The concept of multiple cores might have been introduced several years ago, but it's taken some time for us to see the release of a raft of applications and software programs that can really take advantage of the technology. So, just as we had got used to the idea of two cores on a chip, Intel goes and spoils us with the Core 2 Extreme Quad, a processor that houses not two but four gleaming cores.
The thinking behind multiple cores is that your PC can operate as though it has more than one processor onboard. Carefully programmed code can assign different tasks to different cores, ensuring that the CPU as a whole works as efficiently as possible. So, the more cores, the better, right? Well, quite possibly, yes. But it really is going to depend on what you use the computer for – and whether you're looking to get top performance now, or in the future.
Theoretically, all sorts of 2007 applications should be taking advantage of multiple cores. But there are certain types of person who should be especially excited at the prospects. If you're a video user (needing editing or rendering, for example) then the promise of quad cores is immense. Games users should find plenty of potential as well.
To test exactly when the new technology will fly, we got our hands on the brand-new Ultis Tachyon QX6700 from Hi-Grade. This is built around the Intel Core 2 Extreme Quad QX6700 processor, which runs at 2.66GHz and, in essence, is the quad-core equivalent of the standard Intel Core 2 Duo E6700. Both the QX6700 and the E6700 run at near-identical clock speeds, so we decided to compare the Hi-Grade with another of this month's new PCs, the £1,499 Mesh Matrix E6700 Titan, which uses the standard E6700.
What our results showed us was that any application that can take proper advantage of multiple cores should show a dramatic improvement. In PC Mark 05, the Hi-Grade battered the Mesh into submission. It completed the File Decompression tests at a rate of 164.45MBps, almost double that of the Mesh's 88.33MBps. In Image Decompression, the Hi-Grade processed 38.05Mp per second, rather than the Mesh's rate of 18.94.
Faster is better
Video professionals should lap up the QX6700, and in CineBench 9.5's rendering tests, the Hi-Grade was 3.24 times faster when using multiple cores. In contrast, the Mesh was just 1.85 times faster. In the Sony Vegas 7.0a video-encoding tests, the Hi-Grade was over half as fast again as the Mesh. 3ds Max 8 is another video application that shows a clear victory for the Hi-Grade showing that, for those who manipulate video, there are already plenty of strong programs out there that work beautifully with quad-core technology.
The news isn't so eye-popping for gamers. Today’s major games still don't take full advantage of extra cores and, despite boasting a fantastic 1GB GeForce 7950 GX2 graphics card (itself a product with multiple graphics chips), the Hi-Grade actually lagged behind the Mesh in most of our games tests (Quake 4, Half-Life 2, Doom3). Only in Fear did the Hi-Grade prove itself the faster PC.
Of course, the lack of proper multiple-core games is set to change very shortly. High-tech games consoles demand multiple cores, and a host of future PC games (Unreal Tournament 2007, for example) will make full use of chips like the QX6700.
For the time being, though, gamers won't find it worth splashing out over two grand on a quad-core system. In fact, for everyday use, the typical user will fail to see a real benefit from buying the QX6700. On our WorldBench processing-speed test suite, for example, the Hi-Grade's overall score was a mere 149, a point behind the Mesh Matrix – despite that PC costing a good deal less.
That's not to say that the Tachyon isn't a rather good rendition from Hi-Grade, and some of the components are immense. 650GB of hard drive storage and 2GB of PC2-6400U DDR RAM aren't to be sneezed at. Neither are the fantastic Sony DVD writers nor the aforementioned GeForce 7950 GX2. The sound setup may be onboard, but contains the high-quality Sigmatel controller, and the PC is generally well-built.
It's also worth bearing in mind that, in comparison with a series of quad-core PCs tested by our sister publication Digit, the Hi-Grade's multiple-core performance was easily on a par with the best.