Today marks a full 10 years since the first Core 2 Duo processors, and hence Intel’s 64-bit Core microarchitecture, were made officially available at retail. These included a number of popular dual-core processor parts, including the seemingly ubiquitous E6400 and the Core 2 Extreme X6800. These were built on Intel’s 65nm process, and marked a turning point in the desktop processor ecosystem. To quote Anand in our launch review: ‘you’re looking at the most impressive piece of silicon the world has ever seen’.

Ten Year Anniversary of Core 2 Duo and Conroe

As part of this piece we will also look at some of the predictions for the future, from the latest (and possibly last) International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors report, which predicts the stalling of smaller silicon manufacturing nodes over the next 10-15 years.

The first part of this article borrows heavily from Johan’s original look into the Intel Core microarchitecture back in 2006. It’s an awesome read.

Back When I Were A Lad

For a number of our readers, the launch of Conroe was a vast change in the processing landscape. The family of Netburst, Northwood and Prescott processors, in the form of Pentium D and Pentium 4, showed that pursuing the frequency race pushed the silicon far outside its efficiency zone and left a hot, power hungry mess in its wake. It didn’t even come with a muscular V8 sound, and AMD’s Athlon 64 X2 line had taken both the performance and efficiency crown.

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

From the perspective of Intel, it had to incorporate a significant paradigm shift in the way it approached the core microarchitecture – no more long pipelines to bump up clock rates to start. The Core microarchitecture design was marketed as a blend of Pentium Pro and Pentium M techniques, as well as the Netburst architecture, however as Johan pointed out at the time, it is significantly Pentium M and it is very hard to find anything Netburst in there. It wasn’t as simple as ‘adding a few functional units or decoders on Yonah and calling it a day’, almost 80% of the architecture and circuit design had to be redone.

As part of this piece, we’re going to take another look at the original architecture improvements of the Core microarchitecture design and some of our old performance metrics from a decade ago.

27th July 2006: Core 2 Launch Day

Ten years ago, Intel launched the following five processors:

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

The X6800 sits at the top with a higher clock speed with a higher supported FSB-to-core ration than previous Intel processors. The Core 2 processors all came from a 143mm2 die, compared the 162mm2 of Pentium D, and they both seem tiny by comparison to the large die sizes we see 2016 for things like the P100. These were chips without integrated graphics either. The introduction of Core 2 pushed the prices of the Pentium D processors down, to give this interesting table:

CPU Clock Speed L2 Cache Price
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 2.93GHz 4MB $999
Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz 4MB $530
Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 2.40GHz 4MB $316
Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 2.13GHz 2MB $224
Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 1.86GHz 2MB $183
Intel Pentium D 945 3.40GHz 2MBx2 $163
Intel Pentium D 915 2.80GHz 2MBx2 $133
Intel Pentium D 820 2.80GHz 1MBx2 $113
Intel Pentium D 805 2.66GHz 1MBx2 $93

Comparing this to recent Intel processors, and the X8600 matches the list price of the Core i7-5960X (an 8-core part), whereas the popular Core 2 Duo E6400 at $224 at the same price as the Core i5-6600.

A few years ago, I salvaged a super old computer of mine with an E6400 and took it for a spin for a pipeline piece entitled ‘Dragging Core 2 Duo into 2013’. We know that a number of users today are still using the old platform as their day to day machine, and given that it is now celebrating its 10th birthday, it is interesting that anyone wanting to play around with the old hardware can get a motherboard, memory and CPU from eBay for $50-70.

My crusty C2D Setup from 2013




Core: It’s all in the Prefetch, and More Cache Please


View All Comments

  • pixelstuff - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    I think Core2 essentially accelerated the market saturation we are seeing and causing the PC market to decline a bit. My Core2 E8400 still runs Window 10 relatively fine, although I have built two more since because I like being near the cutting edge. However I know quite a few people still using Core2 CPUs for their basic computing needs.

    There just haven't been any new apps that are more resource intensive than a word processor or web browser which the entire world needs. So the PC replacement market has stagnated a bit.
  • stardude82 - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    Most Core processors are faster than the ho-hum Cherry Trail offerings you find low end PCs. So buying a new cute shiny black little box to replace your beige big box doesn't guarantee much. Reply
  • boeush - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    It reads a little weird/myopic that only certain technologies are being considered while forecasting all the way out to 2030. For instance, lots of NAND/DRAM discussion but no mention of upcoming or already early-adoption tech like 3D XPoint or memristors, etc. No mention of optoelectronics (like photonic signalling on- and off-chip), no mention of III-V and other 'exotic' materials for chip manufacturing and improved frequency/power scaling (with focus instead devoted to feature sizes/stacking/platter size/defects.) And so on.

    I mean, if you're forecasting 5 years ahead, I'd understand. But talking about 15 years into the future but only extrapolating from what's on the market right now -- as opposed to what's in the labs and on drawing boards -- seems to be a little too pessimistic and/or myopic.
  • Ian Cutress - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    The full report mentions III-V and SiGe in the remit of future technologies. Anton and I are starting to discuss what parts we can pull out for individual news stories, to stay tuned. Reply
  • Sam Snead - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    Heck I still have my Nexgen P110 cpu computer set up and run it once in awhile. From 1996. Remember the VESA local bus video card? Nexgen was later bought by AMD. Reply
  • stardude82 - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    Ah, I remember Socket 7... Reply
  • CoreLogicCom - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    I've still got a Dell E1705 laptop that I bought in 2006 which came with a Core Duo, which I upgraded to Core 2 Duo about 4 years into it, and maxed the RAM to 4GB (from the 2GB max it came with). It was decent, but really came alive when I put an SSD into it. I still use this laptop for basic stuff, and even some gaming (WoW and SWToR) with the Geforce Go GPU. It's definitely long in the tooth now, now running Windows 7 (it came with WinXP, but 10 is unsupported on the GPU even though there's a work around). I'm thinking mobile Kaby Lake and mobile Pascal will be the next laptop I keep for another 10 years. Reply
  • Nacho - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    Can you beat me?
    Last month I finally upgraded my primary rig from a C2D E4300 @2.7Ghz! Memory started failing last year & I couldn't find cheap DDR2, so I was down to 2GB.
    Went for a i5 6500 and 16GB DDR4. The difference is incredible!
  • Filiprino - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    So much time since reading Anand's article on Conroe. Reply
  • 3ogdy - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    Great article, Ian! I've found it a very good read and it's always nice to take a look back and analyze what we've been through so far.
    I also wanna point out just a few mini-errors I've found in the article:
    The Core 2 processors all came from a 143mm2 die, compared TO the 162mm2 of Pentium D. /
    by comparison to the large die sizes we see IN 2016 for things like the P100 /
    whereas the popular Core 2 Duo E6400 at $224 WAS at the same price as the Core i5-6600.
    As we NOW know, on-die IMCs are the big thing.
    Geometrical Scaling when this could NO longer operate
    By 2020-25 device features will be REDUCED (?)
    On the later -> LATTER?

    Keep up the amazing work!

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