Quad-core for $500

It won't break the bank and it will reach 3GHz.

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  March 17, 2008

It won't break the bank and it will reach 3GHz.

A little over a year ago Intel's quad-core processors first made their mark on the consumer market. At launch, these Central Processing Units (CPUs) were very expensive, so if you wanted to buy one of these multi-core chips and a compatible motherboard you had to allocate over US $1000 for just these two main components. Now though, prices have fallen drastically making it possible to buy a quad CPU and a compatible board for under $500!

CPUs in context

Intel sells a number of different quad-core CPUs - from ‘entry-level' models to high-end, enthusiast aimed processors. The latter chips, such as the QX9600 and QX9650, don't have overclocking-restricting multiplier-locks and thus are easier to push beyond their standard frequencies.

The standard chips, such as the Q6600 and Q6700, are multiplier locked and are sold for less, making them ideal for budget constricted users. However, these chips can still be overclocked however as their Front Side Bus (FSB) frequencies can be modified via your motherboard's BIOS.

As a result, it's possible to buy the slowest and cheapest quad-core processor, the 2.4GHz Q6600, and run it at a higher frequency. Achieving 3GHz with a Q6600 isn't a case of dumb luck either, there's an almost sure fire way of doing it - and here we'll show you how.

Chip talk

There are two fabrication processes - the method used to create CPUs using silicon wafers - Intel currently employs to produce quad-core chips; 65nm and 45nm. Processors produced using the latter process are Intel's newest and most power-efficient models (CPUs based on this process are codenamed Penryn).

As a result of this new process these processors run cooler and are thus even better suited to overclocking than the older 65nm CPUs. However, don't count out CPUs built using the older 65nm process, as these are also quite power efficient and have the added bonus of being produced by a highly-reliable and mature chip fabrication process.

When a new fabrication process is introduced it generally comes with a number of teething problems. This ultimately affects the quality of the silicon that the processors are built on and on the final product, which can show in the form of poor overclocking. (The first batch of chips built using a new process will generally be the poorest overclockers.)

Over time, a fabrication process is refined and thus the quality of the silicon used by the CPUs also improves. This translates into processors that are better overclockers. Thankfully, it's possible to identify these chips.

Whenever a major refinement is made to a fabrication process, the manufacturer generally revises the ‘core stepping' model number, which can be used to differentiate old processors from new ones. (CPUs produced using the latest revision of the 65nm process sport the ‘G0' core stepping model number for instance whereas older chips have the ‘B3' stepping number.)

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