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04:13 PM

Choose Wisely: Which Chip To Buy And When To Buy It

So you want to upgrade processors this year. Before you spend a cent, remember it's always prudent to wait for performance results for newly released CPUs before you buy. Given Intel's new direction for later this year, this is doubly important.

If you're thinking of buying Intel processors:
Intel's early 2006 release of the 900 series of Pentium D dual-core processors should result in low prices for 800-series dual-core CPUs. This may present the opportunity to buy fairly high-quality PCs or processors at low prices. The 900-series processors should be faster, but not a great deal faster. Other than the change to a 65-nanometer process, there aren't many differences.

If you're going to be in the market for a new PC or Socket 775 processor mid-year, and price will take a backseat to performance, you probably should wait until the fall or winter and get your hands on a Conroe CPU. This processor should present a marked increase in performance over the current generation of Intel dual-cores, but we won't know until it's released whether it's faster than AMD's Socket AM2-based Athlon 64 X2 CPUs. If you can't wait for high performance, you should be OK with Intel's recently released 955XE CPU; it's generating favorable performance reviews.

If you're looking to buy a large number of low- or midrange PCs or processors, wait until the end of the year, when the new CPUs will result in massive price drops for existing Pentiums--especially if the name changes.

If you're leaning toward AMD's chips:
For optimum performance, don't buy anything until the second half of 2006 when Socket AM2--or whatever it ends up being called--debuts. The unbuffered DDR2 support should offer a dramatic performance increase. If you're an Athlon 64 FX devotee, cross your fingers and hope that AMD releases an M2-based FX CPU toward the end of the year.

Can't wait to upgrade to a power rig? Then you should consider buying an FX-60. If you're just looking for some high-end performance to hold you over until the end of the year, consider FX-59 or FX-57, both of which should experience significant price drops in the next few months as the FX-60 becomes widely available.

If you're looking for low price, Sempron is the way to go. Wait until AMD releases the Sempron 3500+, 3600+, or 3700+ sometime in the first half of this year, and you'll find a great price/performance ratio. You also might want to consider Intel's low-end dual-core processors, which offer excellent price and performance.

For bargain hunters, the best time to buy older Athlon 64 or Sempron CPUs most likely will be after June. The release of AMD's Socket M2 should result in substantial price drops for all non-M2 parts.

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