The Inquirer has just published their recommendations for the ‘value points’ in processor purchasing. Their recommendations are quite similar to those promoted by a number of reviewers, but closer inspection leaves me quite unconvinced. The assumptions they make fall somewhat short of the mark in my eyes, and leaves their recommendations more closely allied to cost price than to purchase value. Let’s look at them in more detail, shall we?
Like many specialist hardware sites, the Inquirer has sung the praises of the Celeron ‘D’ 336, criticized the Sempron, and touted the Athlon64 3000+ as the entry level chip of choice from AMD. The Celeron, they suggest, will run office applications fine, run some older games, and will provide an upgrade path to dual core Pentium processors to beef up the system later on.
Hang on a minute! That’s not necessarily correct. Seems to me that the argument they’ve used for the Celeron should be the argument used for the Athlon64 instead!
Don’t get me wrong. The Celeron ‘D’ is a pretty good chip, and a considerable improvement on earlier Celeron lines. But it’s not necessarily the path to the future that’s touted here. Not unless you use a motherboard with the i945 or i955 chipsets anyway, because other chipsets won’t accept the dual core processors that are supposed to form the upgrade! A Celeron ‘D’ with a cheapish all-in-one motherboard is a fine system for people who are not going to work the system very hard, but that’s about it.
There’s also performance to consider when making a judgement about ‘value’. Price isn’t everything. I’m in agreement with the Inquirer about the Athlon64 3000+ being the ‘value’ entry level processor from AMD. But at 2.8GHz that Celeron 336 is not a competitor to the Athlon. To get a comparable level of performance you’d need to purchase a Celeron ‘D’ 351, and that brings the prices a lot closer. There’s only a small cost margin between Celeron 551 and Athlon64 3000+, and if you add in the extra cost of late model motherboard and more expensive DDR2 RAM to ensure that upgrade path to dual-core processing later on, then I’m afraid the Celeron falls behind as a ‘value’ purchase!
Dual core processing
Again, the Inquirer has placed cost above all, and produced a somewhat skewed depiction. The Intel Pentium D 820 is a ‘value’ entry to dual core processing, they consider, whilst AMD do not provide a ‘budget’ entry level processor. If you look only at purchase price you might get that impression, but let’s look at the performance of the lower rated dual core chips as well. The Pentium D 820 is a 2.8GHZ single core performance chip. The lowest rated AMD X2 dual core processor, the X2 3800+, gives single core performance about equivalent to an AMD64 3000+.
To get equivalent performance, you need to jump up a level to the Pentium D 830 processor, which comes at a price roughly equivalent to the entry level Athlon X2. And again, you need a motherboard with a particular chipset, together with more expensive (and no better performing) DDR2 RAM modules! Just about any Socket 939 motherboard will accept Athlon X2 dual core processors. At worst, a BIOS update will be all that’s required. People who’ve purchased cheaper Intel systems with a view to changing to dual-core later on could well find themselves without the upgrade path they’d counted on.
When choosing components, don’t get too carried away with price. Too many reviewers seem to. The entry level Intel processors are underpowered compared with their competitors! If it’s a new system you’re planning and it has ‘Intel Inside’, then I’d suggest you plan on getting a system in which the ‘Intel Inside’ is taken up a notch!