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Intel's quad-core CPU: first benchmarks

Kentsfield shows promise

The first benchmarks of Intel's quad-core Kentsfield processor are here, and the chip is showing some impressive speed in multithreaded applications. As with the Core 2 Duo launch, Intel supervised testing at its preview events, so we'll have to reserve our final take on performance until we can get a Kentsfield sample in our test centre for testing with PC Advisor's usual benchmarking suite, WorldBench 5.

Intel's test setup pitted a 2.66GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6700 (Kentsfield) chip against a 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme X6800 chip – the company's previous high-end desktop processor. Both systems used a preproduction D975XBX2 motherboard, 2GB of Corsair memory running at DDR2 800 speeds, a 320GB Seagate hard drive, and an eVGA GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics board.

Test Results

As our previous tests have shown, the Core 2 Extreme chip is plenty fast. In fact, when running single-threaded applications, or any apps that can't take advantage of lots of CPU cores, it's likely to remain the faster chip. On the general application benchmark PCMark 05 shown in the chart below, for example, the Core 2 Extreme actually beat the preproduction quad-core chip by a little bit, thanks presumably to its slightly higher clock speed. Standard 3D-accelerated gaming, as tested by 3DMark 05, wasn't much faster with the new chip either, though the CPU scores of both PCMark and 3DMark showed significant gains.

Kentsfield really starts to shine, however, once you hand it a complex video-encoding or 3D-rendering task. Both 3D rendering apps, POV-Ray and 3DS Max 8, ran considerably faster with four cores; in particular, POV-Ray rendered 83 percent more pixels per second running on the Kentsfield chip than on the Core 2 Extreme. Video editing and encoding ran about 30 percent faster in Sony's Vegas app and in the DivX converter.

Analysis

Since Kentsfield is essentially a pair of linked Core 2 Duo dies on one chip, it's not surprising that the product's performance would be nearly identical to that of the dual-core chips in single-threaded applications. Again, our full verdict on Kentsfield will have to wait until we can test a sample in our own test centre, but the results for our limited preview testing match up well with Intel's decision to roll out the quad-core processor in November as an enthusiast part first. While gamers may not see immediate gains from going quad-core, anyone working with video or 3D rendering should get some impressive results.

As more games and mainstream programs begin to take advantage of multiple CPU threads, and as video and HD (high-definition) video continue to grow in popularity, more and more people will have a need for multiple CPU cores. Next year's Core 2 Quad chips should supply that power, beginning with a 2.4GHz part running on the 1066MHz bus. Intel also plans to launch quad-core versions of its workstation and server-focused Xeon line before the year's end.


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