The gigahertz war as we knew it may have ended, but that's not to say that the competition in the CPU space is any less heated. 2009 brought about a few new platforms and a whole new world of performance, and while AMD managed to keep its footing and make strides in the year (not to mention winning and receiving a huge, huge payout from Intel), Intel still held down the overall performance crown.
Intel Core i7 860
Our top choice for 2009 in the CPU category is the Intel Core i7 860. It's not the fastest quad-core Intel CPU out, but it represents a tremendous value in the grand scheme of things. Clocked at 2.8GHz and with 8MB of cache, this Lynnfield-based processor (along with the other Core i7 options) helped to raise the performance bar in the consumer PC market. It can power through even the latest games and software with aplomb, and at under $300, it's priced well within reach of those willing to pay a small premium for excellent performance. You can spend more on a faster CPU, but you won't find a better overall value.
Intel Core i5 750
Intel's Core i5 750 is yet another quad-core CPU that offers great performance for the price. Launched in Q3 of this year, this 2.66GHz CPU includes 8MB of cache and an relatively low $196 street price. The only real negative is that Hyper-Threading is not supported, but considering that it can be overclocked to much higher speeds without much hassle, we suspect the potential bump in frequency will help users forget about HT. It's been hailed as the new mainstream king in the PC performance sector--how could we possibly omit it?
AMD Athlon II X4 620
We couldn't close out the year without acknowledging AMD's accomplishments, and there's no question that the Athlon 64 X4 620 deserves a spot on the list. You'll sacrifice some performance here, but the $99 price tag makes up for it. Arguably one of the best bargain chips of the year, this cheap quad-core processor lacks L3 cache but still managed to impress us in our testing. It won't be breaking any benchmark records, but it will offer enough performance for virtually any mainstream computer user. In case it wasn't pounded home enough already, this thing costs just $99. Not bad for a quad-core desktop chip, wouldn't you say?
Hardcore gamers have more options than ever in the GPU arena, and we know choosing the right card can be daunting for some. If you need a quick fix, here are our top three choices from the year that was.
ATI Radeon HD 5870
In late September, ATI's Radeon HD 5870 launched and became the fastest single GPU we had ever seen. It was supplanted just a month later by a dual-GPU powered card in terms of performance, but that doesn't stop it from snagging our top spot when you consider what kind of performance the card offers for the money. Priced at around $399, you'll be hard pressed to find a better, more feature-rich pixel pushing powerhouse for the dollar.
ATI Radeon HD 5970
The 5870 card above was toppled by the Radeon HD 5970 in terms of raw performance, prompting us to include the 5970 as a top runner up in the year 2009. As of today, you can't buy a more potent consumer-level graphics card, though you'll be paying just under $600 to take it home. Are those triple-digit FPS numbers worth it? Your call.
GeForce GTX 275
NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 275 gets the relative-bargain nod, with its $249 retail price falling well below the other options. Of course, it's not exactly cheap, but it's cheap enough and yet it offers enough performance for any serious 3D gamer. In short, it offers 85% or 90% of the performance of NVIDIA's fastest single-GPU, the GTX 285, but for at least $60 less.