Celeron, Pentium Dual Core and Athlon X2: Which One is the Best USD 70 CPU?

Introduction

Today we put together a review comparing the performance of entry-level CPUs on the USD 70 price range: Celeron E1400 (dual-core 2 GHz), Pentium Dual Core E2160 (1.8 GHz), Pentium Dual Core E2180 (2 GHz) and Athlon X2 4600+ (2.4 GHz). With this review we wanted to answer a simply question: which one is the best USD 70 CPU today? We also included on this round-up a Core 2 Duo E4400 (2 GHz). We know that this CPU isn’t on this price range (and not even sold in the US anymore), but we were curious to compare a Celeron, a Pentium Dual Core and a Core 2 Duo all running under the same clock rate (2 GHz in our case) to see what is the performance difference between these Intel CPUs. Which CPU is the winner? Read on!

Let’s first talk about the differences between the reviewed CPUs. In order to facilitate our explanations, we compiled the table below.

CPU Cores Internal Clock External Clock L1 Cache L2 Cache Technology TDP
Athlon X2 4600+ 2 2.4 GHz * 128 KB x2 512 KB x 2 90 nm 65 W
Celeron E1400 2 2 GHz 800 MHz 64 KB x2 512 KB x 1 65 nm 65 W
Pentium Dual Core E2160 2 1.8 GHz 800 MHz 64 KB x2 1 MB x 1 65 nm 65 W
Pentium Dual Core E2180 2 2 GHz 800 MHz 64 KB x2 1 MB x 1 65 nm 65 W
Core 2 Duo E4400 2 2 GHz 800 MHz 64 KB x2 2 MB x 1 65 nm 65 W

* 200 MHz base clock and 1,000 MHz (4,000 MB/s) HyperTransport link.

All Intel CPUs included in our review are based on the same basic chip, codenamed Conroe. The difference between them is the amount of L2 memory cache that was added.  In other words, the difference between Celeron E1000, Pentium Dual Core and Core 2 Duo is the amount of L2 memory cache. So a secondary goal in our review is to see the performance impact when increasing the L2 memory cache, as the models we included were running under the same clock rate (2 GHz).

It is important to remember that Celeron is a name that has been used on processors with several different internal architectures. Celeron from E1000 series are dual-core CPUs based on the same architecture as Core 2 Duo, as explained. Celeron processors from other series are completely different animals. For example Celeron CPUs from 400 series are also based on the same architecture but having only one processing core instead of two. And Celeron D is a single-core CPU based on Pentium 4’s architecture (“D” standards for “Desktop” and not “Dual-core”).

As we mentioned, Core 2 Duo is a CPU that does not compete with the other CPUs included in this review, but since we had a 2 GHz (E4400) model available, we were curious to compare three CPUs with the same architecture and running under the same clock rate, with the only difference between them being the size of the L2 memory cache. E4400 isn’t available in the North American market anymore and today the cheapest Core 2 Duo available is E4500, which runs at 2.2 GHz and is sold around USD 125. Keep also in mind that these Core 2 Duo processors with lower clock rates have an external clock rate of 800 MHz while more expensive models have an external clock rate of at least 1,066 MHz.

The Intel CPUs included in our review has only one L2 memory cache, which is shared by the two cores from the CPU. Athlon X2 uses two L2 memory caches, one for each core.

AMD CPUs have an embedded memory controller. On Intel CPUs the memory controller is located in the chipset (in the north bridge chip, to be more specific). Athlon X2 has a problem where depending on the model the memory won’t run under their maximum clock rate (read here a full description of this issue; affected models are BE-2300, BE-2350, 3600+, 4000+, 4200+, 4400+, 4800+ with 2.5 GHz clock, 5000+ and 6000+). Luckily Athlon X2 4600+ doesn’t suffer from this problem and with this CPU DDR2-800 memories can really run at 800 MHz. Speaking of which, during our reviews we set our memories to always run at 800 MHz with the same timings (5-5-5-18) regardless of the CPU being tested. This is very important to check on a round-up review like this, otherwise some CPU can achieve a higher score than another just because memory was configured differently (different clock rate or different timings).

TDP stands for Thermal Design Power which advises the user of the maximum amount of heat the CPU can dissipate. The CPU cooler must be capable of dissipating at least this amount of heat.

AMD CPUs are based on socket AM2+ while Intel CPUs are based on socket LGA775.

And as a final note, AMD has recently changed the name “Athlon 64 X2” to simply “Athlon X2,” and throughout this review we will be using this new name.

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Author: Gabriel Torres

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.

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