Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, Phenom X3 and Phenom X4: Which One is the Best USD 200 CPU?
By Gabriel Torres on June 13, 2008


Introduction

Today if you have USD 200 to spend on a CPU you have basically four options: Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750 and Phenom X4 9550. In this review we will compare the performance of these four CPUs to answer a simple question: among these processors, which one is the fastest? We will also answer another common question: what is the best option, a CPU with more processing cores but with a lower clock rate or a CPU with less processing cores but with a higher clock rate? Get ready for this Intel vs. AMD duel.

But first let’s meet the contenders.

Core 2 Quad Q6600 is the simplest and most inexpensive quad-core CPU from Intel, running at 2.4 GHz – the same clock rate used by Phenom X3 8750. It features an 8 MB L2 memory cache divided into two 4 MB caches, one shared by cores 1 & 2 and another shared by cores 3 & 4. Each core has a 32 KB L1 data cache and a 32 KB L1 instruction cache. It runs externally at 266 MHz transferring four data chunks per clock cycle, giving a performance as if it were working at 1,066 MHz. It is based on the 65-nm “Core” CPU core and is also known by its codename, Kentsfield.

Core 2 Duo E8400 is a 45 nm CPU based on the new Penryn core, which brings the new SSE4.1 instruction set, not present on Q6600 and also not present on AMD CPU’s. It comes with a 3 GHz clock rate, works externally at 333 MHz (“1,333 MHz”), and has a single 6 MB L2 memory cache. It is also known by its codename, Wolfdale.

Phenom X3 8750 is a triple-core CPU and hence the “X3” on its name. It is based on the new K10 architecture from AMD and the main difference between CPUs from this architecture compared to CPU’s from Intel and previous AMD CPU’s is the use of an individual L2 memory cache on each CPU core plus a third cache shared by all cores. This processor runs at 2.4 GHz, the same clock rate as Core 2 Quad Q6600, so we were really curious to see a comparison between the two, even though X3 has one less core compared to Quad. This CPU is also known by its codename, Toliman, and is based on the B3 stepping die (stepping is the version of the silicon die used by the CPU; this is also called “revision”), which doesn’t  suffer from the infamous TLB bug that affected the first Phenom models. All Phenom models ending with “50” are based on this new die and thus don’t have this bug, while models ending with “00” may have this bug if they use a die before revision B3. Phenom CPU’s have a new instruction set called SSE4a, which is simply the addition of two new SSE instructions and despite its name it has nothing to do with SSE4.1, available on Core 2 Duo E8400 and that brings 47 new instructions.

Finally Phenom X4 9550, which is a quad-core CPU just like Core 2 Quad. It has one core more than Phenom X3 8750 but runs at a lower clock rate, 2.2 GHz, and that is how both can have the same price tag. In fact during this review we will be able to compare these two Phenom models to see what the best option is, to have one extra CPU core but a lower clock rate or a higher clock rate but one less core. Phenom X4 9550 is also known by the codename Agena. As you could assume from what we explained on previous paragraph, this CPU is based on the latest B3 stepping and doesn’t suffer from the TLB bug.

AMD CPU’s have the memory controller embedded inside the CPU and because of this architecture they have two external busses instead of just one like Intel CPU’s: one bus connects the CPU to the memory and another, called HyperTransport, connects the CPU to the chipset. Phenom CPU’s use a new version of HyperTransport, 3.0, and both Phenom CPU’s we reviewed are based on the lowest rate from HT3, 1,800 MHz (7,200 MB/s). Other AMD CPU’s like Athlon 64 use a 1,000 MHz (4,000 MB/s) HT bus.

In the table below you can find a comparison of the main specs from the CPUs we included in this review.

CPU

Cores

Internal Clock

External Clock

L1 Cache

L2 Cache

L3 Cache

Technology

TDP

Core 2 Duo E8400

2

3 GHz

1,333 MHz

64 KB x2

6 MB x1

45 nm

65 W

Core 2 Quad Q6600

4

2.4 GHz

1,066 MHz

64 KB x4

4 MB x2

65 nm

95 W

Phenom X3 8750

3

2.4 GHz

*

128 KB x3

512 KB x3

2 MB

65 nm

95 W

Phenom X4 9550

4

2.2 GHz

*

128 KB x3

512 KB x4

2 MB

65 nm

95 W

* 200 MHz base clock and 1,800 MHz (7,200 MB/s) HyperTransport link.

TDP stands for Thermal Design Power which advises the user of the maximum amount of heat the CPU can dissipate. The CPU cooler must be capable of dissipating at least this amount of heat.

AMD CPU’s are based on socket AM2+ while Intel CPU’s are based on socket LGA775.

How We Tested

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the CPU being tested and the motherboard, as AMD and Intel CPU’s require different motherboard types.

Hardware Configuration

Software Configuration

Driver Versions

Software Used

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

PCMark Vantage

The new PCMark Vantage program simulates the use of real-world applications and gives scores for the following categories:

For a detailed description of each one of these tests, please download and read the PCMark Vantage Reviewer’s Guide.

You can see the results for each category below. We are not going to compare the results for the Memories and HDD suites.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On the overall PCMark Vantage score Core 2 Duo E8400 and Core 2 Quad Q6600 achieved a similar performance level, while Phenom X3 8750 and Phenom X4 9550 also achieved a similar performance between them. Core 2 Duo E8400 achieved a score 6.82% higher than Phenom X3 8750 and 10.37% higher than Phenom X4 9550, while Core 2 Quad achieved a score 3.86% higher than Phenom X3 8750 and 7.31% higher than Phenom X4 9550.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

TV and Movies benchmarking favored the number of cores available, but Phenom X3 8570 and Core 2 Duo E8400 achieved a similar performance. Core 2 Quad Q6600 achieved a score 9.09% higher than Phenom X4 9550, 17.17% higher than Phenom X3 8750 and 20.24% higher than Core 2 Duo E8400.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On PCMark Vantage’s gaming benchmarking the two Intel CPU’s achieved a similar score while the two AMD CPU’s achieved a similar performance between them. Here Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 8.99% faster than Phenom X4 9550 and Core 2 Duo 8400 was 9.21% faster than Phenom X3 8570.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On Music benchmarking it seems that clock speed is the major player. Core 2 Duo E8400 was 10.63% faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600, 15.02% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 16.87% faster than Phenom X4 9550. Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 3.97% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 5.64% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On Communications benchmarking it also seems that clock speed is the major player. Core 2 Duo E8400 was 11.86% faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600, 12.01% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 18.25% faster than Phenom X4 9550. Core 2 Quad Q6600 achieved the same performance level as Phenom X3 8750, being 5.72% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On Productivity benchmarking Core 2 Duo E8400, Phenom X3 8750 and Phenom X4 9550 achieved a similar performance. Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 4.62% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400, 4.99% faster than Phenom X3 9570 and 5.68% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

VirtualDub-MPEG2 + DivX 6.8.3

With VirtualDub we converted a full-length DVD movie to DivX format and saw how long it took for this conversion to be completed. The DivX codec is capable of recognizing and using not only more than one CPU (i.e., more than one core) but also the new SSE4 instruction set, so we expect that CPUs with SSE4 support reach a higher performance here. From the CPU’s we included in our review only Core 2 Duo E8400 supports SSE4.

The movie we chose to convert was Star Trek – The Motion Picture: Director’s Cut. We copied the movie to our hard disk drive with no compression, so the final original file on our HDD was 6.79 GB. After compressing it with DivX, the final file was only 767.40 MB, which is quite remarkable.

The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the better.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On VirtualDub Core 2 Duo E8400 was clearly the fastest CPU due to its SSE4 instruction set, which is recognized by DivX encoder (you have to manually enable it to use SSE4, though). This CPU was 31.03% faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600, 36.50% faster than Phenom X4 9550 and 38.16% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Comparing the CPUs that don’t have SSE4 support, Core 2 Quad Q6600 was the fastest CPU, being 7.93% faster than Phenom X4 9550 and 10.33% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Photoshop CS2

The best way to measure performance is by using real programs. The problem, though, is creating a methodology using real software that provides accurate results. For Photoshop CS2 there is a methodology created by the folks at GamingHeaven that is very accurate. Their script applies a series of 12 filters to a sample image and we wrote down the time taken for each filter to run. At the end, we have the results for each individual filter and we simply added them up to give the total time taken to run the 12 filters from GamingHeaven batch. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

In our Photoshop CS2 Core 2 Duo E8400 was the fastest CPU, mainly because of its higher clock rate. This CPU from Intel was 15.86% faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600, 32.40% faster than Phenom X4 9550 and 33.51% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 19.65% faster than Phenom X4 9550 and 20.98% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Cinebench 10

Cinebench 10 is based on the 3D software, Cinema 4d. It is very useful to measure the performance gain given by having more than one CPU installed on the system when rendering heavy 3D images. Rendering is one area in which having more than one CPU helps considerably, because usually, rendering software recognizes several CPUs. (Cinebench, for instance, can use up to 16 CPUs.)

Since we were interested in measuring the rendering performance, we ran the test called “Rendering x CPUs,” which renders a “heavy” sample image using all available CPUs (or cores) to speed up the process.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

Here Core 2 Quad Q6600 was the fastest CPU, being 21.91% faster than Phenom X4 9550, 37.06% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400 and 47.35% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

The surprise here was that Core 2 Duo E8400 was 7.51% faster than Phenom X3 8750, so it seems that the higher clock from Core 2 Duo E8400 overcame the extra core from Phenom X3.

3DMark06 Professional

3DMark06 measures Shader 3.0 (i.e., DirectX 9.0c) performance. We run this software on its default configuration (1280x1024 resolution with no image quality settings enabled) and besides the 3D score given by this program we also compared the results from its internal CPU benchmark.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On 3DMark06 score Phenom X4 9550, Phenom X3 8750 and Core 2 Duo E8400 achieved a similar performance, but Core 2 Quad Q6600 was a little bit faster than these CPU’s: 3.43% faster than Phenom X4 9550, 3.91% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400 and 5.17% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On 3DMark06 CPU benchmarking Core 2 Quad Q6600 was the fastest CPU, being 16.79% faster than Phenom X4 9550, 28.00% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400 and 31.42% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Phenom X4 9550 was 9.59% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400 and 12.52% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Core 2 Duo E8400 and Phenom X3 8750 achieved a similar performance.

3DMark Vantage Professional

3DMark Vantage is the latest addition to the 3DMark series, measuring Shader 4.0 (i.e., DirectX 10) performance. We ran this program on its default configuration (“Performance” profile), which is run at 1280x1024. We also included the results for the CPU benchmarking done by this program.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

Here Core 2 Quad Q6600 achieved a performance similar to Phenom X4 9550, while Core 2 Duo E8400 achieved a performance similar to Phenom X3 8750. Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 4.49% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400 and 5.92% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

On Vantage’s CPU benchmarking Core 2 Quad Q6600 was the fastest CPU, being 18.67% faster than Phenom X4 9550, 38.79% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400 and 46.07% faster than Phenom X3 9550.

Phenom X4 9550 was 16.96% faster than Core 2 Duo E8400 and 23.09% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

And Core 2 Duo E8400 was 5.24% faster than Phenom X3 8750.

Quake 4

We upgraded Quake 4 to version 1.4.2 and ran its new multiplayer demo id_perftest at 1280x1024x32 with SMP option enable (which allows Quake 4 to recognize and use more than one CPU), under two scenarios: first with image quality settings configured at “low” and then with image quality settings configured at “high.” You can check the results below, given in frames per second.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550 

On Quake 4 with no image quality settings enabled Core 2 Duo E8400 was the fastest CPU, being 3.99% faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600, 9.35% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 14.86% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 5.15% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 10.45% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

And Phenom X3 8750 was 5.04% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

When we set image quality settings to “high” we saw the same scenario. This time Core 2 Duo E8400 was 3.88% faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600, 9.09% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 13.49% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 5.02% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 9.26% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

And Phenom X3 8750 was 4.04% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

Crysis

Crysis is a very heavy DirectX 10 game. We updated this game to version 1.2.1 and used the HOC Crysis Benchmarking Utility to help us collecting data. We ran the “island” demo at 1440x900 with low image quality settings, selecting “CPU” when the benchmarking utility asked us what we were benchmarking. The results on the chart below are in frames per second.

Core 2 Duo E8400, Core 2 Quad Q6600, Phenom X3 8750, Phenom X4 9550

Here CPU’s from AMD took a severe beating. Core 2 Duo E8400 was 5.88% faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600, 91.49% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 100.00% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

Core 2 Quad Q6600 was 80.85% faster than Phenom X3 8750 and 88.89% faster than Phenom X4 9550.

We ran this test twice to make sure that the results were correct.

Conclusions

Except on a very few occasions (3DMark06 and 3DMark Vantage CPU tests and on Cinebench) we haven’t see AMD CPU’s being faster than Intel’s during our tests.

We don’t see why someone would by a Phenom CPU while you can buy a faster CPU from Intel for absolutely the same price.

If you are looking for a CPU on the USD 200 range you have only two real options: the new Core 2 Duo E8400 and Core 2 Quad Q6600. For the mainstream user Core 2 Duo E8400 is the best option, as it provides a higher performance under almost all scenarios and you also get SSE4.1 support, which improves performance a lot if you have an SSE4-capable application. Core 2 Quad Q6600 is a better option if you have a specific application that is able to recognize more than two cores, like rendering. If you aren’t a professional designer dealing with 3D modeling, stick with Core 2 Duo E8400.

The reviewed Phenom CPU’s will only be good products if AMD lowers their prices severely.

Of course we haven’t run all programs available on the market and maybe there are some programs out there that show an advantage to AMD CPU’s. But according to the programs we chose, at this time Intel has the edge on USD 200 CPU’s.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Core-2-Duo-Core-2-Quad-Phenom-X3-and-Phenom-X4-Which-One-is-the-Best-USD-200-CPU/568


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