Update: The Canadian dollar has really tanked in the past few years, falling from parity with the US dollar to being $0.70 USD. I am sure this does not help the situation, but it does not entirely explain the rise in computer prices.
Geek that I am, I like to occasionally keep tabs on CPU, motherboard, and video card prices in Canada. I don’t know why, I just do… it’s interesting! 🙂 Anyhow, since my last parts upgrade I did in late 2013 I have noticed that in many cases prices have gone up considerably for CPUs, in price segments as well as for specific models. Using data from Newegg.ca, let’s have a quick look at a general break down of the best “value for the dollar”, broken down into price ranges (I consider the range to roughly +/- $5 or so, but I am not covering every single range).
2013 Price Ranges
- $50 – AMD Sempron
- $80 – AMD Athlon x4, AMD Phenom x4, Intel Pentium, Intel Celeron
- $110 – AMD A8-5600k APU, Intel Pentium
- $125 – AMD A10-5800k APU, AMD FX-4300, Intel Core i3
- $140 – AMD FX-6300, Intel Core i3
- $165 – AMD FX-8320
- $185 – AMD FX-8520, Intel Core i5
- $200 – Intel Core i5
- $235 – Intel Core i5 3570k
- $300 – Intel Core i7 3770k
2015 Price Ranges
- $50 – AMD A6-5400K, AMD Athlon 5350
- $80 – AMD A6-6400K, Intel Pentium G3258
- $99 – AMD Athlon X4 860K, Intel Pentium G3450
- $110 – AMD A10-5800K, AMD A8-7600
- $125 – AMD AMD A8 7650K, AMD FX-4350, Intel Pentium G3440
- $140 – AMD FX-6300, AMD A8-7670K, Intel Core i3-4160
- $185 – AMD A10-7870K, AMD FX-8320
- $200 – Intel Core i3-4130, Intel Core i3-4360
- $225 – AMD FX-8350, Intel Core i5-4460
- $235 – Intel Core i3-4350, Intel Core i5-4430
- $300 – Intel Core i5-4690K
The basic trend here is that in all but the $50 price range, you get less processor power for more money. In some cases you’re paying a $10 premium, but in others it’s $40 or more expensive to achieve the same processing power. I know that PC sales are lower, but raising the CPU prices by 10 to 20 percent probably isn’t going to encourage sales growth.
It is disappointing to me that the price of the AMD FX-8320 and FX-8520 are so much higher than they used to be, because they are only great CPUs when the “value for the dollar” is there. I picked up my FX-8320 on sale for $135 in 2013 and at that price it was a no brainer of an upgrade, for my uses. In software compilation and media encoding the FX-8320 hung with the entry level 2013 Intel i5 and in every way it performed much better than the Intel Core2 Q8200 I was using, so getting it was a smart move. But at $185 I could not recommend the FX-8320, because you’re better off to buy a used Sandybridge or Ivybridge i5 for that price (better performance and electricity bill with the i5). The FX-8350 at $225 is just insanity and something I would definitely class as “bad choice”, because it is outclassed by every new or used i5 or i7 one can buy for the same price range.
However, what is truly shocking are the insanely high prices of the Intel Core i3 and entry level Core i5 processors. Since the Core2 days one could always get a quad core Intel processor from Newegg.ca for around $185, but now the only Intel CPUs in that price range are dual core i3s. Intel’s “Hyperthreading”, allowing for 4 threads on a dual core processor, does not equate to the same performance as having two real cores, so any way you look at it, you’re just getting “less for more” from Intel these days. And that’s a hard pill to swallow considering how their sales are still quite strong. The bottom rung of the true quad core Intel CPUs these days is the Intel Core i5-4460 Haswell 3.2GHz (3.4GHz Turbo Boost) for $225; Back in 2013 you could get an Intel Core i5-3470 Ivy Bridge 3.2GHz (3.6GHz Turbo Boost) for $195. Performance wise the two are pretty much identical.
AMD have done a good job infusing value into the sub $200 CPU spectrum and continue to do so on the lowest end of the spectrum despite the inflation of prices. A dual core AMD A6 or A8 APU may not be great when it comes raw computing power and floating point math (due to the single FPU shared between the two ALU “cores”), but for every day computing and playing games at modest detail and resolution, they’re viable, which is fantastic for the price range. The Intel Pentiums in the $80 price range are also excellent for every day computing, but the PowerVR based “Intel Graphics” (the same graphics tech used in cell phones folks) just don’t cut it for playing games, even old ones in many cases. That said, with an affordable $75 add in graphics card, like the Nvidia GT730 or the AMD R7-240, an $80 Intel Pentium will outclass any dual core AMD APU in everything.
If you’re still using a system based on an Intel Core2 or an AMD Athlon CPU or older and you’re looking to upgrade your CPU for less than $200, definitely spend some time shopping around for the best price. Keep in mind that you will also need to upgrade your motherboard and RAM (and add a video card too if you choose a CPU/Motherboard combo that lacks video). If you’re really price conscious and don’t mind buying used, you can safely buy an Intel Sandybridge or Ivybridge Core i5 from Ebay or the like and trust that you will notice the upgrade and be happy with it for many years. Current Intel Haswell CPUs aren’t really all that much faster than Sandybridge and Ivybridge and both Sandybridge and Ivybridge Core i5 and Core i7s still beat every current AMD FX CPU and A10 APU in computing power. If you’re buying new, the AMD A10-5800K is one of the best deals going at $110 – it was the top end APU in 2013, meaning it has a very good built-in “video card” and a good quad core CPU, which together make it a true value at that price.
The AMD FX-4350, at $130, would require you to spend an additional $75 on an add-in video card just to match the performance of the AMD A10-5800K, while adding no cpu computing improvement at all, making it a very poor choice unless you already have a compatible socket AM3/AM3+ board and are using a lesser CPU. For reference on what would be considered a lesser AM3 compatible CPU, FX-4350 performs about the same as an AMD Phenom II x4 965.
The AMD FX-6300 ($135) and Intel Core i3-4160 ($150) are the next worthy upgrades for old computers, but keep in mind the FX-6300 will need either on motherboard video or a cheap add-in card ($35 seems to be the lowest price for a new video card) and possibly a new power supply. The six core FX-6300 beats the dual core with Hyperthreading Core i3-4160 in video encoding and some other multithreaded tasks, but little else, believe it or not, so they share a similar value for the dollar based on your usage. Of some note is that some AM3 motherboards can support the FX-6300 with a BIOS update, but speed throttling may occur on lower end boards, due to power/heat issues. The Core i3-4160 performs well in many games and programs, with its Hyperthreading adding a considerable improvement to multitasking and gaming over the less expensive Pentium models that lack it. If you’re into running multiple virtual machines simultaneously, pick the AMD FX-6300, otherwise either CPU will do just fine.
Now on the other hand, if you already have a 6 core AMD Phenom or an Intel Sandybridge Core i5, the biggest thing you will notice in an upgrade are new features on your motherboard, like USB 3 and PCI 3.0. Your processor and RAM are already pretty quick and capable. Sure, the Intel Core i5-4690K at $300 will absolutely provide a noticeable performance increase in games, media encoding, graphics editing, and so on, but the most affordable Intel Core i5-4460, at $225, wont be an upgrade you’ll really “feel” over what you’re already using. Unless you’re spending hours a day working on your computer or playing games like Battlefield 4 multiplayer, then there’s really a level of diminishing returns when it comes to CPU power these days; Is saving 4 minutes creating zip file once in a while or knocking 15 seconds of a video encode really worth the money? All that stuff is up to you, of course, but it’s some food for thought!
Generally speaking, if you are a programmer or content creator using Linux or a modest gamer in Windows, the AMD FX-6300 is still a good deal when paired with an AMD R7-260 or Nvidia GT750 (get the Nvidia if you use Blender), but you are probably better off getting the Intel Core i5-4460 and using the built-in video until you save some money for a video card. If you’re into running multiple virtual machines, the AMD FX-8320 is still the best deal in town, even for it’s crappy price tag of $185, but do be warned that it requires a good power supply even at stock speeds. If you’re just a normal person who browses Facebook and watches Netflix and never partake in content creation or “PC gaming”, the honest truth is that you don’t really need a desktop PC anymore. A laptop or tablet will keep you happy and be portable too. PCs are pretty much just for “making stuff” on these days!