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So, the FSB and cache specs are what confuse me.

Intel® Pentium™ Dual Core T4300 (2.1GHz/800Mhz FSB/1MB cache)

as opposed to paying $200 more for:

Intel® Core™ 2 Duo P8700 (2.53GHz/1066Mhz FSB/3MB cache)

Would that be worth it? I'm a .Net developer, I listen to music, I do NOT watch movies, I don't do much else. Basically, Visual Studio, Firefox, and SQL Server Management Studio.

is an extra 2 MB and 266 Mhz on the cache and FSB respectively worth it?

PS -- I'm throwing around terms like I know what they mean. I really don't. I mean, I know what a cache is, and I know FSB means Front Side Bus, and I've read about them in wikipedia, but that really REALLY didn't help me translate this into something I can use and understand.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

Either machine will do the job. The larger cache will mean the CPU will more often be able to get the data it's working on from cache, rather than having to reach out to slower RAM. How much difference will that make? That depends on the programs you run, but it's unlikely to make a huge difference on average. The faster FSB means that when the CPU does have to reach out to RAM, it gets the data a little quicker. How much difference will that make? That depends on the programs you run, but it's unlikely to make a huge difference on average. The clock speed difference makes a more predictable performance difference, at least if you're running CPU-bound tasks.

All in all, I'd say the two are pretty much equivalent for most uses. If you were doing large calculations that consume 100% of the CPU for long periods of time, or which couldn't quite fit in 1MB of cache but fit in 3MB or... then it would matter. As it is, spending the extra $200 isn't going to make much difference at all. Honestly, if you're going to spend some extra money, I'd focus on spending it on better physical build quality, getting a machine that is durable and reliable.

If the machines don't have enough RAM, that's another place where it might be worth putting a few more dollars.

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So, it is NOT worth the extra $200. I'm getting 4 GB of RAM (my current machine had 1, upgraded to 2 and it made a big difference, so I'm hoping 4 will grow well with me. Thanks for the answer. It's so confusing when you have to do this and you haven't kept up with the hardware side of things since 1999. – Matt Dawdy Oct 18 '09 at 3:20
If you aren't getting a 64-bit O/S, don't be surprised/disappointed if you can't see all of that 4GB of RAM. You'll only see somewhere around 3 - 3.5 GB with 32-bit XP or Vista, for example. (Just FYI.) – Michael Todd Oct 18 '09 at 3:38
I'd think that the cache size is more likely to affect performance than the clock speed, myself, but unless somebody's playing games or some other really demanding task it should be irrelevant. For the purposes listed, any reasonably modern machine will be more than powerful enough. – David Thornley Oct 19 '09 at 14:18

In the simplest terms a higher speed on the FSB move bits of data more quickly. The larger cache allows more data to be moved into a position where it can be accessed most readily by the CPU when the CPU is carrying out instructions that take longer than accessing data. The $200 is about going faster. If you can easily afford it, go for it. If you have other things you need to spend the money on, like eating for the rest of the week, and can live with a minor decrease in speed, the get the cheaper system. Also you probably want to take into account how long you expect to own this system before replacing it. If you plan to keep this for several years, getting the most speed you can now will better hedge you against processing demands later.

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I have a laptop with a T4300 and 4GB of RAM in it and I use it basically for the same things that you do (a Dell Inspiron 1545, if you're interested - crappy screen resolution; otherwise excellent machine). The specs on the Pentium are perfectly adequate. I see no difference, for development and productivity tasks, between that machine and my Core 2 Quad workstation (similarly specced to that P8700, but with two more cores).

One thing that MAY matter to you as a developer is that the Pentiums do not have the extra hardware virtualization bits that the beefier Core 2 chips do. That means, no Virtual PC on Windows 7, and VM performance in other software (VirtualBox) will be somewhat more sluggish.

If that doesn't matter to you, and you won't be doing any heavy tasks with the machine or trying to game with it, keep the $200.

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