AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ - $357.00 Newegg While dual-core support is still in its infancy among games, with only a handful of titles taking advantage of the processorís second core, support for dual-core processors and multithreading in general is quite mature in the realm of audio/video encoding. Since this is a task that many HTPCs will be called on to perform quite regularly, it was important to us that the HTPC we were building supported dual-core technology.
With this in mind we were left to debate between AMD or Intel. As you probably know by now, AMDís processors are better overall performers than Intelís right now, but Intelís dual-core processors are priced extremely competitively. According to Price Watch, prices on Pentium D CPUs start right around $150, whereas the cheapest Athlon 64 X2 processors start at just under $300. You can nearly buy two Pentium D 820s for the price of one Athlon 64 X2 3800!
Besides performance, one additional area that the Athlon 64 X2 line has over Pentium D however is thermals. AMDís CPUs simply generate less heat than the equivalent processor from Intel. This is especially important in an HTPC, as the CPU will often have to sit in a smaller case, with less room available for high-end CPU coolers, not to mention less than ideal airflow. With the processor generating more heat, you run the risk of the CPU cooler generating more noise, which is something you donít want in an HTPC when youíre trying to watch a movie, particularly if itís a drama with lots of dialogue (where the scenes are quieter) and light on action.
Because of this, we elected to go with AMDís Athlon 64 X2 line of processors. Excess noise is something we just didnít want to run the risk of compromising on, plus the X2ís a little faster than Pentium D anyway. In particular we chose the Athlon 64 X2 4200+. The 4200+ ships with 512K of L2 cache per core just like the X2 3800+, but runs a little faster at 2.2GHz versus the 3800ís 2.0GHz. While we didnít overclock the processor, in terms of overclocking potential, itís not uncommon for the 4200+ to hit speeds as high as 2.7GHz on air, while the 3800+ has been known to go as high as 2.5GHz with conventional cooling.
Alternatives: Besides the Athlon 64 X2 4200+, another solid alternative would be the aforementioned 3800+. The 3800+ runs a little slower, but sells for about $60 less than the 4200+. We figured the extra clock speed was worth the extra $60, but if youíve got to stick to a budget, that $60 saved could definitely come in handy. Another excellent alternative to either X2 processor would be the AMD Opteron 165. The Opteron 165 ships with 1MB of L2 cache per core, rather than the 512KB found on the lower end X2 CPUs we mentioned, only it ships at 1.8GHz. However, this chip can easily be overclocked to 2.3GHz or greater on air.
The Opteron 165 isnít quite the steal it once was however, a few months ago the chip was priced below the price of the X2 3800+ with most online retailers selling it for $300 or less, but in more recent months AMD has slowly raised the price of the CPU. Now it sells right in between the price of the X2 3800+ and the X2 4200+ at most retailers. Therefore, the X2 3800+ is the economical choice, with the Opteron 165 and X2 4200+ the choice if you can afford to splurge a little.