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Hardware 2.0: Best CPUs and motherboards list (2012 edition)

Let's kick off this series by looking at processors and motherboards in three different price categories.

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Topic: Hardware
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1 of 7 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Best CPUs and motherboards list of 2012

You asked for it, so here it is: the first installment of the final "Hardware 2.0" Best Kit Lists for 2012.

We're kicking off this series by looking at CPU and motherboards in three different price categories -- extreme, mainstream, and budget, where we're going to look at CPUs and motherboards ranging from an eye-watering $1,000 to a very reasonable $50.

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Extreme: Intel Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition - six-core, 3.5GHz

This is the king of CPUs.

The Core i7 processors represents a new era in architecture for Intel, and the 3970X the next stage in desktop processors based on the Sandy Bridge-E architecture -- the next stage in evolution of the six-core CPU.

This is a 3.5GHz part that can be Turbo Boosted up to a whopping 4.0GHz. It has six cores, which when combined with Hyper-Threading makes a whopping 12 threads available. Add to this 15MB L3 cache, triple-channel DDR3-1066 memory interface, 150W TDP.

The ideal choice for hardcore gamers, video editors, and show-offs!

Price: $1,080.

Image source: Intel.

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Extreme: ASUS Rampage IV Extreme

An extreme CPU needs an extreme motherboard, and they don't come much more extreme than the ASUS Rampage IV Extreme.

This board supports the Socket 2011 found on the Intel Core i7-3970X and offers support for up to 64GB RAM via 8 DIMM slots, and comes with a total of support for 12 separate USB 2.0 ports, eight USB 3.0 ports, and eight 6Gb/s SATA ports.

The OC Key allows system information to be overlayed on the screen, showing you real-time information when you want need.

Price: $450.

Image source: ASUS.

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Mainstream: AMD A10-5800K - quad-core, 3.8GHz

The AMD A10-5800K APU is the flagship of Trinity series, and features quad-core CPU with up to 3.8GHz/4.2GHz Turbo clock, and an AMD Radeon HD 7660D GPU to provide best-in-class performance and 3D gaming.

The A10-5800K is also fully unlocked, making it overclocker-friendly.

A super CPU for anyone thinking of building a mainstream PC.

Price: $130.

Image source: AMD.

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Mainstream: Gigabyte GA-F2A85X-UP4

A superb choice for the FM2 socketed AMD A10-5800K APU.

This motherboard supports 64GB RAM, and USB 3.0, and comes with seven SATA 6Gb/s ports, HDMI, DisplayPort, and D-Sub/DVI video output. A solid, well-made board that offers comprehensive features for those looking to do a little overclocking.

Price: $130.

Image source: Gigabyte.

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Budget: Intel Celeron G540 - dual-core, 2.5GHz

Nowhere near as attractive as the Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition, but the Sandy Bridge-based Celeron G540 is a great choice for those looking for those looking for a cheap processor.

Along with a solid 2.5 GHz processor, you will receive on-board Intel HD graphics, which means that you don't need a separate graphics card. It's not going to run Crysis 2 with all the options turned up to the max, but it's a fine general purpose GPU.

Price: $50.

Image source: Intel.

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Budget: MSI H61M-P31 (G3)

When buying a cheap CPU, you don't want to then go overspending on a motherboard. This motherboard is the perfect companion to a $50 CPU, featuring six USB 2.0 ports, four SATA 3GB/s ports, and support for 16GB RAM.

Price: $50.

Image source: MSI.

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