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Best High End Processors: Holiday 2009 Edition

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 11/28/2009

Treating yourself or a loved one to a new high-end processor isn't a bad idea. There are many fast processors available today from both AMD and Intel, and they can provide a major performance increase. The three processors listed here provide extreme performance at a reasonable price.

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    The Gift of Speed

    2009 has been an exciting year for processors. Intel has introduced newer, more affordable, and better Core i5 and i7 processors. But AMD has also presented many interesting new products, including a host of Phenom II and Athlon II products.

    What this means is that there is a wide selection of good processors available. Choosing the best can be a bit difficult, and there are not many processors which are actually a bad value, but the three listed here are the ones most buyers will be interested in.

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    AMD Phenom II 955 BE

    The Phenom II 955 BE is the least expensive among high performance processors With the recent release of Core i5 it is easy to forget that the Phenom II line of processors was a critics' darling at the beginning of 2009. The Phenom II's performance was similar to the Core 2 processors, but it was priced lower and easier to overclock.

    These advantages remain today. The Phenom II 955 isn't as fast as the Core i5 750 in all benchmarks, but it matches it in some - gaming, for example, is strong on the Phenom II 955. Also, since the 955 is a Black Edition processor it is much easier to overclock than a Core i5 750. Factor in the low cost of AMD motherboards and the 955's $179.99 MSRP and it becomes clear that the Phenom II 955 is a great high-performance processor at a budget price. It also earns a recommendation over the 965 BE simply due to ease of overclocking - it takes only a few seconds to overclock the 955 to the speed of a 965, so why pay more?

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    Core i7 860

    As exciting as the original Core i7 processors were, they were massively improved with the release of the new Core i7 processors for the P55 chipset. The Core i7 860 - the middle child of that release - was considered by many to be the best value of the bunch.

    Unlike the Core i5 750, the i7 860 has hyper-threading. It also has a slightly higher base clock speed of 2.8Ghz and more aggressive turbo boost features. This means its performance is surprisingly close to that of the Intel's Core i7 Extreme processor line. Yet it only costs $289.99, meaning that only the inferior Core i7 920 is less expensive. This makes the Core i7 860 an outstanding performance value. If you need a fast processor with great multi-thread performance, but won't destroy your savings, the Core i7 860 is a good pick.

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    Core i7 960

    The Intel Core i7 960 is an extremely fast X58 processor, but it costs a premium compared to the Core i7 860 Running at a base clock of 3.2Ghz and capable of Turbo speeds up to 3.46Ghz, the Core i7 960 is Intel's most capable processor with the exception of the (outlandishly expensive) Extreme series. It has all the features one expects of such a high-end product including hyper-threading and 8MB of L3 cache.

    The Core i7 960 is only marginally faster than the Core i7 860, but it uses the X58 chipset rather than P55. For some users, that is a big deal. The X58 chipset offers more PCI Express lanes and Triple-Channel DDR3 memory, both of which can provide better performance in certain scenarios.

    Given its price of $599.99, the Core i7 960 loses to the Core i7 860 in terms of value. But if you need the X58 chipset and the fastest reasonable processor then the Core i7 960 is the one for you.