CPU Bound Gaming Performance

While we always try to run our gaming benchmarks in CPU reviews as a balance between being CPU and GPU bound, there is some merit to using CPU bound gaming scenarios as a true measure of the gaming power of a CPU. 

The previous pages of gaming benchmarks were run at 1600 x 1200, which struck a good balance between being CPU and GPU bound on our CrossFire setup but here we’re looking at exactly how good of a gaming CPU the Core 2 Duo is.  By running these tests at 640 x 480 with the same CrossFire setup as before we’re ensuring that the performance bottlenecks in these titles shift as far as possible from the GPU and onto the CPU. 

These tests aren’t designed to tell you how fast these CPUs are at running these games, but rather how quickly they can run through the physics and AI code when not waiting on the graphics card at all. 

We chose to look at two CPUs: the Core 2 Extreme X6800 and the Athlon 64 FX-62, to get an idea of how strong each architecture was at pure physics/AI processing in games.  We also omitted any games whose performance didn’t change by dropping the resolution from 1600 x 1200 to 640 x 480 (meaning that those games were already predominantly CPU limited in our previous tests). 

 CPU Quake 4 HL2 Ep 1 F.E.A.R.  BF2
AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 156.7 170.0 164.0 108.7
Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 192.5 263.5 236.0 142.3
Advantage (Intel) 22.8% 55.0% 43.9% 30.9%


In terms of sheer ability to process physics and AI as well as feed a hungry graphics subsystem, Intel's Core 2 Extreme X6800 is anywhere between 22 and 55% faster than AMD's Athlon 64 FX-62. 

While this doesn't mean much for real world gaming, it does cement the fact that Intel's Core 2 processor is significantly faster at the type of code current 3D games will throw at it.  The very same benchmarks that Intel used to complain about favoring AMD, now favor Intel just as much; oh how times have changed.

Gaming Performance using Oblivion Overclocking


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  • code255 - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    Thanks a lot for the Rise of Legends benchmark! I play the game, and I was really interested in seeing how different CPUs perform in it.

    And GAWD DAMN the Core 2 totally owns in RoL, and that's only in a timedemo playback environment. Imagine how much better it'll be over AMD in single-player games where lots of AI calculations need to be done, and when the settings are at max; the high-quality physics settings are very CPU intensive...

    I've so gotta get a Core 2 when they come out!
  • Locutus465 - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    It's good to see intel is back. Now hopefully we'll be seeing some real innovation in the CPU market again. I wonder what the picture is going to look like in a couple years when I'm ready to upgrade again! Reply
  • Spoonbender - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    First, isn't it misleading to say "memory latency" is better than on AMD systems?
    What happens is that the actual latency for *memory* access is still (more or less) the same. But the huge cache + misc. clever tricks means you don't have to go all the way to memory as often.

    Next up, what about 64-bit? Wouldn't it be relevant to see if Conroe's lead is as impressive in 64-bit? Or is it the same horrible implementation that Netburst used?
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    Actually, it's the "clever tricks" that are reducing latency. (Latency is generally calculated with very large data sets, so even if you have 8 or 16 MB of cache the program can still determine how fast the system memory is.) If the CPU can analyze RAM access requests in advance and queue up the request earlier, main memory has more time to get ready, thus reducing perceived latency from the CPU. It's a matter of using transistors to accomplish this vs. using them elsewhere.

    It may also be that current latency applications will need to be adjusted to properly compute latency on Core 2, but if their results are representative of how real world applications will perceive latency, it doesn't really matter. Right now, it appears that Core 2 is properly architected to deal with latency, bandwidth, etc. very well.
  • Spoonbender - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    Well, when I think of latency, I think worst-case latency, when, for some reason, you need to access something that is still in memory, and haven't already been queued.
    Now, if their prefetching tricks can *always* start memory loads before they're needed, I'll agree, their effective latency is lower. But if it only works, say, 95% of the time, I'd still say their latency is however long it takes for me to issue a memory load request, and wait for it to get back, without a cache hit, and without the prefetch mechanism being able to kick in.

    Just technical nitpicking, I suppose. I agree, the latency that applications will typcially perceive is what the graph shows. I just think it's misleading to call that "memory latency"

    As you say, it's architected to hide the latency very well. Which is a damn good idea. But that's still not quite the same as reducing the latency, imo.
  • Calin - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    You could find the real latency (or most of it) by reading random locations in the main memory. Even the 4MB cache on the Conroe won't be able to prefetch all the main memory.
    Anyway, the most interesting is what memory latency the application that run feels. This latency might be lower on high-load, high-memory server processors (not that current benchmarks hint at this for Opteron against server-level Core2)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    "You could find the real latency (or most of it) by reading random locations in the main memory."

    I'm pretty sure that's how ScienceMark 2.0 calculates latency. You have to remember, even with the memory latency of approximately 35 ns, that delay means the CPU now has approximately 100 cycles to go and find other stuff to do. At an instruction fetch rate of 4 instructions per cycle, that's a lot of untapped power. So, while it waits on main memory access one, it can be scanning the next accesses that are likely to take place and start queuing them up. And the net result is that you may never actually be able to measure latency higher than about 35 ns or whatever.

    The way I think of it is this: pipeline issues aside, a large portion of what allowed Athlon 64 to outperform at first was reduced memory latency. Remember, Pentium 4 was easily able to outperform Athlon XP in the majority of benchmarks -- it just did so at higher clock speeds. (Don't *even* try to tell me that the Athlon XP 3200+ was as fast as a Pentium 4 3.2 GHz... LOL.) AMD boosted performance by about 25% by adding an integrated memory controller. Now Intel is faster at similar clock speeds, and although the 4-wide architectural design helps, they almost certainly wouldn't be able to improve performance without improving memory latency -- not just, but in actual practice. With us, I have to think that our memory latency scores are generally representative of what applications see. All I can say is, nice design Intel!
  • JarredWalton - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    "...allowed Athlon 64 to outperform at first was...."

    Should be:

    "...allowed Athlon 64 to outperform NetBurst was..."

    Bad Dragon NaturallySpeaking!
  • yacoub - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link

    ""Another way of looking at it is that Intel's Core 2 Duo E6600 is effectively a $316 FX-62".

    Then the only question that matters at all for those of us with AMD systems is: Can I get an FX-62 for $316 or less (and run it on my socket-939 board)? If so, I would pick one up. If not, I would go Intel.

    End of story.
  • Gary Key - Friday, July 14, 2006 - link


    Then the only question that matters at all for those of us with AMD systems is: Can I get an FX-62 for $316 or less (and run it on my socket-939 board)? If so, I would pick one up. If not, I would go Intel.

    A very good statement. :)

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