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i recently built a replacement PC for my father, his old machine had become a little world weary and he wanted to upgrade to Windows 7 and have less slowdown and stability issues. As he multitasks a lot with his machine, building his new PC around a nice, fast dual core processor seemed like a good idea.
However, Dad is also on a budget and intel's offering in this area did not leave much in the kitty for a decent amount of RAM and a nice big hard drive. And so I looked to Athlon, a company whose prices have consistently impressed me. In the end we chose the same CPU I placed in my own computer. These processors are phenomenally well priced, this particular model was nearly half the price of the intel equivalent at the time. They around now available for around £30-£40 if you shop around. Much has been said about intel's superior architecture and much is true, a 2.9Ghz intel core 2 duo chip will squeeze more performance out of those Ghz. The question is, does that extra performance equate to the extra 80% implied by the extra cost? Unfortunately not, the Athlon is only around 10-20% slower. In my opinion this makes is far better value.
Installing a CPU is not an incredibly complicated job but done incorrectly, can damage both your processor and your motherboard. It shouldn't be done unless you're absolutely sure what you're doing. If you're an old hand at such things, there's nothing new here and it's a quick job. As usual, the hardest part is installing the cooling unit which has a bit of an awkward clip.
Once installed, the processor will function much like any other. The 2.9 ghz is a good, nippy speed and will probably meet most people's needs. If you're upgrading from a processor with a speed of around 2.5Ghz or below then you'll probably notice the speed boost but it's users on older 1.5-2.0ghz CPUs that will really feel it.
As to the Dual Core architecture, there are a few misconceptions floating around about these processors. Mainly the myth seems to be that a dual core runs everything at double its clock speed, if only this were true. Essentially these chips consist of two processors in a single socket, this makes them capable of processing two sets of instructions at once. However, the vast majority of software will only function with one core at a time and will not operate any faster. What it does mean is that less functions are being loaded onto a single core at once, this vastly improves your computers stability and allows you to run more programmes at once before your PC begins to slow. In practice, they are faster, though not double speed. Most operating systems are specifically coded to take advantage of the dual core setup now and will see some speed increase but the greatest advantage is in the improved stability. Don't let this put you off though, Dual Cores are a great development in processor technology and if you're still running on an old single core CPU then you will notice the upgrade.
These processors are also 64bit compatible. This won't mean much to most people but if you're planning on upgrading to a 64 bit operating system or installing more than 4gigabyte of memory on your system, this CPU will work with such a system.
The Athlon 64 X2 series is a great way to upgrade to dual core and 64bit processing at minimal cost. However, they are getting a little harder to find now so check online first.
I am currently using this processor, and it is great for most of my uses. I am a gamer, and a quite heavy one. This processor does occasionally struggle on the more intensive games, but with a good graphics card, (I am using the HD4850) they will not be very noticeable.
My PC has been running very quickly since the installation of this CPU, which by the way, was a breeze. It is as easy as placing it down onto some pins, locking it in place, applying some thermal paste and attaching the cooler, if you have done it before, or know how, it is very very easy, and even if you haven't, it is very easy to learn.
I have had no problems with this CPU so far too, no overheating or blue screens, and as I have the energy efficient version, I am using less power at the same time. Its a win win situation. :-)