AMD Or Intel: Which $100 Gaming CPU Should You Buy?

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

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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    Top Comments
  • curnel_D
    Don WoligroskiOne final factor we didn't have time to test this time around is overclocking. When overclocked, would the Phenom II 550 Black Edition become a monster? Would the dual-core Pentium E6500 pull a rabbit from its hat? Or would the Athlon II X4 620 and Phenom II X3 710 be able to hold on to their strengths? If this is something you'd like us to explore, please let us know in the comments section.


    OC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.
    16
  • curnel_D
    wintermintWhich of the 4 CPU listed in the article is more future-proof?

    The AthalonII X4 would deffinately be the more futureproof of the four. Programs and games are rapidly being developed and upgraded to use 4+ threads. And when threaded applications finally hits mainstream, you'll appriciate those one or two cores a whole lot more. (Not to mention the platform itself lends itself to future upgrades a whole lot better than the 775 platform.)
    11
  • Anonymous
    ohimWell i don`t get it you become a cheap bastard on cheap parts and go OC and rise your electrical bill and risk damagin your CPU ... so where`s the benefit ?

    What's the benifit of harrassing people who arent driving daddy's bently to the PC store to squander away all their allowance on overpriced parts?

    Get a life dude.
    10
  • Other Comments
  • kenjiuchimura
    It's a shame there aren't more games that run like FO3 considering how gorgeous it is yet still being much more accessible based on its focus of CPU power instead of being topheavy on the GPU side.
    2
  • FUtomNOreg
    If people have a delusion that games are not cpu constrained, it is because, if I recall, an article in Tom's made the assertion that any c2d >3GHz was sufficient.
    5
  • curnel_D
    Don WoligroskiOne final factor we didn't have time to test this time around is overclocking. When overclocked, would the Phenom II 550 Black Edition become a monster? Would the dual-core Pentium E6500 pull a rabbit from its hat? Or would the Athlon II X4 620 and Phenom II X3 710 be able to hold on to their strengths? If this is something you'd like us to explore, please let us know in the comments section.


    OC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.
    16
  • wintermint
    AMD is really evening the playing field with their low cost CPU :) but they should start challenging the Core i7 :(
    1
  • siliconchampion
    I would have to say that overclocking results would be extremely useful. May I suggest that you run the same benchmarks again at two levels, the maximum overclock at stock voltage, and again with maximum stable overclock. Then compare the results to today's benches.

    I would have to agree with some of the poster's above that overclockability is a key factor in this price segment.
    4
  • curnel_D
    kenjiuchimuraIt's a shame there aren't more games that run like FO3 considering how gorgeous it is yet still being much more accessible based on its focus of CPU power instead of being topheavy on the GPU side.

    360 ports generally run really smooth on adequite PC hardware, simply because of the archetectual similarities. I personally dont think that FO3's graphic technology is all that great, but the art direction that Bethesda took made it a great looking game.

    Another game that does this really well is Operation Flashpoint 2. Technically speaking, the grapics arent that great. And I notice alot of places where textures and polys arent what they should be for a PC game. But aside from that, the game looks fantastic and runs very smooth even at the highest settings, and it all has to do with art, not technology.
    2
  • ohim
    TheCapuletThe Pentium DC can effortlesly overclock to 3.6, giving it a steep clock edge. And under good air cooling can easily hit the 4Ghz mark. With quality air cooling getting so cheap these days, it's not hard to imagine budget gamers buying great cooling while skimping on the processor budget because of overclocking. This article would have been perfect if it included the OC information and a few quick benchies to show the results. The OC potential makes ALL the difference in the world at this price point.

    First of all OC is out of the question here in this article since a 100$ CPU is clearly not for an enthusiast user (not even i with a PII 940 don`t use OC) , second OC`ing will only lead to huge power consumption fron the pc performance / watt will drop like hell.
    -22
  • mrsiberia
    I would love to see what impact OC has... Imo it's always interesting with budget hardware.
    1
  • curnel_D
    wintermintWhich of the 4 CPU listed in the article is more future-proof?

    The AthalonII X4 would deffinately be the more futureproof of the four. Programs and games are rapidly being developed and upgraded to use 4+ threads. And when threaded applications finally hits mainstream, you'll appriciate those one or two cores a whole lot more. (Not to mention the platform itself lends itself to future upgrades a whole lot better than the 775 platform.)
    11
  • tacoslave
    well amd always pwns on the lower end but what i want to see is them pull out a demon with shiny guns that can gut an i7 clean. then we can start the partying (and new systems)
    6
  • IzzyCraft
    Curnel_DOC potential is one of the most important factors in an article like this. If you can, most deff post an update soon.

    Yup that's the most interesting part of this. E6300 and the 550 are the most expected to oc well and benefit from it the most which is a factor for the crowd that reads these articles.
    4
  • Anonymous
    ohimWell i don`t get it you become a cheap bastard on cheap parts and go OC and rise your electrical bill and risk damagin your CPU ... so where`s the benefit ?

    What's the benifit of harrassing people who arent driving daddy's bently to the PC store to squander away all their allowance on overpriced parts?

    Get a life dude.
    10
  • masterjaw
    Nice article but buying a budget CPU will also be affected by its potentials. So it would be nice if you would add up the overclocking areas of these CPUs.
    1
  • rip187
    Ohim its for the same reason that us "cheap bastards" buy a i7 920 and overclock it rather than buying an I7 that costs twice or 4 times as much. The benefits outweigh the risks.
    7
  • brockh
    I feel this would've been more interesting with the 720. I know it's $20 more, but hey. :P
    -5
  • Proximon
    Yes, I would especially like to see what you can squeeze out of those motherboards.
    This exact question has been bugging me all week, and here you are with the answers... Have you been reading my posts??? :)
    Anyway, I strongly suspect that any 785G board is just all around better than any G41, another factor. 785G seems to aim for a wider audience.
    Wouldn't a P43 board be closer in price to a 785G? Might that be a fairer comparison?
    2
  • dirtmountain
    A very well done article. The multitasking benchmark was a real eye opener. I'd like to see an overclocking look at these 4 CPUs, i'm not as interested in anything extreme as I am in stable and cool overclocks.
    2
  • Honis
    Good article!

    An overclock article is more than a little over due for the $100 and lower level CPUs.
    1
  • SpadeM
    Quote:
    I think it's important to note that out of the nine games we tested, only two of them--Crysis and Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.--demonstrated any notable performance decrease between 1280x1024 and 1920x1200. This is a real wake-up call to folks who believe that all modern games are limited only by the graphics hardware and that the CPU is almost irrelevant when it comes to gaming. Clearly, the benchmarks demonstrated that this isn't the case, and the CPU has a very significant impact on game performance.


    Yes and no, but that would have been uncontested if you'd have benched an intel quad core or even the 1000$ i7 (kind of like 100$ vs 1000$ processor battle in gaming). I know that common sense dictates that if u buy a 1000$ processor you will pair it with the appropriate graphics card and not just a 4890, but still in theory for a cpu to cpu comparison it would have sense.
    0
  • thedexmonster
    Not everyone wants to destroy their hardware faster than necessary!!! Overclocking potential is definitely a plus, but not absolutely necessary for a budget build! Relatively speaking, there aren't very many people who actually know how to maintain a computer system! I clean a 1/4" of dust off the CPU fan with no exhaust fan installed all the time! Put overclocking in someones head and they'll just think they don't have to spend as much money.
    -1