What's a PC without a processor? A heap of parts, that's what. Here's a list of noteworthy CPUs from the past year, arranged from least expensive to most. Phenom II X2 555- $92
You'll be hard pressed to find a decent CPU that's less expensive than this, yet still worth buying in 2010. The AMD Phenom II X2 555 can easily be found for under $100, and during our review earlier in the year, we found it to be more than capable when it comes to handling multi-tasking and most common PC tasks. Probably not your best choice for hardcore gaming, but it's more than enough for essentially everything else. And when paired with the right mobo, additional cores may be unlockable too.
Intel may not have too many "Core i" options at the low-end, but the Core i5 family is a very solid mid-range choice--just be sure to pair it with the right socket 1156 motherboard. Offering a nice 3.2GHz clock speed that can jump to 3.46GHz with Turbo, this dual-core chip with HT that can process 4 threads is perfect for decoding HD video and pushing modern games. Not quite as powerful as a Core i7, but much easier on the wallet.
Just because you're on a budget, that doesn't mean that you can't nab someone a new piece of silicon for their future machine. The AMD Phenom II X6 1075T offers true six-core power for around $200, and it works with AM3 socket motherboards, ships with 8MB of cache and is designed to work in power-sipping machines. No need to invest in a liquid cooling solution here; you'll have plenty of power for multi-media chores and the occasional first-person shooter. AMD Phenom II X6 1090T- $227
If a Core i7 'Extreme' is too rich for your blood (or just overkill for your Secret Santa recipient), the 3.2GHz Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition is a perfectly good alternative. This mid-range CPU works with AM3 motherboards and is one of the cheaper six-core options on the market. Plenty of oomph here for multi-media crunching or gaming. This Phenom II is perfect for those who just love to overclock. This particular chip is unlocked, meaning that the 3.2GHz factory speed probably won't stay there for long. It's the perfect chip for the DIYer in your midst.
It's not quite a 980X, but this Core i7 is built for abuse. This particular chip is unlocked, meaning that the 2.93GHz factory is just the starting point for bigger and better things. We took our chip to 4GHz on air in fact. If you feel the need for speed, but your wallet is a little queasy, the 875K's price tag is a little bit more palatable than the average 3GHz Intel chip.
Whenever Intel throws "Extreme Edition" onto the backside of a CPU's name, you know 2 things: first, it'll be really, really fast and second, it'll be really, really expensive. The Core i7-980X Extreme is 2010's CPU to beat, boasting a 32nm Gulftown core, 3.33GHz clock speed and more power than we've ever seen in a consumer chip. If you need to break every benchmark, including the amount you've ever spent on someone else, this is the CPU to get. However, if you're interested in getting darn-near Core i7 980X speeds and don't care to fork over a kidney but perhaps don't mind a small second mortgage, the Core i7 970 will shave some Benjamins off the price tag and still offer you some 3.2GHz Core i7 six-core beat down power.