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How to Upgrade a CPU, part 1
AMD vs. Intel, New RAM, New PC!
January 11, 2010
Upgrading a CPU is always a what-if proposition. Sometimes you can do it, sometimes you can't. First question to answer is does your motherboard support a newer CPU? If the answer is Yes, chances are you will then get sucked into a whirlwind of Yes-Buts. Yes, but maybe I'll need a bigger CPU cooler, and maybe there isn't room. Yes, but it doesn't support faster RAM, and shouldn't I have faster RAM to get the most out of my CPU? Yes, but it might require a BIOS upgrade, and do I really want to hassle with that?
Then there is the question of how many cores. Two, three, four? The more-is-better mentality can suck you into spending a lot of money. Dual-core is easy: yes, two are better than one in nearly all circumstances. Some factors to keep in mind:
AMD vs. IntelAMD or Intel? I haven't used many Intel processors in recent years because AMD have traditionally cost less, and performed well. The Intel multi-core processors have been getting great press and dominating the benchmarks, though AMD has been holding its own. But that would have required a new motherboard. My existing board supports Socket AM2 and AM2+, and with a BIOS upgrade AM3. My board, like so many of them, requires a DOS boot floppy disk to flash the BIOS. I don't even have a floppy disk drive, and depending on Windows for a BIOS flash is stupid, hey how about that proprietary innovation.
My existing board has one more limitation, and that is support for a maximum 95 watts TDP (thermal design power). Some processors go as high as 140 watts.
So I chose the path of least work and expense, and went with a Phenom 8750 X3 Black Edition, $73 and free shipping from Newegg. This replaced an Athlon LE-1620, 2.4GHz Single Core. The Phenom has three 2.4GHz cores, and hardware virtualization support
The Phenom presents some interesting possibilities: the Black Edition has an unlocked multiplier, and it has a disabled fourth core. The fourth core is disabled because it failed AMD's quality control; that is where Phenom X3s come from, failed X4s. A defective core is no good, of course, but it will be fun to try a bit of overclocking and unlocking. Sometimes the fourth core does work. If you really want four cores, buy four cores; it's not worth gambling on getting a magic X3 just to save a few dollars.