Whether building a new desktop PC or upgrading your current system, choosing the right processor is of utmost importance. Because it is the heart of your system, take some time to get the best processor you can afford. Here I will look at what I think are the five best processors available for under $500. Chips specifications and details come directly from Intel or AMD; see links below for detailed specifications and pricing.
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550S Yorkfield 2.83GHz, $350
If you already have an LGA775 motherboard, the Q9550S makes a great upgrade. This 2.83GHz quad-core has a hefty 12MB L2 cache and only requires 65 watts of power. The large cache makes this chip an all around great performer. Unfortunately the price is higher than newer, faster i5 and i7 models.
Intel Core i7-2600K Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz, $330
The new Sandy Bridge CPUs from Intel offer great performance and have become more affordable than ever. The i7-2600K is a quad-core 3.4 GHz chip, which can turbo boost to 3.8 GHz in certain conditions. The four cores, hyperthreading and the turbo speed make this an excellent choice for video rendering and other processor-intensive tasks. It is also unlocked, making it a great choice for overclocking and gaming as well. Intel knows that their performance is top notch in certain classes and price their chips accordingly.
Intel Core i5-680 Clarkdale 3.6GHz, $310
If you don’t need a quad-core CPU or you don’t intend to overclock, the i5-680 is a good, albeit still expensive choice, offering a native 3.6 GHz speed and hyperthreading. For general computing and multitasking, this chip is excellent. It also can turbo-boost to 3.86 GHz in certain conditions.
Remember that Intel is not the only game in town. AMD makes some great processors, and the low prices make them an excellent value. Here are two in particular that stand out.
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition, $200
AMD Black Edition processors are favorites of overclockers, and the Phenom II X6 1090T is no exception. For a multitasker who will be running several virtual machines, this is the processor for you. It offers six cores at 3.2 GHz and a 6MB Level three cache. The level two cache is only 512K per core, but in real world use it performs well.
AMD Phenom II X4 820 Deneb 2.8GHz, $105
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get great performance. The Phenom II X4 820 is a quad-core CPU that will only set you back $105. Use the money you save on more RAM or other components. Perhaps the best thing about the Phenom II chips is that they fit an AM3 socket, making them great upgrades to existing systems. The 820 is a 95 watt CPU, so be sure to select a proper power supply that will accommodate your peripherals.
These days a $500 budget will get you an excellent amount of processing power for whatever task you need. Intel offers top-notch performance that only the most hardcore gamers and enthusiasts will need, but for overall value, AMD offers the best balance of price and speed.
Intel Core i7 2600K: http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=52214
Intel Core i7 2600K Pricing: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115070&Tpk=i7%202600k
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550S: http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=40815
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550S Pricing: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115210&Tpk=q9550s
Intel Core i5 680: http://ark.intel.com/Product.aspx?id=48504
Intel Core i5 680 Pricing: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819115227
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T: http://products.amd.com/pages/DesktopCPUDetail.aspx?id=640&f1=&f2=&f3=&f4=&f5=&f6=&f7=&f8=&f9=&f10=&f11=&f12=
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Pricing: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103849&cm_re=Phenom_II_X6_1090T-_-19-103-849-_-Product
AMD Phenom II X4 820: http://products.amd.com/pages/DesktopCPUDetail.aspx?id=634&f1=&f2=&f3=&f4=&f5=&f6=&f7=&f8=&f9=&f10=&f11=&f12=
AMD Phenom II X4 820 Pricing: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103824&cm_re=Phenom_II_X4_820-_-19-103-824-_-Product