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Intel has cheaper--but still pricey--quad-core chips

It's cheaper than ever to take the quad-core plunge, but don't spend money on cores you don't need.

Intel's running a special on quad-core chips this summer just ahead of the back-to-school rush.

The company cut the price of its Core 2 Quad Q6600 (PDF) processor in half on Monday, just a week after it introduced a new quad-core chip for desktop PC customers. This is how it has worked in the chip game for years: new processors push older ones down a series of pricing steps until they become obsolete.

Quad-core desktop chips are now cheaper, but still overpriced for most. Intel

But while $266 may seem like a bargain (though remember, that's the 1,000-unit price), most PC users don't need four cores. Unless you like to play PC games while editing videos, running antivirus software and recording a television show, you simply don't need that level of performance yet.

If you're all about future proofing, $266 isn't a terrible deal for a quad-core chip that you won't max out until a few years down the road. But there's not much PC software out there right now that can take advantage of four processing cores; the industry's just getting around to figuring out how to use two.

If you're multitasking to a ridiculous degree like the example above, then you'll come closer to filling those cores. If you're just browsing the Web, typing up a term paper or playing PC games from time to time, you don't need four cores.

If you need a desktop PC for back-to-school, you want an Intel system and you don't fall into the multitasker category, save about 100 bucks and buy one of the E6750 or E6550 dual-core Core 2 Duo processors that cost $163. You'll get a faster front-side bus (the connection between the chip and memory) than the quad-core chips, which will immediately improve the performance of the zillions of programs that are memory-intensive. Take the $100 you saved and buy more memory.