Intel Core 2 Duo E4300: Affordable and Highly Overclockableby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 10, 2007 2:45 AM EST
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Every generation a ridiculously overclockable bargain chip is born, and the Core 2 Duo E4300 is just that chip. Although it's not yet launched, Intel has a true winner on its hands with the E4300. Last year we saw overall desktop performance redefined by the Core 2 lineup, and in 2007 it looks like Intel will begin changing what we've come to expect in the sub-$200 CPU market. What's even more impressive is that in another quarter, the E4300 will drop even further to $133. At these prices you can build a second or third system with some very strong performance, at a very reasonable price tag.
The best part of it all is that the E4300 is a no-compromise core; you end up losing VT support, but all of the performance elements are there. The 800MHz FSB isn't crippling enough to really hinder performance, and the smaller cache is more than acceptable for the vast majority of applications. The Core 2 Duo E4300 is no Celeron; if anything it's a spiritual successor to a long line of attractive, highly overclockable Intel CPUs. It's everything Intel's Pentium D 820 was, but with much higher performance and a much lower power envelope.
At default speeds, the E4300 isn't all that impressive in the grand scheme of things; it's effectively a slightly cheaper, slightly slower E6300. But much like the E6300, much of the appeal of the E4300 comes from overclocking - and overclock it does. Compared to other Core 2 CPUs, the E4300 doesn't set any new overclocking records but at the price it's a true bargain.
The change in base FSB speed also has advantages in overclocking, making it possible to use a linked (1:1 ratio) memory speed and still get extremely high overclocks without resorting to anything more than DDR2-800 memory. The E6300 has a 7x multiplier and a 266 MHz base bus speed, so without dropping to a 4:5 ratio and sticking with DDR2-800, the E6300 tops out at 7x400 or 2.8 GHz. With a 9x multiplier the E4300 can potentially reach as high as 9x400 or 3.6 GHz while keeping memory at or below DDR2-800. While it is possible to get bus speeds of P965 motherboards above 500 MHz, it is far more difficult and often requires more expensive component choices, making the E4300 the new king of budget overclocking. Throw in a more powerful CPU cooling setup, and we have no doubt it will be very easy to exceed our 3.37GHz overclock by a large margin.
At stock speeds, the E4300 ends up offering similar performance to the Athlon 64 X2 4200+. In SYSMark 2004SE, DivX and some games it's faster, and in other situations it's basically the same speed. The Athlon 64 X2 3800+ ends up being slower in every benchmark, but with a lower price it's still a reasonable choice. Obviously the Core 2 upgrade path is a bit more desirable these days than AMD's Socket-AM2 platform, so the E4300 gets the nod there, but you can't really go wrong with either chip at default settings. When overclocked things get a little more complicated, but the E4300 gets the recommendation as a 2.8 - 3.0GHz Athlon 64 still ends up being slower than a 3.38GHz Core 2.
Compared to Intel's other value offerings, mainly the existing Pentium D lineup, the decision is clear. With the E4300 at $163 and moving down to $133 by Q2, cheap no longer means NetBurst. Intel is planning on significantly ramping its dual core presence this year, and with the E4300 available as a part of the lineup we can see exactly how. If you're building a Vista system early this year and want to do it efficiently, Intel is going to make it even cheaper to do.