After several years of trying to stay within touching distance of AMD, Intel has finally come in from the cold with a processor family that delivers on the PR hyperbole.
As the September issue of PC Advisor went to press, we had pricing details on five processors from the Intel Core 2 Duo (otherwise known as Conroe) range. The E6300 and E6400 will be the lowest-priced processors and run at 1.86GHz and 2.13GHz respectively. The 2.4GHz E6600 is slightly higher-end and, with a 4MB Level 2 cache, has twice the storage buffer of the first two. For power users, the E6700 and the X6800 Extreme will be the exciting offerings, running at 2.67GHz and 2.93GHz.
The processors are all dual-core, so each chip consists of two independent processor units. In essence, dual-core means your PC has not one but two processors working on tasks. This makes them more efficient and therefore faster. But while this is nothing new in desktop processors, the way these cores work together is.
Processors use Level 2 cache memory to quickly store and retrieve important information. In the old desktop dual-core chips, both of the cores had separate Level 2 caches. If one core was doing more work and needed extra memory, it could always get access to the other core’s cache, but only by making a time-consuming journey via the motherboard’s frontside bus.
In the new chip, the cores have one shared Level 2 cache, which makes it far more efficient to share resources. It’s like having two neighbouring properties. What’s the most efficient use of the garden space? Having two separate gardens and having to walk through both houses to get to the other garden, or just knocking down the separating wall and taking up as much space in the garden as is available?
Smart Memory Access
You can add in Smart Memory Access technology, which tries to predict what data the cache memory will need to be loaded with to execute the next set of instructions. This can be a hit-and-miss process, but when it works, it'll cut down the amount of time the processor spends sitting around waiting for the next set of data to be loaded.
The chips have a range of features for cutting power usage when it's not necessary – they consume far less, partly as a result of this. The clock speeds used by the processors aren’t as high as you'd expect, but thanks to Wide Dynamic Execution, the Conroe processors can deliver 33 percent more instructions per clock cycle.
This all sounds rather clever, but does any of the new technology amount to anything? Well, yes – and resoundingly so. We got to put both of the highest-end processors through their paces, and found them to be utterly fantastic.
The £412 E6700 clearly has the £470 AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ in its sights. But whereas the latter's WorldBench processing-speed score of 126 was only marginally faster than anything we had seen before it, the E6700 hit a stunning 150. In fact, this was 14 points higher than the top-end Athlon processor, the FX-62, despite that chip retailing for £317 more. And Intel’s fastest, the X6800 Extreme, is even better, hitting an unbelievable 162 points. Admittedly, it was assisted by 4GB of DDR RAM, but even with 2GB it managed a jawdropping 159.
It's not just in WorldBench that the Intel chips scored big. We put them through their paces on several games, and found the E6700’s frame rates to be a good 25-30fps (frames per second) ahead of the FX-62. The X6800 Extreme added another 35-50fps on top of this. We had never before seen any PC get close to the 200fps barrier on our games tests, but the X6800 broke it repeatedly. Even at 1,600x1,200, it was faster than the Athlons had been on 1,024x768.
But the chips' most amazing performance came in our video encoding tests. The best Athlons had completed these tests in just under four-and-a-half minutes, but the E6700 and X6800 Extreme finished them in 3:02 and 2:47 respectively.
Intel recently claimed its new processors would be the number-one choice for gamers. We would go further and say that whether your interest is games, video editing or general PC work, these chips are quite outstanding.
The new Intel Core 2 Duo chip