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Top Budget Processors: CPU Power for Under $100

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 8/21/2009

The introduction of new processors from AMD, and the continued lowering of Intel's prices, create a solid market for sub-$100 dollar processors. These processors may not be the fastest, but they're more than capable of running most office applications and games.

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    Dual Core Territory

    It seems that there has been a change of ways in the processor market. All of Intel's current Nehalem based processors are quad cores, as well be most (if not all) of the upcoming "mainstream" Core i5 models. AMD also has been pushing many-core solutions, from the much-praised X3 720 to the ultra-quick X4 955. AMD may even launch six-core processors for the consumer market in the next year. Dual-core processors are great, but their time may be passing.

    This change will likely mean future programs become better at using multiple cores. For now, however, dual cores remain value leaders. Finding a great sub-$100 dollar dual core processor is easy these days, and while the three sub-$100 dollar processors listed here will be at a disadvantage in video editing or DVD de/encoding, they are still great choices for budget gaming rigs and home office PCs.

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    AMD X2 550 Dual-Core 3.1 Ghz Black Edition

    The Phenom II based X2 550 BE is a high-performance processor on a budget At the high end of the $100 dollar price limit we have the AMD X2 550 Black Edition, a processor which is quickly becoming loved by enthusiasts. There are two reasons for this. First, the X2 550 Black Edition uses the latest Phenom II architecture, making it more competitive with Intel processors on a clock-for-clock basis. Second, the X2 550 Black Edition, like all AMD Black Edition processors, includes an unlocked CPU multiplier. This makes overclocking so easy there is almost no reason not to do it.

    Of course, the AMD X2 550 is at the very top of the budget range. In fact, it often exceeds it - Newegg lists the X2 550 BE at $102.99. Users who are looking for a value processor because they simply have no need for speed would be better off with the cheaper processors listed here, but those who want a combination of performance and value would be well advised to spend the extra $2.99.

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    AMD X2 250 Dual-Core 3Ghz

    While one might initially think that the X2 250 is simply the little brother of the X2 550, that would be a mistake. The X2 250 is an Athlon II based processor, which means that it is slower than the 100mhz difference between the X2 550 and the X2 250 would imply, since it also suffers a penalty clock for clock. The X2 250 is not a Black Edition processor, either, which means that it probably won't overclock easily or as well.

    That said, the AMD X2 250 still represents a great value, particularly to those who need a computer for straightforward home office type apps. While slower than the X2 550, this new processor is still faster than any of the old Athlon processors, such as the Athlon X2 6400+. That's quite impressive, as the X2 6400+ was clocked 200mhz higher and used twice as much power. Considering the X2 250's price of $79.99 on Newegg, this processor makes an extremely good all-rounder.

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    Intel Pentium E5200 Dual-Core 2.5Ghz

    Intel's sole entry into the budget processor field is also the slowest and least expensive processor of the round-up. That is not to say it is gimped, however, as the E5200's performance is quite comparable to the X2 250 in some benchmarks, despite being clocked a full 500mhz slower. The E5200 is also miserly on power, which means less heat and in turn less need for the noise of cooling fans.

    In fact, the Intel E5200's price of about $65 combined with its perfectly adequate performance may make it the best processor on this list for a home office computer. The main difference between the E5200 and the X2 250 is not the processor, but rather the chipset. Remember, most motherboards for the Intel E5200 are Intel chipsets which have poor integrated graphics, while AMD offers a wide variety of inexpensive motherboards with respectable graphics. This means that while the E5200 is good in a home office, it will be at a disadvantage if one intends to take a break to watch high-definition videos or play some World of Warcraft.