Which Components Have Hit The Sweet Spot? (Part 1)

1/19/2013 3:40:46 PM

Sometimes, getting the best system is about spending smart, not spending lots. Here, James finds the best value components money can buy

Whether you’re looking to buy upgrades or pricing up an entire system, the final say usually comes courtesy of your wallet. Unless you’re part of the small percentage of society who can buy things without having to worry about their price, you’re always going to reach a point where you have to trade off the performance of hardware against its cost.

However, making that compromise isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s still plenty of opportunity to spend your money wisely, meaning that you can get the best performance for the best prices, rather than the best performance overall. All you have to do is look for hardware that has reached the ‘sweet spot’ a point where, in pound for performance terms, it’s essentially the best on the market.

Usually, these products are in the middle of their life cycles - old enough to have shed their high introductory prices, but new enough that you can feel comfortable investing in them as products with a fairly hefty lifespan ahead of them. It’s quite simply the smartest place to spend your money.

Of course, with the holiday sales about to hit, there’s never been a better time to know which hardware is worth keeping an eye on for even further discounts. That’s why in this guide, we’ll show you which high-performance hardware has reached its financial sweet spot.

Buying this hardware doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily end up with the best nor that you’ll end up with the cheapest hardware on the market. However, you will know you’ve got the absolute most for your money - and ultimately, that’s a feeling that can’t be bought.


CPUs are often the most expensive components in a PC, so it’s quite probably the most important place to make sure that your money gets stretched the furthest. Determining the “best” processor depends on several factors, but benchmarking is reasonably sane way to do it if nothing else, it’s hard to compare most processors in terms of raw specs, especially between manufacturers.

CPUs are often the most expensive components in a PC

CPUs are often the most expensive components in a PC

Because CPUs are also dependent on compatibility with your motherboard, we’ve divided our CPUs category into several different sections - one for those with an Intel Socket 1155 motherboard, and two more for those with AMD FM2 or AM3+ motherboards. We’ve calculated how good value each chip is by dividing its PassMark benchmark score by its price so that we can compare how much power you get for every pound you spend, and thus determine which is the best value. Although, where relevant, we’ve considered other factors before coming to our final conclusion.

AMD Socket FM2 Chip

AMD’s fusion architecture is designed to house a gaming-capable GPU as well as a formidable CPU. They get it at least half-right, because while the processors are consistently outperformed by Intel’s mid and high-range Core line, they’re typically more capable of gaming than lower-priced Intel chips are - and recent price reductions mean that they’re actually slightly better value, too.

AMD A8-5500

AMD A8-5500

The release of AMD’s Trinity chips has caused the FM1 socket to reach the end of its lifespan, so if you’re building an AMD system from scratch and have the liberty of basing your motherboard purchase on the processor you want, we have to recommend the AMD A8-5500, which is a socket FM2 model. The eight-core, 3.2GHz chip has Radeon HD 7560D graphics, making it a good choice for gamers, although sadly it has a locked multiplier, meaning it can’t really be overclocked if you’re into that.

At the moment it retails around $128. PassMark scores it only a sliver beneath the Ivy Bridge Core i3-3220, which is $32 more expensive, and a reasonable amount above the Sandy Bridge Core i3-2130, which is $40 more expensive. The next FM2 chip up, the AMD A10-5700, is also worse value in terms of price-to-performance, and the next AMD chip down, the FM1 based A8-3850, is roughly as good value as the A8-5500, but it’s also running on an older socket and is slower in absolute terms, so if you buy that, you’re buying into a product line with a shorter life ahead of it.


AMD Socket AM3+ Chip

If you want to upgrade your existing AMD system with a new chip, it’s a safe bet you’re currently running on an AM3+ compatible motherboard. Naturally, it doesn’t make much sense to tell you that the best way to save money is to buy a new chip and motherboard and get an A8-5500, so instead, let’s assume you want to upgrade your computer without replacing 50% of it. Which chip should you buy then?

AMD FX-8320

AMD FX-8320

In our view, it’s the AMD FX-8320, an eight-core socket AM3+ chip that runs at 3.5GHz. It’s expensive for an AMD chip, priced at $224, but it’s one of the few high-end CPUs the company has that’ll compete with Intel’s Core line in anything approaching a convincing way.

PassMark benches it at 8,297, compared to the Ivy Bridge Core i5-3570K’s 7,139. While the latter chip performs better in games and can be hugely overclocked, it also costs $280. It’s also better value than its own line mates - the slightly better AMD FX-8350, and the slightly-worse AMD FX-8150, so if you’re looking for a high-end chip to upgrade your current AMD system, there’s no question that the FX-8320 is the one to go for.


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