The Real Test - AnandTech's Multitasking Scenarios

Before our first dual core articles, we asked for feedback from the readers with regards to their multitasking usage patterns. Based on this information, we formulated some of our own benchmarks that would stress multitasking performance. We've already gone over the impacts of dual core CPUs on subjective interactions, so we'll just point you back to previous articles for our take on that, if you haven't read them already. In the end, we know that dual core CPUs make our systems much more responsive and provide the same sort of smooth operation that SMP systems have done for years, but the question now is - who has better multitasking performance? AMD or Intel? And that's exactly what we're here to find out.

We started with a test bed configured with a number of fairly popular applications:
Daemon Tools
Norton AntiVirus 2004 (with latest updates)
Firefox 1.02
DVD Shrink 3.2
Microsoft AntiSpyware Beta 1.0
Newsleecher 2.0
Visual Studio .NET 2003
Macromedia Flash Player 7
Adobe Photoshop CS
Microsoft Office 2003
3ds max 7
iTunes 4.7.1
Trillian 3.1
DivX 5.2.1
AutoGK 1.60
Norton Ghost 2003
Adobe Reader 7
Cygwin
gcc
mingw
Doom 3
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory
What's important about that list is that a handful of those programs were running in the background at all times, primarily Microsoft's AntiSpyware Beta and Norton AntiVirus 2004. Both the AntiSpyware Beta and NAV 2004 were running with their real time protection modes enabled, to make things even more real world.

We will be looking at AMD vs. Intel dual core scaling in another article, so for now, we are comparing the dual core chips featured in this article to the fastest single core AMD CPU - the Athlon 64 FX-55. We have already looked at Intel's dual core scalability in previous articles for those who are interested. In the end, our previous tests have shown us that no single core CPU can compete with even the slowest dual core CPUs in any of these tests.

Multitasking Scenario 1: DVD Shrink

If you've ever tried to back up a DVD, you know that the process can take a long time. Just ripping the disc to your hard drive will eat up a good 20 minutes, and then there's the encoding. The encoding can easily take between 20 - 45 minutes depending on the speed of your CPU, and once you start doing other tasks in the background, you can expect those times to grow even larger.

For this test, we used DVD Shrink, one of the simplest applications available to compress and re-encode a DVD to fit on a single 4.5GB disc. We ran DVD Decrypt on the Star Wars Episode VI DVD, so we had a local copy of the DVD on our test bed hard drive (in a future version of the test, we may try to include DVD Decrypt performance in our benchmark as well). All of the DVD Shrink settings were left at default including telling the program to assume a low priority, a setting many users check in order to be able to do other things while DVD Shrink is working.

We did the following:

1) Open Firefox using the ScrapBook plugin loaded locally archived copies of 13 web pages. We kept the browser on the AT front page.
2) Open iTunes and start playing a playlist on repeat all.
3) Open Newsleecher.
4) Open DVD Shrink.
5) Login to our news server and start downloading headers for our subscribed news groups.
6) Start backup of Star Wars Episode VI - Return of the Jedi. All default settings, including low priority.

This test is a bit different than the test that we ran in the Intel dual core articles, mainly in that we used more web pages, but with more varied content. In the first review, our stored web pages were very heavy on Flash. This time around, we have a wider variety of web content open in Firefox while we conducted our test. There is still quite a bit of Flash, but the load is much more realistic now.

DVD Shrink was the application in focus; this matters because by default, Windows gives special scheduling priority to the application currently in the foreground. We waited until the DVD Shrink operation was complete and recorded its completion time. Below are the results:

Multitasking Performance - Scenario 1

As we showed in the first set of dual core articles, tests like these are perfect examples of why dual core matters. The performance of the single core Athlon 64 FX-55 is dismal compared to any of the dual core offerings. You'll also note that the Athlon 64 X2 4200+ completes the DVD Shrink task in less than half the time of the higher clocked single core FX-55. The reasoning behind this is more of an issue with the Windows' scheduler. The problem in situations like these is that the Windows scheduler won't always preempt one task in order to give another its portion of the CPU's time. For a single threaded CPU, that means that certain tasks will take much longer to complete simply because the OS' scheduler isn't giving them a chance to run on the CPU. With a dual core or otherwise multi-threaded CPU, the OS' scheduler can dispatch more threads to the CPU and thus, is less likely to be in a situation where it has to preempt a CPU intensive task.

The Athlon 64 X2 4800+ is within striking distance of the Extreme Edition 840, but Intel still holds the crown in this test.

3D Rendering Multitasking Scenario 2: File Compression
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  • Quanticles - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    #63

    you going to hire anand as a consultant? lol
    Reply
  • Viditor - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    Anand...thanks muchly for the reply!
    I guess I just wanted to know if you had compared memory timings (I should have known that you had!).

    I'm just trying to get a handle on what will perform well and under what circumstances (I don't know if you noticed above, but I just had a colleague put a hold on a $90,000AUD order because of many of todays reviews...your input really DOES matter!).
    While rendering speeds are the paramount issue for me, multitasking is also important.
    Reply
  • Jeff7181 - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    Overclock it! :D Reply
  • Viditor - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    Nat, thanks for the reply.

    "for some reason the high end P4's have *felt* like faster desktop processors to me"

    I hear what you're saying...to me, they don't seem faster but they do seem "smoother". It feels sort of like the AMD's drive in a lower gear but with higher RPMs, you may be going the same or faster speed but the ride's a lot "torquier" (is that a word?) so you both accelerate AND decelerate faster.
    Reply
  • GentleStream - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    OK, I'll be patient.
    Reply
  • bob661 - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    #51
    Synthetic benchmarks do not generally correlate to real world applications. There's no bias, you're just a dumbass.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    GentleStream

    I'm still working on additional multitasking tests (including a skype/gaming test as well as the multitasking compile test) but they didn't make it into this review.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • GentleStream - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    So where is the multitasked compile test? You did the compile test in the last review for building Firefox but did not do a parallel compile i.e.
    such as make -j 4. That is the test which I was really looking for.
    Reply
  • fitten - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    #46 Actually, no. I use (and write) multithreaded and multiprocess code every day for a living as well as for fun. I can't wait for the X2s to come out so I can buy one (I've been planning on it for over a year now!). I've already got everything picked out, I just need the dang things to be available!

    Btw, I'm also a gamer of sorts so I have to pay attention to both the programmer and the gamer inside me :P
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, May 9, 2005 - link

    "but that possibility is always there."

    I've always been very clear that this is *not* how things work at AnandTech. I specifically delegated all advertising duties to a separate company to ensure that there wasn't even a chance for manufacturers to have any influence on any AnandTech editors. From a business standpoint, you can run a much more successful business if your loyalties lay with your readers and their desires rather than with manufacturers. Credibility is everything and we'd have to be pretty stupid to sacrifice that for any amount of money or manufacturer favoritism. A lot of things in life just boil down to common sense, and how we work at AnandTech is one of them.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply

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