The architecture is called Core, processor family is Core 2, the product names are Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Extreme. In the past we've talked about its architecture and even previewed its performance, but today is the real deal. We've all been waiting for this day, the day Intel lifts the last remaining curtain on the chip that is designed to re-take the performance crown from AMD, to return Intel to its days of glory.

It sure looks innocent enough:


Core 2 Duo (left) vs. Pentium D (right)

What you see above appears to be no different than a Pentium D. Honestly, unless you flip it over there's no indication of what lies beneath that dull aluminum heat spreader.


Core 2 Duo (left) vs. Pentium D (right)

But make no mistake, what you see before you is not the power hungry, poor performing, non-competitive garbage (sorry guys, it's the truth) that Intel has been shoving down our throats for the greater part of the past 5 years. No, you're instead looking at the most impressive piece of silicon the world has ever seen - and the fastest desktop processor we've ever tested. What you're looking at is Conroe and today is its birthday.

Intel's Core 2 launch lineup is fairly well rounded as you can see from the table below:

CPU Clock Speed L2 Cache
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 2.93GHz 4MB
Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz 4MB
Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 2.40GHz 4MB
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13GHz 2MB
Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 1.86GHz 2MB

As the name implies, all Core 2 Duo CPUs are dual core as is the Core 2 Extreme. Hyper Threading is not supported on any Core 2 CPU currently on Intel's roadmaps, although a similar feature may eventually make its debut in later CPUs. All of the CPUs launching today also support Intel's Virtualization Technology (VT), run on a 1066MHz FSB and are built using 65nm transistors.

The table above features all of the Core 2 processors Intel will be releasing this year. In early next year Intel will also introduce the E4200, which will be a 1.60GHz part with only a 800MHz FSB, a 2MB cache and no VT support. The E4200 will remain a dual core part, as single core Core 2 processors won't debut until late next year. On the opposite end of the spectrum Intel will also introduce Kentsfield in Q1 next year, which will be a Core 2 Extreme branded quad core CPU from Intel.

Core 2 Extreme vs. Core 2 Duo

Previously Intel had differentiated its "Extreme" line of processors by giving them larger caches, a faster FSB, Hyper Threading support, and/or higher clock speeds. With the Core 2 processor family, the Extreme version gets a higher clock speed (2.93GHz vs. 2.66GHz) and this time around it also gets an unlocked multiplier. Intel officially describes this feature as the following:

Core 2 Extreme is not truly "unlocked". Officially (per the BIOS Writers Guide), it is "a frequency limited processor with additional support for ratio overrides higher than the maximum Intel-tested bus-to-core ratio." Currently, that max tested ratio is 11:1 (aka 2.93G @ 1066 FSB). The min ratio is 6:1. However, do note that the Core 2 Extreme will boot at 2.93G unlike prior generation XE processors which booted to the lowest possible ratio and had to be "cranked up" to the performance ratio.

In other words, you can adjust the clock multiplier higher or lower than 11.0x, which hasn't been possible on a retail Intel chip for several years. By shipping the Core 2 Extreme unlocked, Intel has taken yet another page from AMD's Guide to Processor Success. Unfortunately for AMD, this wasn't the only page Intel took.

Manufacturing Comparison

The new Core 2 processors, regardless of L2 cache size, are made up of 291 million transistors on a 143 mm^2 die. This makes the new chips smaller and cheaper to make than Intel's Pentium D 900 series. The new Core 2 processors are also much smaller than the Athlon 64 X2s despite packing more transistors thanks to being built on a 65nm process vs. 90nm for the X2s.

CPU Manufacturing Process Transistor Count Die Size
AMD Athlon 64 X2 (2x512KB) 90nm 154M 183 mm^2
Intel Core 2 65nm 291M 143 mm^2
Intel Pentium D 900 65nm 376M 162 mm^2

Intel's smaller die and greater number of manufacturing facilities results in greater flexibility with pricing than AMD.

New Pricing
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  • Calin - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    A very good part of what Intel makes (processor wise) goes to mainstream and lower-than-mainstream performance (Celeron-like chips). There might be, in the end (of the year), enough production of Core2 to fill the enthusiast/retail market.
    Indeed, the Netburst are obsolete over night...
    Reply
  • xFlankerx - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    Not just Netburst, even the Athlon 64s are obsolete now.

    With the Pentium 4 vs. Athlon 64 debate, atleast there were moments when going with the Pentium 4 could be justified. However, because of the huge difference in performance and prices of the Core 2 Duo and Athlon 64 processors, I think it would be foolish to go for a new Athlon 64 system right now (unless ofcourse you're on a tight budget).
    Reply
  • Calin - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    Yes, Pentium4 was better in so-called media benchmarks, and there were some uber-optimized application that were flying on Pentium4.
    Right now, there are (as stated in article) three competitors: Core2Duo at high price, performance and low power, Athlon64 X2 at lower price, performance and a bit higher power, and PentiumD at dumping prices, even lower performance and quite a bit higher power. It all depends on how much money you would invest.
    I am thinking at a single core Core2, and integrated video mainboard with ATI or NVidia chipset - or a Sempron AM2 3000+. I wonder how cheap a Core2 Solo would be
    Reply
  • Squidward - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    Agreed, an excellent review, I loved Anand's anologies about the dinner table. I get the feeling he may have been thinking Arby's (tm) when he wrote this review. :)

    My goodness does Intel's new lineup impress. I've been using AMD ever since the K6/2 days and was planning on getting an X2 soon, but this review has made me decide to wait it out just a little bit longer.

    Great article guys, keep up the good work.
    Reply
  • Viditor - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Not just Netburst, even the Athlon 64s are obsolete now

    I'd say that the A64 X2s are still quite competitive, depending on your budget and availability of the C2Ds.
    That said, Intel has done a magnificent job with these chips!
    It looks like Conroe will own the high end market until AMD can release K8L...but judging by the review, AMD will own the low end. I can't see anyone buying a PD once AMD drops the prices, nor can I see anyone buying an AMD if they can afford a medium or higher priced system.
    Reply
  • jkostans - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    With the 1.83GHz conroe at $183 and on par with a X2 4600, I don't see the low end going for AMD either.Ultra low end will be a toss up however. Reply
  • Viditor - Saturday, July 15, 2006 - link

    quote:

    With the 1.83GHz conroe at $183 and on par with a X2 4600, I don't see the low end going for AMD either

    If you look at the situation in total, it will probably make more sense...
    1. The X2 has far more inexpensive but fully functional motherboards to choose from.
    2. Supply will be far more constrained on the Conroe than on the X2

    Combos are king in the low end...for example, if you combine an Asus M2NPV-VM with an AM2 X2 3800 (after the price drop), you get a good dual core system with Raid 5, HDTV, nVidia 6150 graphics, Firewire, dual screen (VGA and DVI), and just about every whistle and bell you could want for (est) ~$250. You'd be hard pressed to find just a Conroe-ready motherboard with that kind of functionality for that kind of money (let alone a combo).
    Reply
  • duploxxx - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    correct the real performance king will be for now the conroe starting from 6600 and above. maybe 6400 this will be clear later. but for the budget platform it will be better to buy an x2 3800 or 4200 seeing the price combo it will have. mobo + proc is way cheaper then any intel combo (100$ and more) thats a lot for a budget system.

    Reply
  • duploxxx - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    oh and one big item which is left out of sighht... the performance gain is less on a conroe then on a k8.. its a difference of 15% in identical apps... that's an interesting point for the future... just my opinion Reply
  • Xenoid - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    Yes it was a very, very well done review and I will definitely be purchasing one of these bad boys. Reply

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