM and you'll be well on your way to building a full system for under $250 dollars.
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It used to be that the best budget processors were merely adequate in real-world situations, but times have changed. Today, with competition intense between Intel and AMD, buying a great budget processor gets you a great processor capable of running most tasks handily. Gamers should pay particular attention to these budget processors, because the shift away from processors as a bottleneck for gaming performance means that those needing to save money can simply buy a great budget processor and then spend the leftover cash on a much better GPU. This page looks at AMD's Athlon 64 X2 7750 Kuma Black Edition and Intel Pentium E5400 Wolfdale, two great , but cheap (under-$100) CPU entries.
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AMD Athlon 64 X2 7750 Kuma Black Edition
The Athlon just won't die. Although it seems that it might do AMD some good to move forward with a new low-cost processor architecture, it is also easy to see why AMD continues to stick with its tried-and-true Athlon processors. The architecture may be a far cry from the Core 2 Duos, but it is extremely competitive among buyers who don't want to shell out a fortune for a processor which is reasonably quick. The X2 7750 is the case-in-point. Though priced at only 64.99, the X2 7750 is clocked at 2.7Ghz and has more cache then most processors in this range. It is, in turn, faster than Intel's E5200, which is priced to compete with the X2 7750. At its worst, the X2 7750 seems to be neck-and-neck with the E5200, but certain applications favor the X2 7750. The PC Game Left 4 Dead, for example, seems to run much quicker on the X2 7750.
Buyers should keep in mind that this X2 7750 is a Black Edition processor, which means it has an unlocked multiplier. This makes it incredibly easy to overclock, although the X2 7750 actually does not overclock as well as the competition from Intel. Also, Black Edition processors don't come with a heatsink and fan, so you have to purchase your own. This is not a huge issue, however, as the average $10 dollar heatsink and fan combo should not have an issue with the heat put out by the X2 7750. Oh, and speaking of heat, the X2 7750 is power-hungry for what it is. If you already have an old AM2 motherboard and processor and are looking for an upgrade, I recommend hopping on your motherboard maker's website and ensuring that your old motherboard supports the X2 7750.
Those issues aside, the X2 7750 is your best bet in this part of the market. Its extra speed and potential for easy overclocking gives it an edge over Intel's E5200.
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Intel Pentium E5400 Wolfdale
Pentium? Yes, you read that right - the E5400 is actually labeled a Pentium processor. The Pentium 4 was a fiasco for Intel, and Intel responded by letting the soiled Pentium name slowly die. But now it has been resurrected and affixed to a new line of low-cost processors one step above the Celeron products but one step below the power of Core 2 processors. This sudden emergence of a dead brand name seems confusing at first, since it seems to indicate that these new processors might have something to do with the old Pentium 4 or Pentium D processors. The name becomes doubly confusing once you dig deepr, as this new Pentium processor is actually based off the Core 2 architecture.
Of course, it isn't the name that runs your processor. While the E5400 may be affixed with a title from the stone sage, its technology is distinctly modern. The E5400 is a Wolfdale processor, which means it manufactured on the same 45nm processor as the quicker and more famous E8400. The difference is in the details. The E5400 runs at a slower 2.7Ghz, and it contains only 2MB of L2 Cache. The Front Side Bus runs at a slower standard frequency of 800Mhz, as well. What this means is that the E5400 is slower than its brethren which are allowed to proudly wear the Core 2 name. But that said, being a slower version of the E8400 is nothing to be unhappy about.
In fact, the E5400 looks to be the quickest processor you can buy for under $100 dollars. It won't blow a X2 7750 out of the water, and considering that the E5400 is priced at $89.99, it is up to the individual to decide if the extra money is worth the extra performance. But AMD offers nothing competitive at the same price point except for Phenom X3 processors, which tend to be unappealing due to their extremely slow clockspeeds. It is also worth noting that the E5400 is a much cooler, more efficient processor than anything that AMD offers. The X2 7750 may be a cheap date, but in the world of processors it isn't always best to go for the hot one. The more sensible E5400 is a better choice for those wanting power in small desktop with limited airflow.