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In our opinion, CPU selection should be based on a combination of performance, cost, and energy efficiency. With this in mind we created a weighted scoring system, with each aspect having equal worth. The best performing processor in each category received 33.33 points and the rest scored proportionally. The perfect CPU would ideally have a total score of 100. For the energy efficiency portion of score, we assumed that half of its operating life would be at low load (the average of idle and video playback consumption) and the other half at high load (the average consumption during our timed tests).
When all three aspects are taken into account, i3-2100 is the most balanced dual core chip under the US$150 mark. Despite their poor performance and lackluster power efficiency, the Athlon II X2's score well thanks to their extremely low pricing.
Given the dominance of the quad cores in Intel's Sandy Bridge lineup, it is no surprise that the dual core Core i3-2100 is equally impressive. Despite having a large clock speed disadvantage, the i3-2100 matches the much more expensive i5-680 in performance without consuming additional power. The entire i5-6xx series is priced substantially higher than the i3-2100, making them effectively redundant unless price-cuts are introduced. With LGA1155 motherboards now beginning to ship once again, LGA1156, as a platform is not particularly attractive. It may only be worth investing in if a low-end Core i3 is to be paired with a cheap H55 motherboard.
Unfortunately, we don't have many positive things to say about AMD's latest dual core processors. The reality is that the K10 architecture is looking really long in the tooth and it's going to take a lot more than clock speed bumps to stay in the race. The fastest Athlon II and Phenom II X2's are still trying to keep up with Intel's previous generation Clarkdale CPUs, and as such they are completely outmatched by their new Sandy Bridge opponents. Not only is the i3-2100 faster, the difference in energy efficiency is massive, and the integrated graphics baked into every Sandy Bridge CPU also outperform AMD's offerings.
Not content with just dominating the high-end and midrange, Intel is now creeping into the entry level segment of the desktop CPU market with compelling hardware. The Athlon II X2 series still offer good value, but only because Intel has no ultra-cheap alternative. The extra cache provided by the Phenom II X2's isn't beneficial enough in most situations; they are only worth purchasing if you're willing to gamble that the disabled cores are stable/unlockable. At stock settings they don't bring a whole lot to the party in relation to the extra cost and power draw. AMD still has attractive affordable triple and quad cores, but the overall situation is looking grim. AMD's next microprocessor architecture, Bulldozer, is supposed to be released sometime this year, and it needs to deliver a monstrous boost in performance if AMD intends to be competitive again.
Our thanks to Intel and AMD
and for Core i3-2100 and Phenom II X2 565 Black Edition samples used in this review.
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Articles of Related Interest
Asus E35M1-M Pro: AMD Fusion Motherboard
Sandy Bridge, Part 4: Core i5-2400, i5-2500K and i7-2600K CPUs
Sandy Bridge, Part 1: Intel GMA HD 3000/2000 Graphics
AMD Athlon II X3: Affordable Compromise
Athlon II X4 610e & Phenom II X4 910e: 45W & 65W Quad Cores
Intel Core i5-661: A 32nm CPU with Integrated Graphics
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this article in the SPCR forums.
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