Balancing Act... Budget/Performance/Future Proofing

So obviously I originally created this account to get feedback regarding a simple htpc for my living my room but now I find myself delving into the possibility of a new desktop as well and find my self wondering... Obviously i5 2500k is the "go to" at the moment, but if you were trying to balance a cheaper build now and still leave yourself a reasonable upgrade path in the somewhat near future what processors would you really be considering? My reading and research has lead to me several that I'd like your input or opinions on:

I should also add that I believe I would like to go with a smaller than ATX form factor, should I consider ~100w as being reasonable for cooling purposes in a small form factor?

AMD Phenom II X4 960T Zosma 3.0GHz Socket AM3 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor

Intel Pentium G860 Sandy Bridge 3.0GHz LGA 1155 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor

AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition Heka 2.8GHz Socket AM3 95W (L3 Cache worth the slower clock?)
AMD Athlon II X3 455 Rana 3.3GHz Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop Processor
AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz Socket AM3 95W Triple-Core Desktop Processor

Pretty much listed by cost, with the i5 2500k left off since it represents a substantially larger investment.

Any processors I have obviously left off? Would you re-order or re-prioritize the list above differently? Obviously my thought or strategy would be to get into an AM3+ mobo, Am I correct to dismiss LLano's price to performance... given the rumor that FM1 is unlikely to be used in the future?

Without morphing too much into a "My Build" discussion:
I am currently on a Q6600 non oc'd(stock cooler) with a Ep45-Ud3p, Sapphire 1gb 4870, anything above represent an actual upgrade to whats viable on my machine?

Thanks in advance all,
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More about balancing budget performance future proofing
  1. You have to look at the motherboard more than anything. Right now only a AM3+ mobo from AMD has any upgrade path. LGA1155 using P67/Z68 has a upgrade path to Ivy Bridge as do dome of the H6X ones but most of the lower end H6Xs wont.

    Honestly the Q6600 is still a viable CPU, although old. I am still running it, overclocked to 3GHz with a Zalman 9700.

    Llano itself is a subpar CPU with a decent IGP and FM1 is being replaced with FM2 for trinity, Trinity will be based on pildriver which is the next step of Bulldozer or current FX series from AMD and there has been no indication on if Trinity will work in FM1 socket mobos. But there is also rumor that Trinity itself is not a very "amazing" CPU.

    If you are going with a discrete GPU you would want either AM3+ or LGA1155 with a Z68 chipset. Honestly the 2500K is the best way to go as that CPU is powerfull enough to last a good few years and have a drop in upgrade but if you areon a tight budget its not as easy although I have had a few 2500K systems sold that are under $1K with a HD6850 class GPU.
  2. What do you use your desktop for?

    I am still using a Q9450 in my desktop. It is competitive against the AMD Phenom II X4 955 / 965. Your Q6600 will be slightly slower than a Phenom II X4 960. The difference in performance is not worth the price you will have to pay in order to upgrade. Forget about the "Tri-Cores".

    As for future proofing upgrades, Ivy Bridge will be the last series of Intel CPUs to use socket 1155 and from a CPU architecture standpoint, it will probably have around 6% - 10% (my guess is 6%) processing improvement over Sandy Bridge. This excludes performance gained from higher clock rates due to the small die size manufacturing process.

    I may upgrade to Ivy Bridge, but I just might hold out until Intel's next gen CPU comes out; Haswell.

    In the AMD camp, despite beating earning estimates for Q3 2011, I believe AMD needs to reduce expenses to remain competitive against Intel. AMD needs to kill production of consumer CPUs and focus more on the APUs which combines both CPU and GPU cores. While Intel Sandy Bridge chip have both CPU and GPU cores, they still call it a CPU. This will allow them to cut costs from a design and manufacturing perspective. In a nutshell, I think PileDriver will be AMD's last socket AM3+ design and all future APUs will be socket FM2 or FM3.

    AMD is basically 2 generations behind Intel when it comes to performance. Generally speaking, Sandy Bridge CPUs are about 20% faster than AMD's Bulldozer / Phenom II CPUs. Once Ivy Bridge is released that will basically go up to 26% (30% based on high estimates). PileDriver is only estimated to have about a 10% improvement over Bulldozer / Phenom II which still puts it behind Intel.

    If you primarily play games on your desktop PC, then the best single improvement would be a newer video card.
  3. Yes I believe Llano is a dead end.
    Not sure how reliable that website is, but I wouldn't bank on Llano. Surprisingly enough, I think intel is the winner for the performance/future proof.
  4. Thank you all, very much. To answer the question as to what do i use my desktop for..thats the problem at this point, checking this forum and all the other light usage type stuff is about it..with the exception of an occasional Itunes rip, not much...

    So as I mentioned above, I am in a spot I find difficult to evaluate if I want to build a "HTPC" or if more of a budget gaming build in a small form factor would be my preferred usage...basically a PS3+ is what I think need/want... I recognize neither of which are huge $ investments but when you start to look at a <$400 htpc vs a ~$550 it gets very blurry to me... I am no longer a cable television subscriber so an actual browser, Netflix, Hulu, Blu Ray Playback, etc. Are all important, but with this q6600 im typing, an Xbox360 and now this is piece of hardware Im asking for advice on now, it seems like if i build in some gaming and learn how stream media off the q6600 to all the hardware involved I can pretty much get a whole house/every room solution out of the deal...

    Any thoughts/opinions/advice?

    and Thank You all again! I know the posts are long winded but i appreciate the help and patience.
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