Athlon 64 3800+
AMD’s Athlon 64 3800+ is our CPU pick in the $150-$300 price range. Street prices on these chips can be found just under $300, allowing it to just fit within our budget. Like the 3000+, Athlon 64 3800+ CPUs can be found built on AMD’s Venice core, there may be a few 3800+ chips still floating out there built on AMD’s older Newcastle core, so be careful when shopping.
The Athlon 64 3800+ runs at 2.4GHz, and is a decent candidate for overclocking, although not quite as popular as less expensive Athlon 64 chips like the 3500+ and 3000+. 3800+ chips tend to max out just below 2.8GHz (in the 2.7-2.79GHz range), although 2.8GHz+ is certainly possible with good cooling and a little bit of luck.
The Athlon 64 3500+ is a nice alternative if you can’t afford the Athlon 64 3800+ nearly $300 pricetag. 3500+ chips can be found with the same Venice core and feature set, only they run 200MHz slower than the 3800+ at 2.2GHz, but you save a nice chunk of change in the process. The Athlon 64 3500+ sells for about $80-$90 less than the 3800+.
Athlon 64 X2 4400+
If your budget can allow for it, AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 4400+ is pretty hard to beat in the $500 price range. The Athlon 64 X2 4400+ is built on AMD’s dual-core “Toledo” core, and runs at 2.2GHz.
Unlike less expensive Athlon 64 X2 chips like the 3800+ and 4200+, each of the CPU cores inside the 4400+ contain 1MB of L2 cache. Slower X2 chips contain 512K of L2 cache per core. The extra cache buys you an additional 5-10% in performance.
Even though the processor contains two cores, power consumption is similar to AMD’s single-core chips. This is because AMD has tweaked the chip’s manufacturing process for greater efficiency. As a result, the CPU generates roughly the same amount of heat too. In terms of overclocking, 200MHz is easily achievable, with reports of users going to 2.6GHz or more.
If the Athlon 64 X2 4400+’s nearly $500 price tag is too much for you, the Athlon 64 X2 4200+ can be found for about $100 cheaper, and as we mentioned above only runs about 5-10% slower than the X2 4400+ since both chips run at the same clock speed. Another worthy alternative that sells for even less than both dual-core chips is AMD’s Athlon 64 4000+. The 4000+ was initially based on AMD’s now retired Athlon 64 FX-53 “ClawHammer” CPU core, sporting 1MB of L2 cache and a 2.4GHz clock frequency. (Newer 4000+ chips are built on the “San Diego” core, which is built on AMD’s smaller 90-nm process and incorporates the same features found in Venice. These 4000+ chips are the ones you should be on the look for.)
In fact, thanks to the 4000+’s clock speed advantage it actually runs faster than the aforementioned dual-core processors in games.
Athlon 64 FX-57/X2 4800+
If you’ve got over $500 to spend, AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 4800+ really is about as good as it gets right now. The Athlon 64 X2 4800+ runs at 2.4GHz, and like the Athlon 64 X2 4400+, contains 1MB of L2 cache per core.
At 2.4GHz, the X2 4800+ doesn’t run quite as fast as the 2.8GHz Athlon 64 FX-57 in games when you test at low screen resolutions, but remember that once you crank up the screen res and turn on AA/AF (which is something you’re going to do if you have a high-end graphics card), the X2 4800+ runs just as fast as any other high-end AMD processor, including the more expensive Athlon 64 FX-57.
Where dual-core X2 processors differentiate themselves from older Athlon processors is during multitasking. Your system will be more responsive, especially as you increase system load. Another area where dual-core processors excel is in media encoding. If you find yourself encoding lots of MP3s or movies, these applications will take advantage of the second core in your dual-core processor.