Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

Summary: In this first post I'll be looking at the best of the best Intel CPUs in three price brackets - Budget, mainstream and high-end. To give you even more value I'll also suggest a motherboard to match the CPU in each price bracket.


With great choice, comes great responsibility when it comes to picking the right part for the right job. One type of question that I field a lot is "What's the best XYZ for $XXX?"

To try to lift some of the fog surrounding what the best bang for the buck when it comes to CPUs and GPUs I've put together a series of posts that I will update on a regular basis looking at just that.

In this first post I'll be looking at the best of the best Intel CPUs in three price brackets - Budget, mainstream and high-end. To give you even more value I'll also suggest a motherboard to match the CPU in each price bracket.

Note: If you are interested in purchasing any of these components do a search using the terms I've highlighted in bold either via a search engine or at your favorite supplier.

Also note that all prices are approximate.

Quick-jump: Budget | Mainstream | High-end

Next -->


It's sometimes harder to choose the right part at the budget end than it is at the high-end.

The cheapest Intel processor (the Intel Celeron 430) sells for a shade over $40, but this is a 1.8GHz single-core part. Ideal if you don't have anything particularly challenging to throw at it, but the single-core is a pretty big weakness, especially to power a modern operating system like Windows 7.

If you throw a little more money at the CPU, say another $10 you can grab an Intel Celeron E3300 2.5GHz dual-core part. At around $52 this part offers not only an extra core but a lot more power.

Throw another $10 at the CPU and for around $62 you can get the Intel Celeron E3500 which is also dual-core but bumps the speed up to 2.7GHz.

Since we're spending the minimum possible on silicon here, we need to keep the motherboard modest too. That said, it still needs to be a decent board in terms of stability.

These CPUs all need a Socket LGA 775 motherboard.

The board I'm going with here is the BIOSTAR G31D-M7 featuring the G31 chipset. It's a very basic board but does offer limited on-board graphics in the form of an Intel GMA 3100 GPU - nothing special but if you're not planning on gaming or HD video, it's fine. Price is a very reasonable $39.

Budget Intel CPU summary

  • Intel Celeron 430 - Single core - 1.8GHz - 32KB + 32KB L1 cache - 512KB L2 cache - $40
  • Intel Celeron E3300 - Dual core - 2.5GHz - 1MB L2 cache - $52
  • Intel Celeron E3500 - Dual core - 2.7GHz - 1MB L2 cache - $62

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OK, going mainstream gives us some more money to play with. A lot more considering Intel's top-end CPUs go for $1,000! Fortunately though, you don't have to spend as much as you think you might.

Looking through Intel's current line-up of CPUs and one stands out head and shoulders above the rest in the mainstream category - and it's only a shade over $200.

The CPU I have in mind is the quad-core, 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 760. This is a fantastic CPU retailing for $210. The four cores give you flexibility to carry out complex multitasking operations and do heavy lifting associated with multimedia rendering.

However, if you think that two cores is enough and you'd rather have more horsepower, then for pretty much the same price you can pick up a dual-core 3.33GHz Intel Core i5 661.

Both the CPUs I've listed need the newer Socket LGA 1156 motherboard.

The board I'm going for to match these CPUs is the Elitegroup ECS H55H-I. For $80 you get a good solid board.

Mainstream Intel CPU summary

  • Core i5 760 Quad core - 2.8GHz - 8MB L3 cache - $210
  • Core i5 661 - Dual core - 3.33GHz - 4MB L3 cache - $210

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High-end is where things become fun - well, as long as you think spending money is fun.

At the high-end is the king of desktop CPUs - the Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition. This is a monster six-core, 3.33GHz part that represents the absolute best of the best - it should, for $999! When it comes to CPUs, this one is the best of the best of the best ... with honors!

The i7 980X needs a Socket LGA 1366 motherboard, and one of the best boards featuring this socket is the EVGA E758-A1. This is a super board featuring 2-way and 3-way SLI and Crossfire support, meaning you can choose to go with NVIDIA or AMD for your GPU.

High-end Intel CPU summary

  • Core i7 980X Extreme Edition - Hexa core - 3.33GHz - 6 x 256KB L2 cache - 12MB L3 cache - $999

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Topics: Intel, CXO, Enterprise Software, Hardware, Legal, Processors

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  • Perhaps a little too budget?

    I understand the idea that budget is supposed to be cheap but I don't believe in sacrificing basic performance just to save money. Try running full screen flash videos like Hulu or Netflix with a Celeron and the ancient GMA graphics and all you'd get is a choppy mess. I feel like the only people who would get any use out of that budget CPU is grandparents who might use the web for getting supermarket coupons. Anyone else would be better served with a cheap Core i3. Yeah double the price but exponentially more performance.

    Also, nice Men in Black quote on the high end CPU. Made me chuckle.
    • Celeron E3300 and Flash or Hulu. What problems?

      @ajprove I have a Celeron E3300 on a GM315TM-P21 with 2 Gig 667 RAM and do not get poor service with Hulu, Flash, or any other online video service. Before this, I used a Celeron 430 in a Shuttle X-45 with the same RAM. No problems. I even use full screen. No problems. Ubuntu 10.04 is my main OS. I do not have problems when I use WinXP in Virtual Box with 1Gig usable RAM and two cores.

      While I accept that better CPUs exist, and eventually I'll upgrade, I do not feel that the Celeron line is as bad as others make it. The point of this blog was to show what is available and what they are best for.

      PS: And I thought the Windows v Mac v Linux postings got heated. Too many flamewars and fanboys in the computer world.
      • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

        @pfyearwood don't just stick to intel, give a try on AMD , LLANO processor is going to be released just give a glance then decide
      • Yep, I agree

        @pfyearwood As I pointed out earlier I have an E6300 which is only 1.86 (the lowest speed of the desktop core 2 duo line). No problems at all.
      • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

        My older brother, an IT consultant, is an AMD fan. It is that Fry's had an MSI/E3300 combo for $44 with a $10 rebate. Kinda hard to pass that up. I forgot to mention that I run Ubuntu in 64 bit. and I use Virtual Box.The E3300 lists at 2.5 Gig dual core.

        I do look at AMD,it is just that with I'm buying, I get better combo deals with Intel.
    • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

      @ajprove I agree. Maybe it's my pitiful past experience with Celerons/Semprons, etc. i3 should be the minimum.
    • Um, not a chance

      @ajprove an i3 does not have exponentially more performance. I doubt it even has a 50% performance gain. I have a much slower processor than the celeron mentioned an E6300 (1.86) and can watch Hulu and really any high definition video just fine and smooth. The difference is more likely that I have a discrete gpu which I think I paid $70 or so for. My guess is I can do better with my rig than an i3 with integrated graphics.
    • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

      @ajprove I wouldn't buy that little single core Celeron either, but you're wrong when you say it won't run that streaming video. My wife's three year old Lenovo 1.86 GHZ Celeron laptop, with Windows 7 64 bit runs all the streaming video out there perfectly with 3 gigs of ram. We hook her laptop up to our 47 inch LG big screen, no lag whatsoever. That's in full 1920x 1080p HD. But you could take a high end Core i7 with discrete graphics, with a slow internet connection, and it would lag and be choppy. <br> PS anybody who tries this, You have to turn off your laptop monitor, or else it will run your TV at your laptops native resolution. But turn off your laptop monitor and you can run full 1080p. Even on a crappy old single core Celeron, with a VGA cable. Just close out other programs and it's fine.
  • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

    Adrian; Isn't this Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition also a monster to cool???
    • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

      @puppadave The Scythe Mugen-II with a pair of 800rpm fans in push/pull will cool this monster, and do it silently.
    • Master Joe Says...No Issues Here

      @puppadave Throw some Arctic Silver 5 cooling compound on it, and a decent cooler (mine is a $120 CPU cooler, but also cools the RAM and even some of the north bridge, so worth it for that. My room gets into the upper 80s during the summer, and this CPU still stays nice and cool inside my Lian Li P80 case. I have the EVGA 4-way SLI board, and it is a bit warmer than the CPU on any given measurement. But, no temps inside my case are too high. I had a Cooler Master V7 cooling it before, and it was just fine then as well.
  • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

    I would NEVER put a Celeron in a client's machine. If they cannot afford a better processor, they should stick to paper and pencil. The user dissatisfaction from a Celeron lasts far longer than the fleeting happiness of a cheap price.

    Very adequate business machines can be made with modest E6500 processors and P31-powered 775 boards with onboard graphics. It really depends on the user requirements. My business clients do not use their workstations for video entertainment or gaming.

    User apps that don't take full advantage of multiple cores are better served with a faster two-core processor. Leave the more expensive quads to the gamers or video encoders.

    I won't touch an ECS board no matter what. For years, they have been corner-cutting types with crappy, cheap capacitors. Spend a little more and buy a quality board with solid polymer caps. The Gigabyte Ultra Durable is my personal choice, because I have no problems/call backs with them.
    • Why especially if the performance is as good.

      @bgavin I have an E6300 and it works well for almost all uses (except the most hard core of games). Plenty of performance. And it is almost a gigahertz slower than the celeron E3500. For $60 I think it would be a heck of an upgrade. Besides, it has 64 bit which my E6300 doesn't and virtualization support.
    • ECS boards versus others

      @bgavin <br><i>I won't touch an ECS board no matter what. For years, they have been corner-cutting types with crappy, cheap capacitors. Spend a little more and buy a quality board with solid polymer caps. </i><br><br>Agreed. ECS produces value line boards, ones not meant to be pushed in anything but mild ways. There may be an exception or two kicked out every now and then but I sure haven't noticed many over the years. I'm surprised ECS even shows up on the low end of things here, considering how many more budget worthy choices exist.

      Gigabyte, MSI and even Biostar produce better BFTB economy boards, doubly so if you're looking to max things out or overclock the platform.
    • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs


      Agre about ECS boards. Just had one die. Thought it was the PSU - replaced it and on startup noticed a puff of smoke from a pot next to the CPU. Now I have 2 blown PSUs worth more than the board.
  • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

    I am currently running on an Intel Core i7 CPU Q720 @1.60 GHZ. This is installed on a Toshiba Satellite A665 with an Nvidia GeForce 310M. This is running on Windows7 Home Premium. My question is this; What mother board is on this machine?
    How do I find this out and how do I see if it is matched properly? This machine is quick and powerfull but sometimes lags on performance when I have 4 or more applications open plus internet and email. I am currently attending college online for my MBA and would like to know if there is anything I an do to better the performance. I also am running 4GB of DDR3 memory.
    Thank you for your time.
    • Laptop motherboards


      More than likely it is a Toshiba custom design for their laptops.

      If you are running a 32 bit version of Win7, you've got the maximum amount of RAM already. If you are running a 64-bit version, you might check if you can upgrade the memory to 8GB. Another item is the hard drive. It might be worthwhile to look at getting a SSD to replace your current hard drive -- the caveat being that the new drive will likely have much lower capacity and cost a lot more.

      On my daughter's HP with it's dual drive bays, I installed a 64GB SSD drive as her boot/swap/program drive and used her old 500GB drive as a secondary drive where all her data is stored. She's a happier camper now.
      • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs


        That is a good bit of advice with the SSD drive. For writing things on a regular basis, they are poor. As a program drive, they are very good, though I would move the swap file off the SSD drive to the regular hard drive.
      • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

        @DNSB I am running 64 bit Windows home Premium. Adding a drive sounds like a great idea if you have another drive bay, but I don't. i already know that I can add 4 more gigs of ram but hat would mean totally replacing the 2 gig modules with two 4 gigs modules of ram. nothing like just throwing away two perfectly capable 2 gigs of ram a piece. Thanks rshick
      • RE: Best of the Best - Part 1 - Intel CPUs

        If you usually use your notebook plugged in, you might find it more economical to go for a 7200 rpm drive. Most notebooks come with a 5400 rpm drive, and that is noticeably slower. You have to trade off battery life for speed, but save a lot of money over SSD's.