The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

Summary: My favorite CPU of 2011 ... what's yours?

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TOPICS: Processors, Hardware
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With the year drawing to a close, let's take a tour of some of the best hardware of 2011. We'll kick off by looking at the Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011.

The most obvious CPU to pick is the undisputed king of CPUs - Intel's Core i7 990X Extreme Edition. Featuring 6-cores, 12-threads, a whopping 3.46GHz clock speed But there's a downside - it retails for a gasp-inducing $1,000! It's also getting pretty long in the tooth, given that it was first released in February of this year. Not a long time in human terms, or even dog years, but this is eons in processor years, especially given the price.

The same can be said for the newer Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition 3.3GHz Sandy Bridge-E CPU, again from Intel (which has only been out a month). Again, six-cores, 12 thread, awesome processor, but for $1,050, it's way too expensive for us mere mortals. If I was doing a lot of video rendering or 3D work then these CPUs would pay for themselves, but for a system such as a gaming rig, they are crazy overkill.

As impressive the i7 processors are, they're just the latest in a never-ending line of "fastest CPUs for crazy money."

Note: The average performance difference between the 990X and the 3960X is about 12%. When it comes to gaming, there's hardly any difference at all.

Very nice, but it's not the best CPUs of 2011 ...

So, what else?

Another processor that's made a big splash in 2011 is the A5 processor that Apple at the heart of the iPhone 4S and iPad 2.

The A5 isn't a regular CPU, but instead it's a Package on Package (PoP) System on a Chip (SoC) that combines a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU with a dual core PowerVR SGX543MP2 GPU. The CPU runs at 1GHz and has 512MB of on-board RAM.

The A5 is an awesome bit of engineering, and its power and versatility has certainly helped Apple maintain its comfortable advantage over the competition in both the smartphone and tablet markets ...

... but it's not the CPU of 2011.

No, the CPU of 2011 isn't as powerful as the i7 990X, or as sexy as the A5. If anything, it's one of those CPUs that people overlook. But it's certainly a gem.

So, what's my pick for best CPU of 2011?

It's the AMD Phenom II X6 1100T "Black Edition".

Why pick this one? Here you have a six-core consumer CPU running at 3.3GHz (3.7GHz in Turbo mode), and it retails for under $199! This is, quite simply, an awesome processor available for a fantastic price.

While not as fast as the Core i7 990X, you have to remember that the 990X isn't five times faster than the X6 1100T, making the AMD offering a far better deal for gamers and home/business users looking for that CPU packing a lot of horsepower.

Want to know something interesting? This CPU was also my best CPU for 2010. The difference is that back then the same CPU was $270. In real terms there's been little progress as far as high-end CPUs go over the past year. Last year Intel's behemoth (the Core i7 980X Extreme Edition) clocked at 3.33GHz, only 0.13GHz slower than the 990X.

There have been new CPU released during 2011, such as the 8-core AMD FX parts, but my money still goes to the Phenom II X6 as the best overall best CPU of 2011.

[poll id="725"]

Topics: Processors, Hardware

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24 comments
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  • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

    I would go for core i7-2500k. It is a good deal faster than the 1100T for just $20 more. Moreover, I don't think many people need a 6-core processor, even for gaming. Four cores running faster is what I believe is better.
    What's more its TDP is 95W as compared to 125W for the Phenom 6-core. From the value standpoint 2500k stands above all others, whether it is gaming or workstation
    regsrini
    • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

      @regsrini i7 2600K or the i5 2500K, they do not make an i7 2500K
      nucrash
      • My i5 2500k ranks 37

        Overall with the top being... Intel Core i7-3960X @ 3.30GHz. The AMD Phenom II X6 1100T ranks 63rd, in overall benchmarking scores according to http://www.cpubenchmark.net/high_end_cpus.html which is regularly updated. ZDnet must have been bribed by AMD because the i5 2500k is clearly a better buy for the $.
        optimatic
      • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

        @optimatic

        You also need to factor in motherboard price as if changing from AMD, that's an extra $100 for me.

        However if it's AMD FX vs. 2500k then it is better.
        otester
      • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

        @nucrash I actually like the new AMD a-6 series better than anything you have listed. If people can afford an i7, they might look to one. The rest of us need a lot of bang for the buck, and sheer clock speed simply does not equal better performance all the time. The AMD A-series rates in raw speed with the i5's but multi-tasks with the i7 mid-line products for around 10% of the cost of an i7, half the price of the i5. Untill money is no odject I don't see how intel can justify their i5 and i7 pricing structure. i3 is simply not worth mentioning when a black edition phenom II x4 is more than twice as fast at a lower price.
        tjmajka
    • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

      @regsrini I think you meant i5 2500k, exceptionally good CPU and makes use of sandy bridge which is much better for encoding. +1
      RossC0
  • CPU of 2011 should be Intel's 2600 or 2600K!

    CPU of 2011 should be Intel's 2600K. The Processor has been a mover and a shaker giving hyper-threading and overclocking to the masses for under $300 that is so easy grandma can do it.

    While six cores may be better, the sheer pound for pound performance of the 2600K gives a great price and performance mix that AMD has yet to be able to beat with 8 cores. Intel's Core i7 and i5 line up has been phenomenal this year.
    nucrash
  • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

    MY AMD 8120 outperforms my old 1100T by a lot, and they are the same price. It's hard to pick the "Best" CPU though, it really all depends on what the average person can and will spend.
    Bates_
    • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

      @Bates_

      I have been looking for someone to give real world feedback of the Bulldozer AMD-FX Processors. I see a lot of bashing about how they are slower than previous generations and what not but I have always found that the benchmarks on most websites are mostly FUD.

      I currently have an AMD PhenomX4 965 and I like it alot. It performs very well and does the job at a great price. I have always found that AMD gave me good value for my performance dollar.
      bobiroc
  • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

    I personally went for the 1090t (on newegg sale). I'm quite happy with it.
    Aerowind
  • Undisputed king of CPUs?

    "The most obvious CPU to pick is the undisputed king of CPUs - Intel???s Core i7 990X Extreme Edition."

    I would argue that the 990X was usurped by the i7-3960X for that title.
    ImRaptor
  • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

    Tegra3 SoC
    /discussion
    korel31
    • A lot of hype

      @korel31 <br><br>Good for ARM, but bad when you compare against x86 and even chipset-integrated GPU's (or AMD APU's - but NOT Intel HD Graphics). It's power-efficient and all, but the feeling I get from ARM is the feeling I get about VIA processors. Sure, they're energy-efficient, but performance is lacking. My E-350 notebook, which is getting close to a year old, has a small 6-cell battery but lasts 4 hours of heavy use even now (multiple VM's, etc.). I wouldn't want a processor slower than that, and I certainly wouldn't want to give up any graphics performance. Don't get me wrong, I love the machine, and the performance is fine with me especially considering the cost of the machine. Knowing the price though, I would say that this is a reasonable baseline minimum configuration that anyone should buy. Anything lower, and you're making heavy compromises on HD video performance, gaming compatibility, and general CPU performance. NVIDIA hasn't stated what the graphics API level is on Tegra 3 (it's still a work in progress), but ARM chips are typically designed towards OpenGL *ES* 2.0, which is equivalent to about D3D7 specs. AMD's lowest-end APU is still a DX11 part though, and next year it'll be a quad-core, so the actual CPU cores will rival the Tegra3 in specs, but I'd wager heavily that it's also much faster. We'll have to see some WinRT cross-platform application benchmarks to compare the apples and oranges of the two processor architectures running the same workload on Windows 8. I bought a Pandaboard and put Ubuntu on it, but I can tell you that an old Intel Celeron 220 ITX board handles the latest Ubuntu faster than the ARM. The ARM is supposed to do HD video too. It works, but barely. 720p H.264 works, but Flash isn't optimized for it. Now the Celeron 220 board has weaker video output, so it can't really handle much of either, but it's certainly snappier than the ARM platform running the same general tasks.
      Joe_Raby
  • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

    i7-2600k.......nuff said.
    jime2000
  • I'd give it to a high-end Llano APU

    Best integrated graphics by far, and still a decent processor. Not as fast as an i5, but having the Radeon graphics included is like having free gravy for your mashed potatoes. Best platform bang-for-the-buck IMO (even now, with AMD offering RAM), and motherboards are extremely feature complete with ALL SATA ports being 6Gbps, and USB 3.0 aplenty. Hopefully TSMC proves to be better at manufacturing the chips in the new year than GlobalFoundries though.

    I'm interested in seeing how the Bulldozer cores work with the graphics integration in Trinity though. Are the GPU cores going to be in a separate module? Or do they get integrated right into the independent CPU cores in each module?

    I'm also looking forward to the quad-core Brazos platform next year. This is an awesome little platform on the cheap, and nothing Intel has can compete with it in the same price range.

    Intel quit being a platform company a few years ago IMO. They never got that whole thing right. AMD is doing this extremely well now though. Vision is a big success with OEM's, and I hope AMD keeps this up.
    Joe_Raby
    • And another thing

      AMD APU's are the only processors that include integrated graphics that is certified by Microsoft to run RemoteFX for VDI (ie. GPU virtualization for VM's).

      I just wish AMD would make an Opteron APU designed for this purpose. Microsoft no longer requires server-validated processors for Windows logo certification, so it's not much of an issue anymore, except that you'd be using a desktop motherboard without the same features as a server board.
      Joe_Raby
  • Go back two months

    I went with the AMD Phenom II X4 970 Black Edition based on the recommendation of your article, "Build an 'Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim' PC for under $1,000".

    Of course that will have to wait until I get the replacement back from Newegg since the first thing and only thing that lit up on the ASUS M5A99X EVO AM3+ AMD 990X motherboard besides the power light was the CPU dead LED. <sigh>
    Dr_Zinj
  • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

    i7-2600k there is no contest. 5Ghz on air anyone?<br><br>The 1100T is really a pile of rubbish in comparison. The A5 is a pundit's choice, really. It shouldn't even be on the list.
    wendellgee2
  • RE: The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

    I went with the 8-core AMD FX-8150. I still haven't gotten to testing it out fully since I was playing around with Windows Dev Preview as its first install.
    grayknight-22253692004129760887070084760051
  • I like AMD but

    The i5-2500K is clearly a better processor for similar money. Available on sale for $200, easily overclocks to 4 GHQ with no work at all and blows the 1100T away at pretty much every benchmark. Sorry, but this is the wrong choice.
    johnnydoe1894