When you buy a car, you select from a handful of engine options. It's simple. You can choose from a 4, 6 or 8 cylinder engine.
When you buy a notebook or desktop PC, there are dozens upon dozens of engine options known as the central processing units or CPUs for short. And Intel and AMD keep releasing new ones, which is maddening because it's usually when you're just beginning to understand the terminology and features of their prior lines.
PC CPUs are not just important in considering performance and power consumption, either. They add a lot to the price of a PC: today's new crop cost anywhere from $74-$1,000 for Intel's most powerful Core i7 CPU.
So Intel has its new Core 13, i5 and i7 lines which together offer 28 different models for consumers PCs (business PCs are another ballgame entirely). And I was just getting used to Intel's Core 2 Duo technology which I recall had twice as many models as the new Core lines. Among its 12 different lines of notebook and desktop CPUs, AMD has it new Athlon II desktop processors.
Like many consumers, I have a rule of thumb: if a Core i3 notebook costs $600 and a Core i7 notebook $1,200, the latter must be twice as fast. It's a horribly inaccurate and potentially expensive way of working through the problem, but I suspect that all but the serious techies apply this rule.
Thanks to Slashdot, I found the mother of all reviews for the latest AMD and Intel CPUs and it concludes that the best CPU for you is, well...it depends.
The review, produced by one Scott Wasson on The Tech Report: PC Hardware Explored, conducted 21 different tests on the CPUs including two popular performance-demanding games, Borderlands and Modern Warfare II. Posted just two days ago, "Core i3 Takes on Athlon II" is an 18 web-page tome chock full of charts, grafs photos and explanations assessing the new processors.
It's not for the tech timid, but is worth exploring even if you are not a gamer needing to crank out frames per second better known as animation video.
I slogged through all 18 pages, anxiously anticipating the conclusion which I knew would not be all that definitive. Wasson admits that "the amount of information we've foisted upon you is otherwise inexcusable, I'm aware."
But he comes to some interesting and exhaustively-tested conclusions although within the major three, only once does he pick a single vendor (and his picks do not always match his "dollar perperformance chart" above). Next time you're shopping for a desktop or notebook, take a look at Wasson's work and if you find it credible like I did, remember the model numbers below. Bear in mind that sometimes it sounds like he's writing for people building their own PCs.
1) “The [AMD] Athlon II X4 635 leads slightly in overall performance [over the Intel Core i3-530] and…in terms of performance value. Either of these CPUs [are] a pretty good choice, but I’d make mine a Core i3-530.”
2) “I suppose I should say a word or two about the cheaper processors, as well. The Athlon II X2 255 and the Pentium E6500 pretty much tied in our overall performance index and, heck, in quite a few individual tests.”
3) “Before we go, we can’t ignore the fact that our overall leader in both power efficiency and performance per system cost was the Core i5-750. If you’re purely rational about these things—and you can afford to spend nearly $200 on a CPU—the i5-750 is obviously the best choice among the processors we tested.”
Follow me on Twitter.