There appeared to be quite a lot of processors in the mainstream price segment, but it is not that hard to single out the most successful ones. Our extensive tests showed that all models split into several performance groups quite clearly, so it is fairly easy for us to put together a list of recommendations for those who look to buy a CPU in the $100-$200 ballpark.
First of all, I have to stress one more time that LGA775 platform is a past stage of the computer evolution. And this conclusion is drawn not only from the age of this platform, or its outdated structure with the memory controller located outside the CPU. Even if we simply look at the benchmark scores, we will see that in all cases CPUs for more contemporary platforms can offer much better performance (this is especially true for dual-core processors). Therefore, we would strongly recommend to avoid building new systems around Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad CPUs. Even if you are going to simply upgrade an LGA775 system, we would urge you to consider replacing the entire platform, as it will have a much great effect in the long run.
Secondly, just like during our Value CPU performance research, we can’t help drawing your attention to the success of Socket AM3 processors. Although, this is only true for quad- and six-core models. AMD adjusted their price list in such a way that in the sub-$180 price range, their processors are almost always the most appealing choice. However, it doesn’t make up for the obvious drawbacks of the Socket Am3 platform: too high power consumption and the lack of high-performance models that could be used for future upgrades.
Thirdly, we can’t leave the LGA1156 platform unnoticed. There are quite a few interesting options for this platform available today. For example, the 196-dollar Core i5-750 is an obvious favorite of this test session, as it appears at the top of many performance charts. If you are looking for something less expensive, then Core i3 family may be able to offer you decent price-to-performance ratio. Although these are dual-core CPUs, Hyper-Threading technology makes them virtually quad-core, so they can really shine in quite a few tests.
In order to illustrate the correlation between the consumer qualities of the tested processors in the mainstream price segment, we put together the following diagram showing the average performance vs. average price.
This diagram suggests the following specific recommendations.
The today’s fastest mainstream processor is undoubtedly Intel Core i5-750. With four pretty fast cores and Turbo Boost technology support this LGA1156 CPU demonstrates high performance in resource-hungry applications, as well as 3D games. In other words, this is a win-win choice. Intel Core i5-750 receives our Editor’s Choice title:
However, some of you may consider Core i5-750 to be overly expensive, and they will be right: this CPU costs almost $200. In this case, we would recommend checking out the entire Phenom II X4 family: Phenom II X4 955, Phenom II X4 965 and Phenom II X4 970. These processors work well in games, and are very effective in a number of other tasks, like video editing, encryption and final rendering. The recipe for their appeal is simple: four “real” cores with high clock frequency and large L3 cache. Besides, do not forget about a nice little bonus: an unlocked clock frequency multiplier.
As for the least expensive options, these are quad-core Athlon II X4 processors. Due to the fact that AMD is always up-to-date regarding the situation in the market and adjusts the pricing accordingly, we would like to recommend Athlon II X4 645 and Athlon II X4 640 processors. These are the today’s most affordable quad-core processors, which is their primary trump. Of course, we don’t always need four cores, but those applications that utilize the processor seriously enough will work way better on a system with quad- rather than dual-core CPU inside.
Summing up, we would like to say that AMD Phenom II X4 955, Phenom II X4 965, Phenom II X4 970, Athlon II X4 645 and Athlon II X4 640 receive our Recommended Buy title:
Core i3 processors also look very good. Of course, they lose to quad-core AMD products in terms of price-to-performance ratio they have to offer, because they have only two computational cores even with Hyper-Threading support. However, Intel has completely different advantages to offer. Core i3 processor family is not just extremely energy-efficient, but these processors also feature an integrated graphics core, which is powerful enough for HTPC systems and doesn’t require any additional cooling, because the regular CPU cooler is more than enough for it. Therefore, Core i3 processors may become a great option for a quiet home system.
And the last recommendation will be for those users who would like to put together a relatively powerful computer system that would work best with well-paralleled tasks. The six-core Phenom II X6 1055T will be the best bet for a platform like that: it offers unmatched performance during video transcoding and rendering in the mainstream price segment. This processor is at the top of the price-to-performance diagram above, which became possible after AMD’s last price reduction. However, keep in mind that far not every application is capable of generating six parallel computational threads, so this six-core CPU may not be a good fit for a gaming system, for instance.