Several months ago, I wrote about my little experiment with Clarkdale, where I built a small form factor system, based around a Core i5 661 CPU, an Asus H55 motherboard and a Radeon HD 5850 graphics card. That system also used a pricey, 250GB SSD, which was a little over the top for an otherwise modest system, but the idea was to make it small, quiet and low power.

Quite a few people critiqued the article, and most of the critiques revolved around the lack of performance data. After all, the general feeling went, how do we know this is really a good system? It’s pricey, to be sure, but we also have no way of judging performance.

As it happens, I have another small form factor system in the basement lab, which happens to be running a Core i5 750. Ignoring hard drive performance for the moment, all I really needed to do was swap out the graphics card, since the Lynnfield system was running an older Radon HD 4870. So I dropped in a Radeon HD 5850 and took both systems for a spin.

Price versus Performance

There’s a time and place for integrated graphics – but not for PC gaming. Dropping in a Radeon HD 5850 likely means the system will be used for PC gaming – which was my intent all along. The Core i5 661 is priced nearly identically with the Core i5 750. Beyond price, the differences are pretty substantial:

·         Clock speed: 3.33GHz (Clarkdale) versus 2.66GHz (Lynnfield)

·         Maximum Turbo Frequency:     3.6GHz (Clarkdale) versus 3.2GHz (Lynnfield)

·         Dual core with hyper-threading (Clarkdale) versus quad core without hyper-threading (Lynnfield)

·         4MB shared L3 cache (Clarkdale) versus 8MB shared L3 cache (Lynnfield)

·         TDP:   87W versus 95W (Lynnfield)

So Clarkdale has a 25% raw clock speed advantage and a 12.5% maximum turbo boost performance. Lynnfield has the edge in cache – while both have a shared L3 cache, the sheer cache size gives Lynnfield an edge over Clarkdale in cache sensitive apps. Lynnfield also has four actual, physical cores, rather than two physical plus two SMT (virtual) cores. Interestingly, Clardale only has a modest TDP advantage over Lynnfield.

With these thoughts in mind, I ran a number of game benchmarks, plus a few other performance tests. Given the clock speed disparity versus cache size and number of cores, I didn’t expect big performance disparities. As it turns out, I was in for a few surprises.

System Configuration

These systems weren’t identically configured, but were similar.

Component

Clarkdale System

Lynnfield System

CPU

Core i5 661 @ 3.33GHZ base

Core i7 750 @ 2.67GHz base

Motherboard

Asus P7H55-M EVO

Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD4

Memory

2 x 2GB OCZ DDR3-1600 @ 1333

2 x 2GB OCZ DDR3-1600 @ 1333

GPU

XFX Radeon HD 5850

XFX Radeon HD 5850

Hard Drive

OCZ 250GB SSD

WD Caviar Blue 640GB

Optical Drive

Asus BD-ROM / DVD+/-RW

Lite-On DVD+/-RW

PSU

Cooler Master 500W

Cooler Master 500W

The key differences in components were motherboards (Asus H55 versus Gigabyte P55) and hard drive (an SSD versus a standard rotating media drive.) None of the tests I ran were particularly storage intensive, and any power advantage due to drive differences were pretty minimal.

Non-Game Performance
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  • fixxxer0 - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    the table comparing the two systems calls the lynnfield an i7 750. Reply
  • hyvonen - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    The colors in most graphs indicating multi-threaded/single-threaded scores are reversed. Reply
  • numberoneoppa - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    :3 Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    Why even use a chip that has built-in graphics if you're not using them? That in itself makes it a waste. But the lynnfield is a waste too for gamers. An overclocked E6300 or phenom X2 550 would make much more sense. Reply
  • hyvonen - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    Similarly, if you're building a HTPC rig, why have an overkill graphics card, especially if the CPU (i5-661) already has an HD-capable IGP in it?

    Those power numbers are superhigh. My i5-670 based HTPC rig idles at 22W, with load around 85W.
    Reply
  • jordanclock - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    The article states that the machine would be used mainly for PC Gaming. I think this fits well within the definition of a HTPC, as a video game console could just as easily be considered part of a home theater set up. Reply
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    Because Intel's pushed onchip gfx across its midrange line of CPUs. They don't have a dual core Nehalem chip without integrated GFX. Next year when LGA2011 (sandy bridge) replaces LGA 1366 for high end systems and low end core2 chips are replaced with either lower cost LGA1156 (nehalem) or new LGA1155 (sandy bridge) chips they'll have done so across their entire product line.

    Hopefully by then the GPU switching technology being deployed in a few laptops will have been added to desktop drivers as well for even greater power savings at idle.
    Reply
  • TonyB - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    If I were gulding an HTPC, I’d drop down to a lower priced CPU, and a graphics card with less power draw (and costing less.) Reply
  • CSMR - Tuesday, May 04, 2010 - link

    And an HTPC doesn't benefit from a discrete graphics card. Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    Indeed a discrete graphics card is a hindrance to an HTPC in terms of power usage and heat generation. Reply

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