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Well, actually, that is kind of true. Many of the Athlons use the same (or a similar) processor core, with increased clock speed and better heat dissapation being the main difference between lower/higher clock speeds. In the end, I think your pretty safe picking any of the Athlon chips, as long as it meets your needs speed wise.
Distribution: Slackware, (Non-Linux: Solaris 7,8,9; OSX; BeOS)
It's not, exactly, a rip-off (in that everyone does it). There is a price-"speed" curve, and at some point that curve turns up so things are much more expensive per "speed unit". I usually buy a processor that is on the curve just before it turns up. The use of the same core is nothing new either. Many processors fail the tests for higher clock speeds but work fine at lower ones, so they fall into the lower clock speed bin. AMD was, in the past-not now, really notorious with overclockers because their chips weren't very good at overclocking. That's because AMD used a chip's highest stable speed as its clock speed when it was sold -- doesn't overclock well when you do that. They've overcome that liability and are the best x86 CPU manufacturer out there. (IMHO)