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Overclocking Core 2 Duo: Power Versus Performance

Overclocking Core 2 Duo: Power Versus Performance

Editor's Note: Happy Friday evening, all. Last month, we gave you two stories about finding the best balancing between performance and power consumption while overclocking Core i7 and Phenom II processors (linked below). Not wanting to leave Core 2 owners out in the cold, we prepared this piece as well. The motherboard used to run the tests isn't available for sale in the US, though, so I'm putting it up tonight as weekend reading. The results are still valid, and you should expect to see very similar results from P45-based platforms more readily available locally.

Overclocking remains the most popular way of tweaking and tuning for performance. After all, it's able to serve up tons of extra performance at no extra cost. However, there are limits to overclocking if you care about maintaining a reasonable balance between performance and power consumption—additional clock speeds result in much higher power consumption. We took a P45 motherboard from MSI and a Core 2 Duo E8600 processor and found the answer to the following question: What is the best clock speed for this Core 2 Duo processor?

If the title of this one looks familiar, it's because we've already conducted this same experiment with Core i7 and Phenom II processors. If you missed those explorations, feel free to check them out as well.

P45 and Core 2 Duo Are Still Around

Although everyone in the performance circles seems to be talking about the Intel Core i7 and AMD Phenom II processors, the good old Core 2 Duo—with its efficient dual-core design—will remain popular for many months to come. Although the competing Intel quad-core CPUs offer significantly better performance, they are more expensive and typically require new motherboards as well as DDR3 memory.

This will also be the case for Intel’s upcoming product refresh, as the 5-series chipset (Ibex Peak) will introduce Socket LGA 1156 and new processors: the Lynnfield quad-cores. The result will be improved performance, which we expect to fill the gap between Core 2 Quad and Core i7, but the platform will not be significantly more efficient than a Core 2 Quad configuration—just slightly more expensive. Ibex Peak clearly is about features and innovation, first and foremost. For these reasons, Core 2 Duo will remain attractive for a while. Also, consider that many applications still don’t benefit from multiple processing cores (and many don’t even need more than two for speedy execution).

Platforms? Mature Hardware Available

We looked around a bit to find a suitable platform for this overclocking project, and found a significant number of feasible options. A plethora of high-end motherboards in the $200 price area are certainly great, but spending so much would not have been in keeping with our goal of a reasonable platform cost. Instead, we decided to use a mainstream P45 motherboard, which we found in the MSI portfolio. The P45D3 Neo is a middle-class P45 motherboard; it isn’t loaded with features that most mainstream users probably wouldn’t use, but still offers the overclocking support we wanted. The better-equipped P45D3 Platinum would have been our choice for quad-core CPUs, but this overclocking project ran just fine on the Neo.

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  • 1 Hide
    zipzoomflyhigh , 6 June 2009 21:06
    It's obvious Intel is underclocking these chips to make them look as if they have humongous overclocking headroom. these chips should have been released at least 4ghz.
  • 1 Hide
    hundredislandsboy , 6 June 2009 22:35
    Yes the e8600 is a nice chip (for gamers more than photo/video rendering users) but I don't get why it's still over $260 when you can get quad cores for less that does more as far as CPU power.
  • 0 Hide
    greatgooglymugly , 7 June 2009 12:01
    It may be a marketing ploy, but its definitely one that we can benefit from! 28% overclock with a smalll voltage bump is amazing. Looks like thay are just rubbing salt in AMD's wounds right now. Good article.
  • 0 Hide
    Touche36 , 8 June 2009 01:14
    I've had mine running on air with a big cooler at 4GHz for a while now with a small voltage increase. I chose the dual core over the quad as it was quite a bit cheaper, and the applications I run it for (gaming) tend to see little improvement with a quad (although that's changing). If I was doing a lot of encoding I would have gone for the quad. I'm happy for a year or so until I get an i7, but this is great for now :-)
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 8 June 2009 15:54
    I lol'd at the covered sata ports
  • 0 Hide
    mi1ez , 8 June 2009 20:07
    All you need to do now, is one of these experiments for every CPU on the market!
  • 0 Hide
    LePhuronn , 8 June 2009 22:13
    Yeah, overclock a socket 478 3.2GHz P4 Prescott on a Gigabyte 8KNXP!

    Then tell me the settings so I can get more than 75MHz out of mine :|
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , 9 June 2009 07:23
    This is really old news.
  • 0 Hide
    Diddly , 10 June 2009 16:19
    Can you repeat this for other Core2Duo models like the E6600 please!!!!!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 11 June 2009 21:39
    Sweet DIP Switches! I'm really looking forward to the Next Gen boards that come covered with poorly labled jumpers..

    Its the Next Next Gen that has me really excited, I hear you'll need to manually de-solder the xtal on the board and attach a new one you buy from maplin!


    (I thought the early 2000's progression to everything controlled through BIOS was a huge step forward? Which genius has decided hardware switches on the board were a good idea. Ideal for beginners? What about the 'auto overclock' option every bios in the world has these days?)
  • 0 Hide
    Nashsafc , 29 June 2009 02:35
    I thought looking on the charts on here, the 8600 dual core seems alot better than the quad cores avialable, because of a couple of reasons. The 8600 i imagine is alot cheaper than the i7 processors and core 2 extremes. I looked at the results for crysis and the 8600 comes near the top, surely for gamers dual cores must be still be in the top for demand, but i suppose since quad cores are slightly better for the same ghz, but is it really worth the money? Intel might as well just make higher ghz rated cored 2 duo processors. What do you reckon