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Test Methodology: How Do You Make It A Fairer Fight?

Part 2: How Many CPU Cores Do You Need?

Once again, all of the tests we're running today are being driven by AMD's Phenom II X4 955 BE at its default clock speed of 3.2 GHz. After we ran all of the tests, we disabled one CPU core using the operating system, rebooted, and then ran the tests again until we had results from one to four CPU cores. The method we use to disable the CPU cores in the Windows Vista operating system is documented in the previous article, here.

To test the validity of the results, we will run all of the tests again on a separate CPU, the Phenom II X2 550 BE. With its multiplier raised to 17, its clock speed will be identical to that of the Phenom II X4 955 BE. This way, we can compare the results of the Phenom II X4 955 BE with two CPU cores disabled to a true retail dual-core Phenom II X2 550, validating our test methodology.

For our new concurrent application test, we will run an AVG anti-virus scan in the background at the same time as the World in Conflict game benchmark. AVG is an ideal application for this test because real-world users will often find automatic scans running in the background while they're performing other tasks, and World in Conflict is an ideal game benchmark to use because it captures both average and minimum frame rates. 

With a good grasp on our metrics, let's move on to the hardware and examine the details of our test rig.

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  • 1 Hide
    redkachina , 4 August 2009 03:08
    great..I was waiting for this one..
  • -1 Hide
    the Innocent , 4 August 2009 07:09
    This why I went with the Q6600 I do more than one thing at a time.
  • 0 Hide
    BrightCandle , 4 August 2009 07:38
    I am so glad you finally did this test. With dual cores having an advantage of 25% clock speed its actually now apparent that for gamers dual cores are the better option - cheaper and faster.
  • 1 Hide
    avatar_raq , 4 August 2009 23:20
    Putting core i7 aside, those charts show that dual cores are the most attractive for gaming,plus they tend to have lower prices and higher clocks than quads, add better and easier overclockability on top of that, not to say lower power consumption (in general), and the choice seems no brainer, for all but the most spoiled gamer!
    Nice article..
  • 3 Hide
    papalarge123 , 5 August 2009 03:49
    i dont believe that the dual cores are the way to go/best choice for gaming, as software from this point on will be callibrated for quads or above,

    it clearly shows an improvement from dual to triple or even quads, and if most people are like myself when it comes to computing and gaming, pulling the best out of the system from the budget available, then the triple and quad core cpu's sure look better than the dual cores.

    also down to price and overclocking ability, then the quads from intel can reach virtually the same speeds as the duals and with only a small price difference, making a better price to performance gain overall.
  • -3 Hide
    goozaymunanos , 5 August 2009 21:47
    why are they only showing gaming benchmarks at 1024x768?

    i'm a bit behind the curve and even i'm playing at 1680x1050?


    p.s. stuff and nonsense:
  • 3 Hide
    chispa , 6 August 2009 16:39
    @goozaymunanos I think it's because the higher resolutions stress mainly the video card, while this test was to highlight the differences in the processors. Thus the video card was stressed as little as possible to allow the processor differences to shine through.
  • 0 Hide
    lekiamiga , 6 August 2009 23:32
    but that makes the game benchmarks basically synthetic as gamers wont be running at those low resolutions and low gfx levels on new hardware.

    They should do gaming benchmarks at high deatails so i know how much of a difference a quad cpu will really make on the games.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 10 August 2009 18:17
    Nice, I already ordered 955 :)  Can't wait for it.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 15 August 2009 06:53
    Am I the only one quite disappointed with the results? :( 
    I expected far better performance from dual / quad cores than a single core - basically like running multiple processors.

    So I was expecting twice the performance with dual cores, and 4-times the performance with 4 cores.
    I guess this might be expected where the processors were using dedicated caches?

    Perhaps it also reveals that Windows isn't correctly taking advantage of the power of 2-4 cores - i.e. the kernel isn't too intelligently dividing multi-threaded / multi-apps capability to multiple cores.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 18 August 2009 01:54
    I thought the question was mostly "Which applications really benefit from more than 2 cores?" anyway?

    Would be interesting to see a benchmark with Supreme Commander since that's meant to be a well threaded game, and really needs CPU performance when a large number of units are in the game.

    Another application which can really use multiple cores is software compilation (e.g. try compiling a kernel with the option: -j 4). But since the compiler itself is not (normally) threaded, but just run several times in parallel, clearly the performance increase is linear.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 19 August 2009 01:21
    I suspect differences may be even more apparent on a Linux system than with a MSoft OS. Generally, Linux kernels multi-task more transparently amd should lend themselves to multi-threaded multi-processor tasking more efficently.
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 22 August 2009 23:29
    avatar_raqPutting core i7 aside, those charts show that dual cores are the most attractive for gaming,plus they tend to have lower prices and higher clocks than quads, add better and easier overclockability on top of that, not to say lower power consumption (in general), and the choice seems no brainer, for all but the most spoiled gamer!Nice article..

    That's why the socket AM3-based Athlon II/Phenom II x2 seem so appealing, considering their cost. Not saying Core 2 is bad, either, just that I have some Socket AM2 stuff lying around and for a relatively cheap price these deliver killer blows for games, as well as provide a very good overclocking potential. Most of my clients have AMD's due to price restrictions but I have no complaints and at least I know that when I install these parts they're gonna run cool and fast.
  • 0 Hide
    tygrus , 3 September 2009 20:39
    And what happens when data intensive tasks run out of RAM or disk I/O. We need faster storage.
    We still need faster fingers and eyes to go with the faster computers.