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Dual-Core CPU Buyer's Guide

With Intel and AMD embroiled in a performance and price war, choosing a desktop processor can be tough. We'll make the decision easier with a guide to chip choices and specs, as well as pointers to some bargains.

If you've been sitting on the fence trying to decide whether to jump into the dual-core market, dither no more. Not only have the prices of dual-core processors come way down in the past year, but performance has been kicked up several notches. In May, AMD refreshed the high end of its Athlon line, and in July Intel introduced its long-awaited Core 2 Duo (formerly codenamed Conroe) chips -- the first desktop processors in its new "Core" microarchitecture.

"Now is a great time to buy," said Chris Walker, Intel's director of desktop CPU marketing. Sure, Walker's got some skin in that game -- Intel is intent on a successful launch for its new Core 2 Duo lineup. But from a consumer perspective, he's correct. The Core 2 Duo introduction touched off a price war between Intel and AMD. The upshot is that the latest chips from both vendors are far less expensive than they were only a short time ago, and many older dual-core processors are available for what amount to bargain prices.

Dual-Core Buyer's Guide

•  Introduction

•  Performance Dual-Core CPUs

•  Mainstream Dual-Core CPUs

•  Bargain Dual-Core CPUs

•  Single-Core CPUs

•  Quick Charts: Specs & Prices

In terms of the technology, both Intel and AMD have made significant strides since our last CPU buyer's guide, published in August 2005. Intel has updated the venerable NetBurst architecture used in its Pentium processor family with Core and Core 2 Duo. AMD has introduced its new AM2 socket, which effectively doubles the processor-to-memory bandwidth by adding support for DDR2 RAM.

To give you the information you need to make an informed decision, we've corralled all the processor specs into a comprehensive buyer's guide. As in last year's guide, we've covered both the Intel and the AMD lineups. Our emphasis is on dual-core -- soon, pretty much everything will be dual-core. Indeed, Intel expects to ship 10 million of its new dual-core chips within the next few months.

However, we're also listing a complete crop of single-core chips. Before you pooh-pooh such CPUs, remember that they offer the biggest bargains going if your PC usage steers away from gaming and multimedia in favor of everyday computing tasks such as e-mail and Web browsing.

For easier reading, we've separated the processors into four categories: performance dual-core CPUs, mainstream dual-cores, "bargain" dual-cores, and single-core CPUs. Along with descriptions of the chips, we bring you specs and the prices you can expect to pay in handy quick-reference charts.

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