Asus M4A89GTD Pro USB3 - £103
AMD has to be the current darling of the modern day upgrader. If you're sitting on any AMD socket AM3 motherboard, with all the DDR3 goodness that entails, then you've got an upgrade path in front of you that stretches almost all the way up to the fastest CPUs AMD has on the market.
Of course, that's all likely to change with the eventual release of the oft-mentioned but rarely-seen Bulldozer CPUs. Like the upcoming desktop-based Llano chips (seriously, we challenge you to say that codename without sounding like Lloyd Grossman) both these chips will require new motherboards and new sockets.
That said at the moment you can still drop a six-core Phenom II X6 into most existing AM3 motherboards. And that's quite a healthy enough chunk of processing power for most users.
AMD Athlon II X4 645 - £75
When you're talking about a CPU upgrade, going from two to four cores seems like the way to go, but on the AMD side do you have to go for the more expensive Phenom II X4 CPUs or can we, as gamers, make do with the far cheaper Athlon II X4 brand?
Well, for £75 it's tough to argue against any quad-core CPU running at 3.1GHz. There are cheaper sub-3GHz Athlon II X4 CPUs on offer, and proper, high-performance quads from AMD are running just over the £100 mark. There are though significant savings on offer for the prudent CPU upgrader with the Athlon II X4 645.
AMD Phenom II X4 965 BE - £103
The Phenom II range is looking rather long in the tooth now, and we're really hanging out for some sort of architectural update to its product line to bring in some much needed competition with Intel. All we are seeing with AMD is constant respins of the same tired quad-core Phenom II X4 chips with slight incremental increases in clockspeeds.
It has just released a new Phenom II X4 980 (definitely not to be confused with Intel's own 980 CPU…) with no technical enhancements bar a higher clockspeed of 3.7GHz. Now admittedly that is rather high for an AMD chip, but there's no overclocking headroom left in there and it's coming out at the same price as a 3.2GHz Phenom II X6.
Two extra cores for the same price? Now I'm no 3D renderer, but even I would rather have the extra two computational cores. Especially with new games finally taking advantage of multicore technology, such as The Witcher 2 and Brink.
AMD Phenom II X6 1090T BE - £139
The Thuban-powered hex-core Phenom II X6 processors currently represent the pinnacle of what AMD can produce in terms of CPU excellence. And they're definitely not bad chips. This Black Edition (read: unlocked multiplier) is yours for under £140, will chew through computational tasks and has more than enough grunt for gaming.
Despite the fact it is still rocking the same cores AMD has been putting out for years, Thuban still represents the finest CPU design AMD has created in a long time. They may well be superceded soon by the Bulldozer processors, but the fact that with a simple BIOS flash, you can drop these six-core CPUs into most AM3 boards of the last few years shows up one hell of an upgrade path.
As well as the fact it's got an extra couple of cores over the Phenom II X4 965, and runs the same 45nm design, AMD has still managed to put the chip together with the same 125W power draw needed to get the CPU going. Considering it's hitting 3.2GHz that's some impressive engineering.