Tom's Hardware's 2010 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders

Welcome to Part 1 of Tom's Hardware's 2010 Holiday Gift Guide. This first installment is geared toward system builders planning to pool some Christmas cash to build a new performance- or value-oriented system. We have something for everyone this year.
By: Sam Finch

This year, you were a gift-giving pro. You listened carefully when your friends and family dropped hints about their most wanted gifts. You even sacrificed your PC upgrade budget to ensure that everyone got what they wanted. ’Tis better to give than receive, right?

That’s all well and good, but what happens when the friends and family don’t hold up their end of the bargain? Because, without fail, "I’d sure like to spruce up my computer!" scores you little more than a webcam or $15 wireless mouse. Great. Like anything, if you want something done right, do it yourself.

But your current cash on hand? Yeah, about that. You need a high-octane powerhouse on a biodiesel budget. Roll up your sleeves (how else are you going to donate that plasma?) and get your ramen on for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In a week or two, you’ll have the capital to invest in a processor with a surprise inside—the AMD Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition.

On the surface, the 3.2 GHz 555 BE is respectable enough in its own right. In the era of Intel's six-core Gulftown and AMD's own hexa-core Thuban, it’s all too easy to sneer at anything less than a quartet of execution cores. But this dual-core processor’s 3.2 GHz clock rate makes it a decent enough option for gaming and lightly-threaded apps. And as an entry-level Socket AM3 processor, the 555 BE will drop into an 890FX motherboard (like this year’s budget motherboard recommendation, Gigabyte’s 890FXA-UD5), giving you the advantage of using DDR3 memory, plus other current-gen board-specific bonuses.

The 555’s Black Edition pedigree doesn’t need much introduction at this point, but it’s nevertheless worth mentioning that you get a lot of overclocking flexibility on a sub-$90 processor. Attach a halfway-decent cooler and pump up the frequency—you should be set until Bulldozer arrives next year.

Now, about that surprise: compare the 555 BE's Callisto die to AMD's quad-core Deneb-based CPUs. The two are remarkably close. So close, in fact, that the 555 BE is little more than a Phenom II X4 with two cores disabled. The vast majority of AMD enthusiast motherboards (including the 890FXA-UD5) include BIOS-level core unlocking capabilities, so connect the dots. You’re potentially getting a Phenom II X4 955 for less than one hundred bucks.

Yes, potentially. While the ideal scenario is buying a Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition that began life as a perfectly good Phenom II X4, it is possible that one (or both) dormant cores on your particular 555 BE were disabled because of poor yields. But even if you don’t wind up with a quad-core Phenom II to show for your efforts, you still have a capable dual-core chip with plenty of headroom to spare. We simply couldn't pass up the value of this chip for our 2010 gift guide, and we hope you agree.

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    Top Comments
  • alexttlyrocks
    I'm only reading this article to look at the chicks
  • LuckyDucky7
    Alternative title:
    Gift Guide Part 1, for Deep Pockets :)
  • Other Comments
  • alexttlyrocks
    I'm only reading this article to look at the chicks
  • rohitbaran
    ^ Keep reading!
  • dogman_1234
    Wait until SB and BD.
  • Anonymous
    Radeon 6870 girl ... someone forgot to photoshop her ^^
  • LuckyDucky7
    Alternative title:
    Gift Guide Part 1, for Deep Pockets :)
  • squanto
  • cangelini
    LuckyDucky7Alternative title:Gift Guide Part 1, for Deep Pockets

    Phenom II for under $100? You must have those pockets that are sewn shut at the top, for decoration! =)
  • Bluescreendeath
    girls > computer parts that we already know about
  • Silmarunya
    Nice review, but I'd have liked to see advice for different budgets. For example, you could recommend a budget, mid range and high end product. For example, I'm currently in the market for a discrete sound card, but don't such an expensive one. On the other hand, I wouldn't be satisfied with a Phenom II X2. It's still a great article, mind you, but it'd have been nice to see some love for every end of the market.
  • Onus
    ntrRadeon 6870 girl ... someone forgot to photoshop her ^^

    No, it's the taint that a Diamond product radiates. They're #2 on my personal "Do not buy" list, right after Belkin.
  • garyshome
    The ps costs as much as the cpu and mb? So much for the budget.
  • sandmanwn
    Ed: You'll have to pardon this little gem missing out on the gift guide photo shoot.

    Off with his head!!!
  • nevertell
    The phenom II x2 555 is some of the BEST bang for the buck. I dropped it in my build, got a quad core running at 3,6 ghz for about 25 $ per core, and I didn't even have to disable any of the powersaving features or anything actually to get it working like this.
  • mi1ez
    Why the hell does the US site work fine and the UK site have it'ss CSS in a twist?
  • tony singh
    Some one gift me please....:)
  • cknobman
    I have no clue what products Toms is actually recommending here, too busy looking and the beautiful product modelers and not the actual products!!!
  • fausto
    Toms needs to spend more money on the holiday Models department. seen much better chicks at Quakecon 2008. No offense to the ladies but some of you are not booth babe material
  • ta152h
    Bluescreendeathgirls > computer parts that we already know about

    If you're that desperate to see pictures of girls, you're probably right; you must know computer parts better than girls.

    It's pretty sad when pictures of girls gets so much of a reaction. I swear if you get out of the house, you'll actually see them in real life. I'm not lying. You can even say "Hi" to them, and they'll probably even give you a response. I know it sounds far fetched, but I'm really confident about this, so just trust me.
  • ta152h
    faustoToms needs to spend more money on the holiday Models department. seen much better chicks at Quakecon 2008. No offense to the ladies but some of you are not booth babe material

    The pathetic part is, how it's still getting these desperate guys worked up.

    Some of the pictures are just bad too, like the one with the Radeon.
  • accolite
    TA152H, I'm not desperate... I'm married, but I enjoy a good looking woman more than looking at some hardware components after all we are guys! If you don't your probably a woman yourself or a homo!