Greener Cores, Meaner Scores (Processor Test)

By Team Digit Published Date
01 - Nov - 2006
| Last Updated
01 - Nov - 2006
Greener Cores, Meaner Scores (Processor Test)
More than a year has passed since we did our last processor shootout, and the decision to schedule it close to the end of the year has paid rich dividends-we have a special first look at the Intel's new Quad Core Extreme QX6700.

Before we get into the core of the matter (pun intended), let's do a small recap of the things that have happened in the last year or so. To begin with, Intel's Pentium 4 processors were thrashed like never before by AMD's Athlon64 series. Marketing was still focused around the GigaHertz craze, with Intel promising to break the 4 GHz barrier, but their plans took a beating.

AMD, on the other hand, moved away from the traditional GigaHertz performance metric and proved that the key was in the architecture of the processor. Intel, not to be outdone, fired another salvo at AMD by launching the first Dual core processor-two separate processors slapped on to one die-after all, the GigaHertz race held no significance now and there was need for a new buzzword. AMD shattered Intel's hope of dominance by launching their dual core Athlon64 X2 processors, which outstripped the Intel line by a mile.

Finally, now, Intel sets the scores right. The new desktop processors were redesigned from scratch and introduced as the 'Core' architecture. As we will see further in this article, no processor can stand up to the might of these new Core processors-they butcher the competition.

This isn't the last of AMD though; it's just the beginning of another battle. If the Hammer and Sickle changed the course of the Second World War, the Hammer and Core are sure to change the course of desktop computing. What we have experienced during the test is an unprecedented level of processing power made available on your little old desktop!   

Let's begin the analysis with real world applications such as gaming and multimedia-the most taxing of the processors' tasks. Gaming and multimedia applications stress almost every part of the processor-the ALU, FPU and the Cache.

Gaming and Multimedia


The latest Quad Core QX6700 from Intel makes an impact by delivering unbelievable scores. In this test, it outperforms the Core 2 EX6800 by a delightful 25  per cent and the AMD FX-62 by 40 per cent-superb! Except for the lower-end Core 2 E6300, all other Intel Core 2 processors were ahead of their respective AMD counterparts. The AMD FX-62 was the only processor that could compare with the new Intel processors. The older Pentium D processors can hardly match the performance of the new Intel Core 2 Duos-it's about time to bid them adieu. What's interesting to note is the performance gap between the best performer and the worst is around 300 per cent; we have never come across such figures.


Here the Core 2 EX6800 takes the mantel by posting a brilliant score of 11K, which is nearly 40 per cent better than the AMD FX-62. The E6700 which retails for nearly half of the EX6800; delivers just 10 per cent less, making it an excellent performer for the price. Interestingly, the QX6700 (Quad Core) is behind both the Core 2 Duo processors, though this is more a limitation of the benchmark than the processor itself. Writing applications for the Quad Core will require proper optimisation if we are to see it delivering the best performance possible. Apart from the FX-62 and the 5000 , none of the AMD processors deliver respectable performance. The Core-based processors completely outshone the older Pentium Ds.

3DMark 06

3DMark06 is a relatively new benchmark and hence makes the most out of newer hardware-this is evident from the scores we see. The QX6700 came out tops, posting the best score-nearly 72 per cent higher than the EX6800 and 84 per cent over the AMD FX-62. The rest of the graph is nearly identical to the ones we have seen before. The AMD AM2 processors hardly match the Core 2 Duo and the older Pentium D series is completely overshadowed by its successor.

Far Cry

Intel's new Core 2 Duo processors beat the AMD and the older Pentium D processors by obscene margins. This is exactly the reverse of what happened when AMD launched their FX range of processors a year ago. The Intel EX6800 gives a 33 per cent better performance than the AMD FX-62 processor-a huge difference when it comes to gaming. However, the QX6700 (Quad Core) is marginally behind the EX6800, but that's expected-we will see better performance numbers only when games are optimised to take advantage of the extra cores.

Doom 3

The story repeats here-the Core 2 EX6800 posts the best scores, followed by the E6700 and the E6600. The QX6700 expectedly lags behind. The AMD FX-62 gets beaten by even the lowly E6400-and it's priced at a third of the FX-62's tag. Moreover, the E6300-the lowest in the Core 2 Duo-performs better than the Athlon64 X2 5000 AM2 processor.

DivX Encoding

While DivX encoding has been the traditional playground for Intel processors largely due to the optimisation done in their favour, it's worthwhile to see how much of a difference it makes in real life applications. Here too, the Core 2 EX6800 tops the charts by completing the encoding in just 70 seconds. It's followed closely by the E6700 and the QX6700. AMD's FX-62 takes another 20 seconds more to complete the task. The lower-end E6600 and E6400 still offer better performance than the respective AMD processors. Strangely enough, the AMD X2 3600 took less time than the AMD X2 3800 .

ZD Content Creation 2004

In this content-driven benchmark, the QX6700 takes the lead over the EX6800. The performance gap isn't significant, but the increment is proportional to the performance on offer. AMD's FX-62 is right among the big boys, as expected in real-world scenarios. The E6600 and AMD Athlon64 X2 5000 , for the first time, are on an even playing field. The E6300, despite running at a measly 1.86 GHz, stays ahead of AMD Athlon64 X2 3800 . The Pentium D series is starting to show its age and are left behind in the company of the Sempron and Athlon64 3000 .

ZD Business Winstone 2004

The graph is nearly identical to what we saw in the content creation benchmark, save some minor changes. The Intel processors were on top, displacing the AMD FX-62 to fifth position. Sadly enough, the AM2 processors from AMD hardly live up to the competition and are thrashed even by the E6300.

As opposed to last year, when AMD ruled the gaming and multimedia arena, the tide has now turned to Intel's favour. Processors based on the Core architecture are running riot and are brutally beating the processors from AMD. The addition of DDR2 support doesn't seem to have worked in AMD's favour. If you are interested in building a gaming or multimedia machine, the Core 2 Duo-based processors are your best bet. While the EX6800 is way to expensive, the E6600 and E6700 are the processors to grab.

3D Rendering Benchmarks

Cinebench 9.2

3D rendering is the most demanding of applications and puts a heavy load on the processor. In fact, while rendering, the PC becomes useless for any other work. Cinebench 9.2 takes full advantage of multi-processor environments.

The Quad Core QX6700 simply outstripped all other processors in this test. While the near-double score speaks for the performance of the four cores, it also offers a glimpse of what multi-core processors can actually deliver in the right ecosystem. While this multi-CPU test takes around 40 seconds to complete on any other processor, the quad core finished it in just 12 seconds by dividing the work load into four equal parts. The rest of the processors scale proportionally to the performance on offer as seen in the graph.

POV-Ray 3.6

Raytracing is one of the most mathematically intensive operations a processor can perform-the process involves casting rays of light from a virtual "camera" on to the 3D scene and calculating their paths. As seen from the graph, the EX6800 renders the image in the shortest possible time. The AMD FX-62 breaks into second place-no surprises; AMD processors have been known for great ALU performance, which really counts in raytracing. The Athlon64 X2 5000 comes in at third place ahead of the Quad Core-proving again that the QX6700 requires optimisation to perform.

Intel is right at the top with its Core architecture based CPUs. Most of the professional 3D tools have already migrated to multi-threaded environments, and that's good news because the Quad Core shines here. Though we have just tested the Quad Core with CineBench this time, we will definitely be putting it through rigorous 3D rendering tests in the coming months. Right now, Quad Core just relishes multi-threaded applications, boosting their performance to levels never before seen on desktops.

Number-crunching Tests

ScienceMark 2.0 Primordia

Here the EX6800 was on the top of the chart followed by its lower-clocked sibling, the E6700. AMD's FX-62 managed to get in the third spot followed by the Athlon64 X2 5000 . These figures are quite similar to what we saw in the last test too. AMD processors generally do better in scientific tests-scientific calculations generally involve iterations, and the shorter pipeline and highly optimised cache offer a better performance when running loops.

ScienceMark 2.0 Mol Dyn:

Again, the AMD FX-62 shows its dominance in this test, matching the Core 2 EX6800. The Athlon64 X2 5000 comes in at third spot. The Quad Core is completely left out-this might have to do with its thirst for multi-threaded applications. The other AMD Athlon64 X2 processors are on par with the respective Core 2 Duo performances.

ScienceMark 2.0 Memory Bandwidth

Surprised? Don't be! The onboard memory controller design in AMD's K8 range of processors is very efficient and offers huge bandwidth. In fact, even the Athlon64 AM2 3000 offers a higher bandwidth than the EX6800. What we are talking about here is the available bandwidth and how effectively it is utilised. The Quad Core is way down on the list, and that might be due to the overheads introduced by the interface between processors. The Quad Core is actually two dual cores slapped on to become one, which isn't really an ideal design.

How we Tested

We chose benchmarks that would stress the processor to the hilt. We also made sure that the benchmarks had a low level of sub-system involvement to obtain true processor performance. 

All Intel LGA 775-based processors were plugged into Intel's D975XBX motherboard with 2 GB of Corsair 800 MHz memory with 4-4-4-12 timing figures. For the AMD AM2 platform, we used ASUS' Crosshair motherboard with 2 GB of Corsair 800 MHz memory. For the 939-pin processor, we used ASUS' A8R32-MPV deluxe with 2 GB of Corsair DDR 400 MHz memory.

Windows XP with SP2 was freshly loaded on a Seagate 7200 RPM SATA drive. XFX 7900GTX card was the standard graphics card used with both platforms.

Gaming and Multimedia
PCMark 05, 3DMark05 and 3DMark 06
These benchmarks from FutureMark are widely used to gauge the performance of a system, on a system as well as sub-system level. Though mostly related to graphics performance, each of these benchmarks has a well-developed CPU test that taxes the processor to its maximum. We used the default setting and chose only the CPU test. Each test was run three times before noting down the scores.

Far Cry and Doom 3
Both these games boast of high graphical details and are quite taxing on the processor making them ideal processor benchmarks. We ran both at 640x 480, 800 x600 and 1024 x 768 resolutions to put the maximum possible stress on CPU and not the GPU-at lower resolutions, games offload more tasks on to the CPU.
Ziff Davis Multimedia Content Creation and Business Winstone
Multimedia Content Creation and Business Winstone run applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, WaveLab, anti-virus, compression, word-processing, etc. The result is a unified score that reflects the performance of the system as a whole.

DivX Encoding
We encoded a 100 MB VOB file to DivX using the DivX converter tool. The time taken to encode the file was noted down with each processor. The benchmark was run thrice for each processor.

3D rendering benchmarks
Cinebench 9.2
Cinebench 2003 is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the 3D software Cinema 4D engine. Cinebench 2003 delivers accurate results by testing the processors' raw processing speed with OpenGL, multithreading and multiprocessing. This benchmark was used to indicate the performance gain due to multi-processing.

POV-Ray 3.6
The Persistence Of Vision Raytracer, a tool that allows creating an image by mathematical calculations. The number-crunching involved is purely processor-intensive, which is why it works as a great processor benchmark. In the default installation we used the 'Chess2' and 'landscape' to be rendered at 1024 x768 resolution without AA. 

Kirbi Bench 1.1
Another rendering benchmark, based on the Kirbi engine developed by Adept software. This tool also consists of many models with multiple light sources, and the rendering is done real time. The score is given in terms of frames the processor is able to churn out.  

Number-crunching Tests
ScienceMark 2.0
ScienceMark 2.0, as the name suggests, is a benchmark based on scientific calculations. It consists of multiple benchmarks that test the various aspects of a processor. We used the MolDyn, Primordia and Cipher test.

WinRAR 3.6
WinRAR 3.6 offers an inbuilt benchmark, operating on some random data which is processed in the memory. Since the data is operated on in the memory, the results are free from any influences that the hard disk's performance may have on it.

SiSoft Sandra 2007
This is the good old benchmarking tool with new features and tests added to it. We logged scores particularly related to the CPU-Dhrystone, Whetstone, Multimedia Index (Integer and Float) and Cache performance with a 4 MB data block.

Super Pi
A small utility that calculates the value of pi up to 32 million places. We used the utility to calculate the value of pi, starting from 120,000 places right up to 8 million. The time taken to complete the calculation was noted down in each case.

Download Processor TestReviews

Si Soft Sandra 2007:
Cache Memory 4 MB

This graph shows cache performance when a 4 MB data block is used. The results are as expected-larger caches result in better performances. Since the QX6700 has 8 MB of cache, the score is skewed in its favour.

WinRAR 3.6

The Quad Core has the potential to compress more files than the rest in a given time frame, but doesn't leave the EX6800 far enough behind. Processors based on the Core architecture perform commendably better than the rival AMD processors and the older Pentium D series.

In the theoretical benchmarks the AMD processors showed commendable performance in scientific benchmarks, implying good performance under such circumstances. When it comes to pure processing power the Quad Core has lot of horses in reserves and coupled with proper application it can unleash performance of unprecedented levels. The processors based on Core 2 Duo offer the best bang for the buck and have proved themselves across all the benchmarks.

  Notes From The Lab

During the test, we came across a few things that we would like to share. Firstly, the blistering performance of the Core processors was a sight to behold -reminiscent of the AMD Athlon's heydays when it zipped through every test we threw at it.

Even today, we get mails about AMD's heating issues; we take this opportunity clear the misconception-there are none! The processors stay cool even at full load. During this test, the Pentium D processors spewed heat like furnacees, causing the cooling fan to run at full speed. The whine from said fan was enough to keep the reviewer very far away from the rig while the tests completed. The Core processors, however, do run cool and the Quad gets a little over normal when fully loaded-that's expected, though.

Intel's cooling solutions used to be a simple task-the fan-heatsink combo provided with older Pentium 4s was quite easy to install and remove. Not anymore! We still have numb fingers after going through the complex and clumsy installation and removal-a countless number of times during the motherboard and processor test. On the other hand, AMD has made the whole affair simple and painless.

Though we ran the Quad Core through the common test process, it was more an indication of how it fared in today's application scenario when compared to the rest, than of its full performance. Even the standard battery of benchmarks will need revamping for the Quad-explained by the unexpected numbers we saw in some of the tests. We'll be putting it through more punishment in the following months; even now, though, it leaves the competition in the dust. And considering that the Quad might actually launch cheaper than the FX-62, we wonder what's going on in the AMD camp as we write this.

It will no doubt be interesting to see how AMD's upcoming Barcelona matches up to this early next year-the architecture, at least, promises to beat the Core.

Which One Should You Buy?

Since processors are generally bought depending on one's needs, we have divided our conclusions accordingly. The above graph gives a clear indication of the processing power available at particular price point-Price/Performance.

The Budget PC
For a typical budget PC, processor priced below Rs 6000/- is an ideal buy. From the above graph the AMD Athlon64 3000 (AM2) is the cheapest one can get for a budget PC. Since it is based on the newer AM2 platform, DDR2 will be the de-facto memory required, so you don't have to buy new memory when you upgrade. The processor is capable of delivering a decent performance in day-to-day applications, but don't expect too much on the multimedia and gaming fronts.

The Typical Home PC
A typical home PC can be made using a budget processor, but when running applications such as anti-virus applications and media encoding, having some reserve processing power helps a great deal when multi-tasking.

A processor priced in the Rs 7000 to Rs 10,000 range makes as an ideal buy for a good home PC. There are five processors in this range, consisting of two AMDs and three Intels. Both the AMD processors are based on Socket AM2, they make for a decent buy. On the Intel side, two processors are from the older Pentium D series-not worth it, really. The Intel E6300 priced at Rs 9,625 is a good buy, looking at the performance on offer, and also the low amount of heat it generates.  In fact, at around Rs 1,000 more than the AMD Athlon64 X2 3800 , the E6300 offers a much better performance across the board.

The Mid-range Gaming Machine
If you are into serious gaming but are on a limited budget (around Rs 50,000-60,000 for the entire rig) then a processor priced between Rs 10,000 and Rs 16,000 is what you should be looking for.

The Intel Core 2 Extreme QX 6700-the Quad beats the competition hallow

The Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 priced at a palatable Rs 11,600 is a real gem. With an impressive performance, it is one of the better processors available for a gaming machine-great value for money.

The Intel Core 2 Extreme EX 6800 is the best for gaming

If you can shell out the extra Rs 5500, then the Core 2 Duo E6600 is what we recommend for a true gaming machine.

The High-end Gaming Machine
No point blowing money on an extremely high-end processor! The Core 2 Duo E6700 offers a performance that is just 10 per cent less than the top-end Core 2 Duo Extreme EX6800 and Core 2 Extreme QX6700-at half the price! The rest of your money is better spent getting on 2 GB of memory or an NVIDIA 7900GTX. If you have enough money stashed away, however, go for the Quad Core QX6700. It has enough fire power for now, and is the most future-proof of the lot. 

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