Just as Intel dominates the upper end of the CPU price range, AMD has managed to position itself as the value-conscious PC enthusiast's processor manufacturer of choice.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing: AMD's cheaper value processors often prove just as good, if not better, than cheaper Intel processors. What's more is that AMD's AM3 architecture means that processors can be taken out and swapped willy-nilly, without having to worry about upgrading your motherboard or memory.
We've picked out five of the cheapest chips we've recently reviewed, put them in price order and included an Intel one for good measure. If you're planning on building a budget system, this is essential reading.
1. AMD Athlon II X2 250 - £44
A £44 processor is never going to be able to match a £150 one, but that price does make the Athlon II X2 250 the cheapest in our recent spate of processor reviews. Its performance is surprisingly good, too - it naturally chugged when we tested games, but its HD video playback performance was excellent. It's a dual-core processor through-and-through, packing a pair of 3GHz cores and no more, but AMD has at least included an onboard memory controller and the high speed HyperTransport interconnect. As the heart of a cheap media centre or non-gaming PC it will really come into its own.
2. AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition - £65
Don't let the Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition's dual-core nature put you off: it's still a perfectly able performer for gaming. This is thanks to its 3.1GHz clock speed and 6MB of L3 cache memory - which mean it flies in gaming benchmarks. Being a "Black Edition", it's designed to play nicely when overclocked, and we managed to get it up to 4GHz. It inevitably falls down a bit when it comes to multi-core tasks, and it's never going to be able to keep up with Intel's lower priced chips. But it's still got an unbeatable price tag, and makes a solid first step into the world of overclocking.
3. AMD Athlon II X4 620 - £86
In stark contrast to the Phenom X2 550, the Athlon II X4 620 packs four cores into a single chip, and comes in at only £20 more. It's an expertly-engineered multi-core chip; it's able to handle video encoding and professional 3D rendering without even breaking a sweat. Embarrassingly for the big I, it came mightily close to Intel's far pricier chips in our video encoding tests. Gaming performance - which relies on a single core - was a bit of a let-down, but as an all-rounder you could do far, far, worse; it's perfect for those who like to use their PCs for intensive tasks other than shooting pretend people in the face.
4. AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE - £129
A perfect chip for overclocking enthusiasts on a budget, the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition includes four cores running at 3.4GHz. This is not to be quibbled with, and in HD video encoding and professional 3D rendering, it matched Intel's similarly-priced Core i5 750. It couldn't quite keep up with the Core i5 750 in gaming performance, but one of the key draws of AMD's chip is that the price of building a PC on its AM3 architecture is far, far cheaper. It also overclocks nicely to 4.1GHz, which is higher than AMD's own six-core processors.
5 Intel Core i5 750 - £129
The cheapest Intel chip in our "budget" round-up still comes in at a rather wallet-quaking £129, but in terms of sheer performance it's worth every penny. It includes the obligatory four cores, 8MB of cache and dual-core memory controller, but this chip has got it where it counts in terms of monumental gaming performance. Each of those cores is ready and willing to take on strenuous tasks like games and file decompression, and what's more is that Intel has included plenty of overclocking headroom for system tweakers. It even beat Intel's supposedly-faster Core i5 760 in our tests, which is impressive stuff for such a (comparatively) cheap chip.
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