The once mighty Pentium brand name is now reserved for Intel's bottom dwelling processors. Our first Intel processor under $100 is the Pentium E6600; the flagship model of the Pentium E6xxx series clocked at 3.06GHz and designed to run on the aging LGA775 platform.
This is a relatively new processor that saw the light on January of this year. Its cheaper and slower counterparts, the 2.93GHz Pentium E6500 and 2.80GHz Pentium E6300 were released last year in August and May, respectively. Essentially, these are not entirely new processors but rather 45nm versions of the original Core 2 Duo E6400 and E6300. Other than the design process and operating frequency they are identical.
In fact, an even closer comparison would be with the "Wolfdale-3M" processors of the Core 2 Duo E7xxx series. These have a 3MB L2 cache as opposed to 2MB on the Pentium E6xxx series, but share every other specification -- same frequency, number of cores and threads, manufacturing process technology and TDP rating.
The Pentium E6600 doesn't appear to be a great buy at $100 when you consider it is based on almost 3 year old technology. Although it is still fit to perform general tasks and should do so well, the Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition seems like a better deal at the same price. We'll let the numbers speak for themselves when we put both to the test.
Intel Pentium G6950 = $95
The Pentium G6950 is by far Intel's best showing in this round-up, and at $95 it is virtually the same price as the Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition. Although it is almost pointless to compare the specifications of these two processors as they are based on very different architectures, we will give you a quick summary.
The dual-core Pentium G6950 carries 256KB L2 cache per core and a shared 3MB L3 cache, whereas the Phenom II X2 555 is better equipped on both fronts with 512KB L2 cache per core and larger 6MB L3 memory. AMD's processor is also clocked higher at 3.2GHz compared to the 2.8GHz frequency of the Pentium G6950.
Despite all these perceived disadvantages the Pentium G6950 is based on Intel's 32nm Clarkdale architecture, which has proven to be great when it comes to efficiency. Utilizing dual-channel DDR3 memory on the LGA1156 platform the Pentium G6950 is surprisingly speedy, too. Compared to the more expensive Core i3 processors, the Pentium G6950 features a slightly smaller L3 cache and Hyper-Threading support has been dropped.
Given that the Pentium G6950 utilizes the LGA1156 socket we feel it is Intel's only viable option in the sub-$100 price range for new system builders. There is really no point investing in the LGA775 platform from scratch with the limited or should we say non-existent upgrade path it provides.
Intel Pentium E5400 = $70
Like the Pentium E6xxx, the E5xxx series is also designed for the LGA775 socket. There is almost no difference between the two -- at least nothing that will make any tangible performance difference. The key change is that the latter lacks Intel Virtualization Technology for x86 (Intel VT-x) support, which is not something the average user will miss.
There are two Pentium E5xxx processors currently selling: the E5300 and E5400 models. The buying decision can easily be narrowed down to the slightly faster E5400 for $5 more. At $70, this chip offers 2.70GHz clock speeds using a relatively high 13.5x multiplier with a 200MHz FSB.
In terms of value the Pentium E5xxx series is not just better than the Pentium E6xxx because they are cheaper. The lower FSB means they use higher clock multipliers and thus are more capable overclockers. For example, increasing the FSB from 200MHz to 266MHz allowed our E5400 processor to operate at a more impressive 3.60GHz.
While this is an excellent result, these processors are only useful for those already using an LGA775 motherboard. And chances are anyone with an LGA775 system is going to have a processor that is equal to or greater than the Pentium E5400 in terms of performance, since the initial Core 2 Duo processors shared similar specifications.
Intel Celeron E3300 = $52
The Celeron E3300 is not quite as affordable as the $33 Sempron 140 from AMD, but it's a dual-core processor. Interestingly, there are no new 'retail' Celeron parts for the LGA1156 platform, which means the Pentium G6950 is the only processor in this price range you can buy for that socket right now. A Celeron G1101 model based on the 32nm Clarkdale architecture is available but only as an OEM part.
The Celeron E3300 might only be 8 months old but it's nothing new for the LGA775 socket. Based on the 45nm "Wolfdale-3M" architecture, the Celeron E3xxx series features a 1MB L2 cache and uses a 200MHz FSB. The Celeron E3300 operates at 2.50GHz versus the more expensive E3400 that does the trick at 2.60MHz.
This tiny 4% increase in clock speed comes at a 19% price premium, so we chose the more affordable Celeron E3300 for our comparison. This is not a processor that we feel many of you will want to purchase. Those building a new system from the ground up would be wise to invest in the LGA1156 platform instead, while those already stuck with an LGA775 system will likely own a faster processor already.
Despite being reserved for those on an extremely tight budget and looking to build the cheapest computer system possible, it will be interesting to see how this low cost processor fares against the AMD competition.
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