Is This Even Fair? Budget Ivy Bridge Takes On Core 2 Duo And Quad

Reader requests affect much of the work we do, and we constantly receive email asking for this one: compare Intel's older Wolfdale- and Yorkfield-based designs against today's budget-friendly Ivy Bridge-based processors. Well, you asked, and we deliver.

Budget-oriented hardware doesn’t always receive its fair share of attention. In fact, most of the time, it's pretty difficult to get samples to review from companies like Intel and AMD, which don't want to see their lower-end hardware maligned. Thankfully, many of Intel’s newer Ivy Bridge-based models are fairly affordable, starting at a dirt-cheap $35. So, we stopped into our local Micro Center retail store and bought three CPUs to create today's comparison. And we chose to pit these newest Celeron, Pentium, and Core i3 chips against former favorites that no longer get dusted off for testing.

If you've spent much time reading Tom's Hardware, then you're probably very familiar with Intel's LGA 775 interface. In fact, if you built or bought a PC between 2006 and 2008, it probably sported a Core 2 Duo or Quad CPU that dropped into LGA 775. Perhaps, like me, you constructed a gaming rig to take on 2007's big hit, Crysis. This legendary Chuck Norris of PC games convinced me that my old single-core AMD Athlon 64 FX-55 gaming rig just wasn’t going to cut it any longer. Amidst the dual- versus quad-core debates, I jumped past Intel's Conroe-based Core 2 Duo and went straight to a Core 2 Quad Q6600 (Kentsfield) with a G0 stepping. Tamely overclocked to 3.0 GHz, this CPU is still a fixture in my home, even today.

Not long after, Intel adopted 45 nm manufacturing. Once Wofldale-based processors hit the mainstream scene, it was hard to argue against a highly-overclockable Core 2 Duo E8400 for gaming. On the flip side, many power users preferred the overall performance of newer quad-core models, such as the Yorkfield-based Core 2 Quad Q9550.

Unlike AMD’s Athlon II and Phenom II families, which are still available and show up in our stories, Intel's LGA 775 platform got shoved aside in favor of newer architectures, which became the first-, second-, and third-generation Core processors. Some of our readers noticed the absence of those LGA 775-based CPUs in our tests, though, and we agree that it's time to revisit their performance in a more modern benchmark suite. So, today's story is for anyone holding on to an older Core 2 platform (or anyone who enjoys comparisons to modern offerings five years later).

Wolfdale And Yorkfield Take On Ivy Bridge

Core 2 Duo E8400 and Core 2 Quad Q9550 delivered solid clock rates right out of the box, but they're also best remembered for their substantial overclocking headroom. It was easier to keep two cores cool, so the Duos tended to handle higher voltages better, scaling higher in the process. Chips like ours, based on the E0 stepping, hit frequencies 30 to 50% higher on air cooling. So, we weren’t about to shy away from overclocking in this piece. Of course, we’ve come to expect high efficiency and per-clock performance from Intel’s Ivy Bridge-based processors, but we also know this great performance steered Intel towards locking the multiplier ratios of its lower-end offerings, a slap in the face for many enthusiasts, and a huge blow to gamers on a tight budget. Might high frequencies propel Intel’s old Core 2 architecture up beyond the latest locked-down Ivy Bridge-based chips?

Because this piece centers on data, we’re eager to hit the performance charts. But first we should introduce today’s contenders. Our trio of dual-core chips includes the Celeron G1610, Pentium G2020, and Core 2 Duo E8400. The Core i3-3225, equipped with Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, is the oddball of the bunch, sporting two physical cores capable of addressing two threads each. It goes up against the Core 2 Quad Q9550, armed with four physical cores. As a control, we also include the quad-core Core i5-3570K, a modern enthusiast favorite and the only chip we're testing considered a worthy upgrade to the Core 2 Quad.

Cores / Threads Intel LGA 1155 Interface Intel LGA 775 Interface
2 / 2Intel Celeron G1610 (Ivy Bridge), 22 nm, 2.6 GHz, 2 MB Shared L3, Launched Q1 2013, Box: $42Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 (Wolfdale), 45 nm, 3.0 GHz, 1,333 MT/s FSB, 6 MB L2 Cache, Launched Q1 2008, Box: $179

Intel Pentium G2020 (Ivy Bridge), 22 nm, 2.9 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3, Launched Q1 2013, Box: $64
2 / 4Intel Core i3-3225 (Ivy Bridge), 22 nm, 3.3 GHz, 3 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading, Launched Q4 2012, Box: $134
4 / 4Intel Core i5-3570K (Ivy Bridge), 22 nm, 3.4 GHz (3.8 GHz Turbo), 6 MB Shared L3, Launched Q2 2012, Box: $235Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 (Yorkfield), 45 nm, 2.83 GHz, 1,333 MT/s FSB, 12 MB L2 Cache, Launched Q1 2008, Box: $287

If you want to refresh your knowledge of the architectures we're testing, have a look back at Wolfdale Shrinks Transistors, Grows Core 2 and Intel Core i7-3770K Review: A Small Step Up For Ivy Bridge.

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  • david cassar
    Can't wait for the article about the phenom and athlon vs ivy bridge.
  • killerchickens
    I would love to see how a I7 920 compares.
  • Michael Robinson
    What an interesting article. I tend to keep my old PC's and just use them for different things. I have an E8400 which we still use. I was able to do a direct comparison of the performance increase going from a Celeron 2.4Ghz to an i5-3570K. The Celeron processed 5k moves per second in a Java Chess game I wrote. On the i5 it was getting close to 60k moves per second. I could also run 4 of these games at the same time and get a similar performance on each! I was amazed at the performance increase and the i5 isn't even overclocked yet. That's a 50x increase in performance in roughly 6 years which easily beats Moore's Law.
  • -Jackson
    @Michael Robinson: I thought Moore's Law was the doubling of transistors every (roughly) 2 years? Which does not directly translate to doubling of performance. Also, a single test may not be conclusive or reflective of a CPU's performance.
  • -Jackson
    @Michael Robinson: I thought Moore's Law was the doubling of transistors every (roughly) 2 years? Which does not directly translate to doubling of performance. Also, a single test may not be conclusive or reflective of a CPU's performance.
  • eodeo
    I liked the article a lot. Good call on comparing the old and the new. I would have LOVED to see c2q 6600 @ 3.0 in the list.
  • Michael Robinson
    @Jackson re: Moore's Law. Sorry I missed your post. You're correct that the law relates to processor count but this does lead to increased performance. Things like having more cache, more cores per chip, increased bandwidth say from 8bit to 64bit, floating point processors, more powerful instructions, putting more of the motherboard chipset on the CPU or even just controlling thermal load all translate to increased performance.
  • bigirishman
    Good review toms
  • haider95
    Good read. I just bought a e6600 and oddly enough far cry 3 isn't a problem at 720p with 30 fps
  • Artas1984
    I did a Pentium Ivy Bridge review 4 months before this article: