AMD heads up against Intel in the £300 upgrade challenge -

While magazines are bumper-full of information about the chip happenings at the top of the food chain, no one seems to be talking about what the great unwashed are thinking of getting.

Since many will be thinking of upgrades, TechEye gave Intel and AMD a challenge to come up with a recommended upgrade spec for £300. Both had to use products that they make and it assumed that you could keep things like a hard-drive - and we would look at what would give you more bang for your buck.

The recommendations were interesting, with AMD opting for more conventional lines with an MSI 890GX motherboard with a Phenom II X4 840 and a Radeon HD 6850.

As you would expect, Intel opted for something more Sandy Bridgey, with a Core i5 2500k, a Asus P8H67-M LE motherboard. It also suggested using the spare cash to buy an Intel 320 series SSD 40GB.

AMD would appear to have the advantage at the lower end because it can offer fairly decent graphics cards and more economic processors, however it was not as easy as that to decide.

AMD's idea
The MSI 890GX motherboard chipset that is based around the recently introduced AMD 785 chipset and is paired with the all new AMD SB850 Southbridge chip. It is designed to have more processor compatibility, better IGP performance and increased bandwidth. It has an embedded Gigabit Ethernet and a SATA 6G controller, as well as USB 3.0. SATA 6G effectively future proofs the system.

If you do want to upgrade your drives you have the bits to do it with. The BIOS is geared for overclocking and is packed full of handy features for getting the most out of your chip. There are 4 DIMM slots which can take up to 16 GB.

The Phenom II X4 800 offers a lot for its price. The Quad core processor can do 3.20 GHz if it is going downhill and the wind is behind it.

It does use the cheaper and slower Propus core and it does not have an L3 cache which can cause a few problems. But then we are talking about a £90 chip here - and this is a good, fast, reliable quad core.

It can be overclocked by about 600 MHz clock but it is unlikely that people are interested in sub-£300 upgrades would be interested in that sort of lark. Saving cash on the chip has meant that AMD can add the Radeon HD 6850.

The 6850 is a good GPU. It is clocked at 775 MHz on it's core and shader processors domain and has a GB of graphics memory. This memory is 256-bit and running at an effective data-rate of 4000 MHz.

The card has HD3D, which works with Blu-Ray and 3D third party gear. More practical is its support for UVD, short for Universal Video Decoder. With proper 3rd party software like WinDVD or PowerDVD or the free Media Player Classic you can give yourself hardware acceleration for media content like MPEG2, H.264 and VC-1 high definition video formats.

There are also functions like Dynamic Contrast Enhancement, which improves the contrast ratios in videos and Dynamic Colour Enhancement, which slightly enforce a colour correction where it's needed.

Out the back you have two mini Displayport (v1.2) connectors, one HDMI 1.4a connector and two DVI connectors. One is a single link, the other dual-link. Armed with Eyefinity you can run six monitors at once. If you are likely to want this.

The chip has crossfire which means that you might be able to recruit your older AMD GPU into your new rig.This all adds up to a fine rig, with little required in lateral thought.

Intel's suggestion
Intel's idea is to use the integrated GPU/ CPU Sandy Bridge Core i5 2500k. This is a cutting edge idea as it seems to support a lot of things. These include Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, Unlocked CPU, GPU and Memory multipliers, dual-channel memory support, XMP support, and a host of graphics enhancements with Intel Quick Sync Video technology, Intel In Tru 3D for full stereoscopic 1080p playback, and Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel AVX) to help performance in video editing applications.

If your eyes glazed over the above paragraph it probably means that you are not much of a techie and when you are talking about a £300 upgrade that will be most of you.

The suggested motherboard was an Asus P8H67-M LE. It has USB 3.0 as well as SATA 6G. This means that there is plenty of future proofing there. If you install your OS on the SSD, which Intel suggests, with a SATA 6G connection you should get some superfast boot up times too. Other than that,  the motherboard is on a par with the MSI 890GX.

The Sandy Bridge Core i5 2500k is much more expensive, but obviously you don't have to front up for a graphics card. From the processing side it is a lot better than the Phenom II X4 840.

Out of the box this chip can manage a respectable 3.3GHz, which is a sniff faster than the AMD chip but its turbo boost function takes it to 3.8Ghz.

While most of the target market would not touch over-clocking, this rig is a doddle to play around with. As a result it is possible to get it to speeds of 4.6GHz which blitzes the AMD chip completely.

The downside to Intel's idea is that the graphics on the i5 are not as good as the discrete GPU on the AMD machine. According to Overclockers,  they are more than powerful enough for the everyday user, but the chip does not have the same flexibility as a games ready GPU.

It would appear that Intel's integrated graphics do not match the conventional chip and discrete card - and if graphics are important to you, you will be disappointed with the suggested rig from Chipzilla.

On the plus side it does have Crossfire support so you can probably wire it up to your old AMD GPU to help it out.

Conclusion
Intel's Sandy Bridge Core i5 2500k is a brilliantly fast set-up, particularly with its SSD hard-drive. It also has lots of scope for future upgrades

But as far as a £300 upgrade goes you are going to have to look at a discrete GPU card in the near future. That is if you are going to play with any graphics, or games. AMD's rig might be slower and less exciting but the CPU/GPU setup offers the more balanced over-all performance for the ordinary user.