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The Hardware 2.0 Best CPU of 2011

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

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.

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