6 Intel & AMD CPUs to upgrade your PC today

We sort the PC chip champs from the chumps

Intel Core i7

Praise the Lord for the gift of 45nm silicon. For at last we have a fight on our hands in the CPU market. By that, of course, we mean a real alternative to big, bad, beastly old Intel.

With the launch of the new 45nm Phenom II chip at the end of last year, AMD finally has a CPU to keep Intel honest. It's a huge relief, both in terms of AMD's long-term prospects and the knock-on effect on competition.

After all, if it wasn't for AMD's existence, Intel would probably be flogging us dual-core 2.5GHz Pentium 4s and we'd all be none the wiser.

Instead, we're chowing down on the quad-core, eight-thread, wide-issue goodness that is the Core i7 processor. There are even tastier chips to come from both Intel and AMD over the next 18 months, too.

And the other great thing about the advancement of high-end chips is that older generation chips suddenly plummet in price. And that's why, if you're looking to upgrade your CPU, or if you're building a new PC, there's a good-value CPU out there for everyone, no matter what your performance needs or budget limitations.


AMD athlon x2 7750 black edition
AMD Athlon X2 7750+ Black Edition - £65

An AMD Black Edition processor for just £65? What devilry is this? Well, despite the arrival of the improved Phenom II, the lower end of the scale is where AMD still overwhelmingly operates.

An unlocked CPU multiplier for easy overclocking is a feature that only comes with Intel CPUs costing well above £500. The 7750's other item of interest is 2MB of shared L3 cache.

That's right, this chip is actually based on the first-generation 65nm Phenom architecture and therefore benefits from a few added extras included wider floating point execution.

Overall, a pretty nice dual-core CPU at the stock 2.7GHz operating frequency. The only slight let-down is its inability to clock beyond 3.1GHz. Read the review, score and specs


Intel pentium dual core e2180
Intel Pentium Dual-core E2180 - £55

Spare a thought for this feeble, emaciated little chip. The E2180 potters along at just 2GHz, packs just 1MB of cache and suffers a comparatively glacial 800MHz bus. Glacial, that is, compared to the 3.2GHz of Intel's own Core 2 Extreme QX9770.

Funny thing is, however, even at stock clocks, this processor delivers a decent experience. Thank the fact that it's based on Intel's Core 2 architecture for that, despite the 'Pentium' branding.

Consequently, it has just enough juice for gaming and hi-def video. But the way this beastie overclocks is something else.

How about over 3GHz using an air cooler and stock voltages? This chip cranks out performance comparable to any of Intel's pricier dual-core models. And all for a whiff over £50. Impressive. Read the review, score and specs


AMD phenom ii x4 810
AMD Phenom II X4 810 - £130

What's AMD's up to? You'd assume it would use a high-end chip to launch its new AM3 socket. But here we are with this 2.6GHz quad-core model.

AM3 is actually physically identical to the AM2 socket, which means this CPU will also slot into many existing AMD motherboards.

Significantly, however, it does add support for DDR3 memory. At least it would be significant if it made a real difference to the performance. We compared the 810 running courtesy of both DDR2 and DDR3 and found the gap was slim-to-none in reality.

As for overclocking, the 3.25GHz our sample hits with a conventional air cooler may not be spectacular, but it is more than enough to lift this affordable chip into genuine high-performance territory. Not bad for about £130. Read the review, score and specs


Intel core 2 quad q6600
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 - £145

The Q6600 has been knocking around in some form of other for well over a year. Even the latest G0 stepping has been around long enough to take on legendary status. Yet it remained arguably our favourite quad-core PC processor in this test.

We expected a lot, thanks to its reputation for running at 3.5GHz or more. To say we're disappointed with our sample's refusal to run beyond the stock 2.4GHz is an understatement. If it had been our £145, we'd cry.

It's extremely rare to find processors that won't overclock at all. But our experience does emphasise that it could be worth paying a premium to get a chip from a site like overclockers.co.uk to ensure we got a Q6600 with guaranteed overclocking headroom. Read the review, score and specs


AMD phenom ii x4 940 black edition
AMD Phenom II X4940 Black Edition - £190

The processor that marked AMD's return to form has grown even more impressive since launch, re-establishing AMD's processors as realistic starting points for building a new system.

This chip's awesome drop-in upgrade potential makes it a winner. If you currently run a budget AMD-based system with an AM2 socket and perhaps a modest dual-core Athlon CPU, upgrade to this will rock your world.

There's no need for a new motherboard or memory, just bung it in and bask in your PC's new multi-core prowess.

With stock clockspeed of 3GHz and 6MB of cache, the 940 is quick by any standard. The fact

that it will run at well over 3.5GHz on air cooling just adds to the attraction. Read the review, score and specs


Intel core i7 920
Intel Core i7 920 - £240

When Intel announced its awesome new Core i7 quad-core processor, we were sure it would be priced out of reach of mere mortals.

After all, in raw performance terms this CPU architecture has no equals. Surely Intel can name its price?

It came as a pleasant surprise when we discovered the 2.66GHz 920 model would retail at under £250. OK, that's a lot of cash, but given that this chip outperforms the £1,000 Core 2 Extreme QX9770 in most benchmarks and beats AMD's Phenom II hands down, you could almost call it a bargain.

The catch? You'll need a new mobo and probably some DDR3 memory costing a grand total of £400. An awesome performer and deeply desirable. Just don't be fooled by the superficially attractive price… Read the review, score and price


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