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Dual-Core Versus Quad-Core: Part 2

Dual-Core Versus Quad-Core: Part 2

This is a comparison that will probably get your emotions running high, as it represents a shootout between apples and oranges. But it is also a comparison that is extremely relevant, as it reflects the current market and answers very important questions about the current offerings from AMD and Intel. We decided to put AMD’s most efficient quad core processor up against the fastest Intel dual core CPU: it’s the AMD Phenom X4 e9350 2.0 GHz against Intel’s Core 2 Duo E8500 at 3.16 GHz.

Although it doesn’t seem appropriate to compare a 3.16 GHz dual core processor to a 2.0 GHz quad core model—especially since the first one is made by Intel and the second is from AMD—this comparison makes a lot of sense. Performance-wise, the Phenom X4 clearly has the potential to leave the Core 2 Duo in the dust, but we wanted to check whether or not this applies in everyday life with real applications, and to see if the Phenom can keep up in the area of efficiency. As it turns out, these two products have a lot more in common than you might think.

Different Architectures and Efficiency

Let’s first talk about where the products are dissimilar, starting with their architectures, which could not be more different. AMD utilizes its optimized 65 nm DSL SOI process, while Intel has been at 45 nm for a while. AMD integrated the DDR2 memory controller and uses Socket AM2+ (940 pins), while Intel relies on Socket LGA775 and the chipset for memory performance, using either DDR2 or DDR3 RAM. AMD offers a third-level cache (L3) that is shared by all processing cores, but it also offers a dedicated L2 cache. Intel, on the other side, shares the L2 cache between both cores, and offers larger cache capacity (6 MB L2 for Intel vs. 4x 512 KB L2 and 2 MB L3 cache for AMD). As verified by test results, the 65 nm AMD quad core seems to be handicapped when it comes to efficiency, but we’ll look at that in detail later on.

Same Thermal Design Power

Despite their entirely different construction, the AMD Phenom X4 e9350 and the Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 are both rated at a maximum thermal design power (TDP) of 65 W. This means that they’re both suitable for desktops and HTPCs that you don’t want to equip with sophisticated cooling for reliable operation. Reaching the 65 W TDP is not difficult for Intel using its efficient 45 nm process (P1266), but it certainly requires a selection process for AMD, as the 4-core Phenom X4 series isn’t as efficient as the 45 nm Core 2 series. The selected model e9530 is a low-power Phenom X4 variant, though.

Same Performance?

We’ll answer this question in the benchmark section, but the shootout will be exciting. Additional cores typically don’t scale anywhere near to linearly, meaning that going from two to four cores will not result in doubled computing performance, unless your applications are really thread-optimized and are not bottlenecked by other system components. While AMD’s Phenom X4 at 2.0 GHz provides great performance for multi-core optimized applications, the Core 2 Duo by Intel delivers more performance per clock, and also comes with a 58% faster core clock speed of 3.16 GHz, which should bridge the performance gap on thread-optimized applications.

Same $200 Price Point

For me, this was the key point for running this article: AMD’s most efficient quad core costs the same as Intel’s fastest dual core processor. The price point of $200 is probably the maximum amount of money an average user without particularly deep pockets is willing to spend, considering that prices will keep dropping. Shelling out more on a processor is only worthwhile if you have specific applications that require more performance. The Core 2 Duo should provide better power efficiency, while the Phenom X4 may very well outperform the Core 2 in many applications. We wanted to have answers, so we got to work.

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  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 4 September 2008 16:15
    "The Mainconcept 1.5.1 benchmark converts MPEG2 FullHD video into the H.264 format. Although the benchmark scales well with as many as eight cores—we used an Intel Skulltrail system to try this—the 2.0 GHz quad core isn’t enough to beat Intel’s 3.16 GHz dual core."
    According to the graph you show us, it is...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 4 September 2008 16:33
    Do you even have an editor anymore? This article is yet another nail in toms coffin. The graphs are wrong (two items on each graph and you still manage to swap them over), the words are wrong (eg 3.16 quad!!!) and worse still the article is pointless.

    Here's another apples to oranges for you:
    I own a motorbike and a car, both do 40mpg and both cost the same. But wait the car has more seats AND more wheels, its safer in an accident too so it must be better than the bike. oh no did i forget to look at the bikes good points never mind.

    And why choose the low power version, you could have used a cheaper high power version and underclocked/undervolted to reduce power OR accept the fact that four cores should use more power than two but seeing as you didn't want to show the quad win anything i guess you can't accept that.

    I guess whoever is in charge these days is only concerned with ad revenue not content or integrety
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 4 September 2008 16:48
    "Supreme Commander shows the same results: it runs much faster on the Intel dual core than it does on AMD’s quad core. Since the performance difference is 80%, the clock speed difference alone isn’t enough to account for the tremendous difference."
    Wrong again. According to graph, Phenom is faster than C2D, not the other way around.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 4 September 2008 19:31
    This artical is a little to bias to Intel for my liking. When applications that do support 4 cores are tested and unsuprisingly the AMD chip wins, they dont praise it, they just praise the intel chip instead for coming a close 2nd. While all the applications that dont support 4 cores get praise for Intel for winning and not to AMD for coming second.

    The whole artical makes no sence about what it does compare.

    My conclusion for the artical the E8500 3.16 GHz wins on all single/double core applications but when 4 cores are used the AMD Phenom X4 e9350 2.0 GHz wins. Which is what we should expect anyway.
  • 0 Hide
    puppetworx , 4 September 2008 22:37
    This article is interesting from the standpoint of software, the main thing I see from this is just how little use applications currently make of extra cores.

    Nehalem...sorry Core i7...yes, yes that's much better...will surely have an impact on applications use of multithreading. Or will it? with 'turbo-mode' perhaps there is no need for software to use those extra cores.

    Annoyingly left out was the overclocking performance of these two processors. As we know Intel's current chips annihilate the competition in overclockability providing extra Hertz for just a few hours time. These E8500 are easily hitting 4GHz I do tend to wonder if the advantage the AMD had in some tests wouldnt be eliminated when both chips were fully OC'd.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 5 September 2008 19:05
    What i was interesting in is,
    having the benchmarks run with a current antivirus software "allways on", as it should, at least, be users default configuration.
  • 0 Hide
    blibba , 6 September 2008 00:36
    Tom's, please replace your eeditor with any small child. I could have seen the mistakes here when I was 9.
  • 0 Hide
    blibba , 6 September 2008 00:37
    blibbaTom's, please replace your eeditor with any small child. I could have seen the mistakes here when I was 9.

    However, I did make a typo when making that comment :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Solitaire , 6 September 2008 01:52
    A fast dual-core is best for games
    An energy-efficient quad is good for use as a home/media server

    ^ I did that without looking at the article. Am I right? Hang on... yep, pretty much.

    How'd I manage that? Well, it ain't cuz i'm psychic, that's for sure. It's because WE KNEW ALL THIS ALREADY TOM!

    Games are more responsive to raw power and are less heavily threaded - most are threaded for dual-core, but as of yet relatively few can make good use of a massively multicore platform (except well-coded PS3 games, and that's a different subject entirely!). Modern applications, especially graphical, media (encoders!) and file-based (server/AV) are designed to split and combine threads on-the-fly and with Vista in tow really need a quad to crunch them efficiently in the background.

    So what was the point of this article again exactly? Telling us what's very common knowledge? :p 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 6 September 2008 09:07
    I was hoping u did abit more the real workstation apps. particularly Virtualization. And running on Vista 64 bit.

  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 8 September 2008 02:50
    For applications that are dependent on core speed, the AMD does not do so bad. Let's also remember that the AMD chip is being used in a chipset that offers HD playback and half-decent 3D game support..the same cannot be said for Intel-based chipsests. I would also go with AMD for a cheap, fast server..where the architecture comes into it's own (especially core-to-core and memory performance).
  • 0 Hide
    wild9 , 8 September 2008 02:54
    Using an Intel low-power quad core for comparison would have been great, but such a product does not (yet) exist, hence the recommendation for supplying a low-power 65 W quad core processor go to AMD.

    That's because Intel doesn't have a native quad core. It's also the reason why some of the world's fastest super-computers rely on AMD hardware. Intel may have caught up with AMD in the desktop sector (bar chipsets and graphics cards), but the server/cluster/super-computer sectors use AMD for a reason. The people knocking AMD should do well to remember that, perhaps.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 22 January 2009 04:17
    you guys are so boring! i hate this website now all you dorks that are into computers need to get a life, play some basketball, and listen to some rock n roll like i am right now! im a seventh grader that is more cool than all of you put together!