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The Contenders: One Athlon II, Two Phenom IIs, And A Pentium Dual-Core

AMD Or Intel: Which $100 Gaming CPU Should You Buy?
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Athlon II X4 620

Athlon II X4 620
Codename: Propus
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 4
Clock Speed: 2.6 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache:   4 x 128KB
L2 Cache:   4 x 512KB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

We'll start with the new Athlon II X4 620, the first quad-core CPU to appeal to the masses at $100.

Based on AMD's Phenom II architecture (but stripped of the large L3 cache) the Athlon II X4 has lots of multi-threading potential. However, at the same time, its lack of shared cache and a relatively low clock speed of 2.6 GHz could prove to be a performance bottleneck.

Of course, if you'd like more information on the Athlon II X4 620, please feel free to check out our review of the processor. And if you want a better idea of how this CPU performs in applications other than games, we have a more in-depth look at the importance of L3 cache to AMD's architecture.

Phenom II X3 710

Phenom II X3 710
Codename: Heka
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 3
Clock Speed: 2.6 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 3 x 128KB
L2 Cache: 3 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
95W

It is somewhat amusing that the Phenom II X3 710 is based on the same architecture as the Athlon II X4 620, runs at the exact same clock speed and HyperTransport speed, and costs about the same price. However, there are two big differences: the Phenom II X3 710 lacks a fourth CPU core and it retains the Phenom II line's 6MB of L3 cache.

Given the Phenom II X3's larger Deneb foundation and price point dangerously close to the Athlon II X4, don't be surprised if AMD decides to stop manufacturing these chips in the near future. From an economics perspective, it simply doesn't make sense for the company to continue selling these more complex processors when it has a potential winner in the L3 cacheless Athlon II.

Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition

Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition
Codename: Callisto
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 3.1 GHz
Socket: AM3
L1 Cache: 2 x 128KB
L2 Cache: 2 x 512KB
L3 Cache: 6MB
HyperTransport: 4,000 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
80W

By now, we see that AMD is solely to blame for the cluttered $100 CPU landscape, with its third processor in this category: the Phenom II X2 550 BE.

Granted, blame might be a bit strong, but with so many similarly-performing derivatives and pressure from Intel's Core 2 family bearing down, there's certainly a lot of price compression going on in AMD's portfolio.

This model maintains the L3 cache expected from a Phenom II, but gives up the X3 710's third core. In exchange, it gets a major clock speed bump to 3.1 GHz. As a bonus, this Black Edition CPU also sports an overclocker's aid: an unlocked CPU multiplier.

Dual-Core Pentium E6500

Dual-Core Pentium E6500
Codename: Wolfdale-2M
Process: 45nm
CPU Cores: 2
Clock Speed: 2.93 GHz
Socket: LGA 775
L2 Cache: 2MB
Front Side Bus: 1,066 MHz
Thermal Envelope:
65W

With the dual-core Pentium E6500, we finally have an Intel entry in the fray (although, admittedly, the price has fallen a few dollars short of the $100 target).

At 2.93 GHz, it's not quite as fast as the 3.1 GHz Phenom II X2 550, it doesn't have an unlocked multiplier, and it sports significantly less on-die cache memory. Still, Core 2-based CPUs have done well against Phenom II models on a clock-for-clock basis, so it will be interesting to see if the Intel entry can pose a threat to the variety of AMD CPUs at this price point.

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