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Choice of CPU

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August 20, 2010 3:04:37 PM

I'm looking to put together a penny-pinching, mid-level gaming system soon (say, one to two months), to play older games, as well as Dragon Age, World of Warcraft, possibly the upcoming DC online and Diablo III whenever it comes out. Other activities would include web surfing, moderate Microsoft Office usage, and playing MP3s. Although I often load up Firefox with several tabs, I rarely use more than, say, three actual apps at a time.

Here's my dilemma (and there will probably be several based on this system before it's over with): I'm not really fond of dual-core CPUs, and would rather purchase a 3- or 4-core model. Money being what it is, however, I'm lowering my expectations a bit. I understand that the AMD Athlon II X3 440 is a great cpu for ~$75, and it's high on my purchase list. I'd really like to have a Phenom II CPU with the L3 cache, however. I've found the Phenom II X2 555 BE for ~$99. Again, not a big fan of dual-cores, but I've heard great things about this chip.

So, all other PC components being equal, my question is which CPU to choose? I can't seem to find any apples-to-apples comparisons between these two that use real performance as a basis. Is having an extra core worth sacrificing 6Mb of L3 cache and an unlocked mulitplier? I'll probably do some moderate overclocking, so that affects the conversation, but I don't want to base a decision on the ability to unlock cores (I'll attempt it, but since it isn't guaranteed I don't want to chase after false hope). Or, is there a better option out there within this price range that I've missed?

Currently, I'm running a system with an AMD XP2800+ Sempron (Socket A), so either of these will be a massive upgrade when it comes. I'd just like to get the best bang for my buck when I finally build. Your input is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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August 20, 2010 3:16:29 PM

The good thing is you can unlocks most 555BEs to make it into a quad, but for your uses, a dual isn't that bad, if not better than the tri-core, as wow uses only 2 cores and DAO isnt the resource intensive.

However, if you really want a quad, get a Athlon X4 for the same price. What is your GPU though?
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August 20, 2010 3:34:09 PM

My choice of GPU is a matter of great scrutiny right now--probably something cheap-to-mid-range; maybe go with a decent DX 10 card, like a HD 4850.

As far as the CPU, though, this is exactly the kind of thing I'm trying to discover. Is an extra core better than the L3 cache for gaming? I'd REALLY like a Phenom because of the cache, but if the extra core mitigates that advantage then perhaps I don't need it.

Thus, I turn to you...
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August 20, 2010 3:47:49 PM

For older games that uses only 2 cores, the Phenom will shine, clock for clock the L3 makes it ~10-15% better than the Athlon, however, to newer games, the extra core(s) pulls the Athlon ahead by the same margin.

heres a benchmark: http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/120?vs=119
Note the Batman AA, DAO, and WOW benchmarks, the Athlon pulls ahead in DAO from the extra xore as DAO is pretty utilized for quads, and the 555 pulls ahead in WOW as it only use 2 cores.

Both are great CPUs, and you wont go wrong with either.
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August 20, 2010 4:05:35 PM

I see... So, my answer is "it depends on which game/app I'm running," which is what I was afraid of. I suppose this is the price I pay for trying to assemble an economy system...

I'll give it some more thought. Since it's evident that one isn't clearly superior to the other, however, I think I'm leaning toward the 440, based on price.

Thanks for your help!
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August 20, 2010 6:19:03 PM

If you are on a tight budget, I would suggest an Athlon II. It's pretty much the same chip as the Phenom II but it doesn't have any L3 cache which is why it's cheaper. Many articles suggest that the L3 cache isn't that important at all.
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August 20, 2010 7:33:03 PM

L3 cache does help a bit in games, but the Athlon II is more than capable to run a mid-range card like you plan on getting, and the extra core will help for those CPU intensive games.

Personally i'd shoot for the unlock on the 555. :)  Either way works though.
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August 23, 2010 11:19:53 AM

Of course, now that I've asked this question, AMD goes and drops the prices on a bunch of their CPUs. For just an extra 45 bucks, I can pick up a full-fledged Phenom II X4 955BE, which will put all of my performance issues to bed. I can probably come up with 45 bucks...

Thanks for your help, everyone! I'll certainly have a decision to make soon, but the results of that decision keep looking better all the time.
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August 23, 2010 10:19:03 PM

If ya can afford it go for the 955. :) 
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February 3, 2011 3:40:44 PM

Best answer selected by dragonmathics.
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February 3, 2011 3:42:26 PM

I run the Phenom 2 Deneb 945 and it just hums! I think wow is supporting quad cores as of now as well.
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