What's the next best thing to an Intel 45nm quad-core processor? Why, a 45nm dual-core, of course. At least that's what Intel seems to being saying lately. While we tend to agree, there are certainly more than a few important considerations to take into account when deciding just which CPU is best suited for your intended uses. Choosing a CPU can be as personal an experience as buying a new car. While you know what you want, it really comes down to what you need, what you can afford, and more importantly, what makes sense. Although the four-core model easily overclocked to 4GHz or higher on air alone certainly does sound sexy, the brown sub-compact in the corner of the lot may be just what you're looking for. Don't worry though; either way Intel has an answer for you….

Intel's "tick-tock" strategy gives us a very early glimpse at the future of micro processing. If all goes well, Moore's Law should be as true in 2010 as it is today…

Amid rumors of manufacturing problems, the next step in the continuation of Intel's accelerated "tick-tock" strategy - which pledges process-technology shrinks of existing designs and the introduction of entirely new core architectures on an alternating two-year cycle - comes the release of a new line of 45nm dual-core processors, codenamed Wolfdale. Built on the familiar Core 2 architecture, these processors feature a few notable changes with some rather large implications for the overclocking crowd, all of which we will discuss in more detail later. For starters, advancements in process technology have allowed Intel to shrink the size of the transistors used in these CPUs from last-generation's 65nm down to 45nm, allowing for a ~50% reduction in die size for an equivalent design.

The changes don't end there; a few core processing modification have been made, making Wolfdale a little faster clock-for-clock than Conroe. These changes include but are not limited to: a new divider technique called Radix 16 that nearly doubles the speed of operations involving operand division, the introduction of 47 new Intel Streaming SIMD Extensions 4 (SSE4) instructions (many perfect for HD video production and decoding), and a unique 128-bit wide Super Shuffle Engine that significantly improves performance for all SSE-related instructions (i.e. content creation, image manipulation, and video encoding). Unfortunately, it will take some time for software developers to catch up with most of these innovations, but eventually we should see more and more programs and games that show the true power of these feature sets.

The layout of discrete components on the bottom of any Intel CPU is an easy way to quickly determine which product series you hold in your hands. This is what a 45nm E8000-series dual-core looks like.

Finally, the L2 cache size has been substantially increased. The E8000-series processors will feature up to 6MB of shared L2 cache, up from 4MB per core pair. However, the larger L2 cache comes with a move from the previous low-latency 4MB 8-way association scheme to a more complicated 24-way associated cache when using 6MB, adding precious nanoseconds to each data fetch. The larger cache is technically "better", but the higher latencies will in some cases negate the benefit, so this is not a clear improvement in 100% of cases. There has been no formal word yet from Intel as to whether this trade-off was a result of the use of the larger cache or if it was an intended design change.

All 45nm dual-core Intel CPUs will operate at a default bus speed of 333MHz (1333 quad-pumped), which is needed in order to give the included store forward technology and intelligent prefetch algorithms the fast memory access they desire. These background processes, combined with the use of the large L2 cache, are instrumental in Intel's recent success in hiding most of the traditional memory access latency experienced with many older designs. Although memory access operations are still slower than desired, more cache means these processes are able to look farther ahead, fetch more data into the L2, and increase the chances that an incorrect branch assumption will not result in a costly data stall. The move to an integrated memory controller (IMC), like that in Nehalem planned for a Q4 2008 release, will largely invalidate the necessity of these super-scalar caches.

The Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 processor promises to be the fastest, most energy efficient dual-core CPU ever designed for the PC.

We have noted in previous articles what an amazing difference Intel's new high-K 45nm process has made in the improved switching efficiency and the reduction in leakage current of these tiny transistors. Our results with the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 were nothing short of impressive. First impressions left us feeling as though Intel had either made a mistake in calculating the processor's thermal characteristics, or more likely they decided to conservatively rate these new quad-cores relative to the older 65nm quad-core CPUs. In any case, the improvement was real and measurable.

Drawing upon that same success, the E8000-series of dual-core processors shows great promise when applied in situations that demand unrivaled performance and/or energy-efficient operation. While there is no doubt that the E8500 will excel when subjected to even the most intense processing loads, underclocked and undervolted it's hard to find a better suited Home Theater PC (HTPC) processor. For this reason alone we predict the E8200 (2.66GHz) and E8300 (2.83GHz) processors will become some of the most popular choices ever when it comes to building your next HTPC.

What's more, Intel has decided to stay with the classic LGA775 package for at least one more round, meaning there is a good chance an upgrade to one of these new 45nm processors could be easier than you originally thought it would be. Past upgrades have required the purchase of an entirely new motherboard due to modifications to the Voltage Regulation Module (VRM) specifications, dictating board-level hardware changes needed for new processor compatibility. Not so with Wolfdale; a simple micro-code BIOS update from your motherboard vendor is often all that is necessary to add official support for these CPUs. After that, it's only a matter of removing the old processor and installing the new one, and you can begin enjoying all the benefits an E8000-series processor has to offer.

E8000 Lineup and Early Overclocking Results


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  • TheJian - Thursday, March 6, 2008 - link


    You can buy a Radeon 3850 and triple your 6800 performance (assuming it's a GT with an ultra it would be just under triple). Check tomshardware.com and compare cards. You'd probably end up closer to double performance because of a weaker cpu, but still once you saw your fps limit due to cpu you can crank the hell out of the card for better looks in the game. $225 vs probably $650-700 for a new board+cpu+memory+vidcard+probably PSU to handle it all. If you have socket 939 you can still get a dual core Opty144 for $97 on pricewatch :) Overclock the crap out of it you might hit 2.6-2.8 and its a dual core. So around $325 for a lot longer life and easy changes. It will continue to get better as dual core games become dominant. While I would always tell someone to spend the extra money on the Intel currently (jeez, the OC'ing is amazing..run at default until slow then bump it up a ghz/core, that's awesome), if you're on a budget a dual core opty and a 3850 looks pretty good at less than half the cost and both are easy to change out. Just a chip and a card. That's like a 15 minute upgrade. Just a thought, in case you didn't know they had an excellent AGP card out there for you. :)
  • mmntech - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    I'm in the same boat with the X2 3800+. Anyway, when it comes to dual vs quad, the same rules apply back when the debate was single versus dual. Very few games support quad core but a quad will be more future proof and give better multitasking. The ultimate question is how much you want to spend, how long you intend to keep the processor, and what the future road maps for games and CPU tech are within that period.

    I'm a long time AMD/nVidia man but I'm liking what Intel and ATI are putting out. I'm definitely considering these Wolfdales, especially that sub $200 one. I'm going to wait for the prices and benchmarks for the triple core Phenoms though before I begin planning an upgrade.
  • Margalus - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    the current state of affairs generally point to the higher clocked dual core. Very few games can take advantage of 4 cores, so the more speed you get the better. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    This has been mentioned in a couple of articles, now, that what these processors will run at with no more than 1.45v core voltage applied is what really matters for most people buying one of these 45nm chips. So, it begs the question, what are the results at this voltage?

    While the section on processor failure was somewhat interesting, I think that it should have been a separate article.
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    "these processors will run (safely) at with no more than 1.45v core voltage applied is what really matters for most people buying one of these 45nm chips. So, it begs the question, what are the results at this voltage"

    Very good point. Since these CPU's are deemed safe up to 1.45 volt, lets see how far they clock at 1.45 volts. 4.5 ghz at 1.6 volts is nice for a suicide run, but lets see it at 1.45.
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    This reads like an excerpt of a press release:

    "We could argue that when it came to winning the admiration and approval of overclockers, enthusiasts, and power users alike, no other single common product change could have garnered the same overwhelming success."

    Except that it was not. It was a knee-jerk reaction to the K8 release way back in 2003. It was too expensive to matter to anyone except for the filthy rich. The FX around that time was more successful. In recent years they just polished the concept a bit, but gaining admiration and overwhelming success because of it?? I think not. The Conroe architecture was the catalyst, not some expensive niche product.

    "Our love affair with the quad-core began not too long ago, starting with the release of Intel's QX6700 Extreme Edition processor. Ever since then Intel has been aggressive in their campaign to promote these processors to users that demand unrivaled performance and the absolute maximum amount of jaw-dropping, raw processing power possible from a single-socket desktop solution. Quickly following their 2.66GHz quad-core offering was the QX6800 processor, a revolutionary release in its own right in that it marked the first time users could purchase a processor with four cores that operated at the same frequency as the current top dual-core bin - at the time the 2.93GHz X6800."

    Speed bump revolutionary? Oh well ;)

    No beef with the rest of the article, those two paragraphs just stand out as being overly enthousiastic, more so than informative.
  • MaulSidious - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    this articles a bit late isn't it? seeing as they been out for quite a while now. Reply
  • MrModulator - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    Well it's being updated from time to time. I think it is relevant since Cubase 4 is still the latest version used of cubase and the performance is the same today. What is important with this is that they measure up two equally clocked processors where the difference is in the number of cores. Yes, the quad is better at higher latencys but it loses the advantage at lower latencys and even gets beaten by the dual-core.
    More of a reminder of the limitations of current day quadcores in some situations. This will probably change when Nehalem is introduced with its on-die memory controller, a higher FSB and faster DD3 memory.
  • adiposity - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    Uh, what? I think he's saying these processors were on the shelves over a month ago. This article is acting like they are just about to come out!

  • MrModulator - Wednesday, March 5, 2008 - link

    Yeah, you talk about games and maximum cpufrequency on dual core is important, but there are other areas that are much more interesting. Performance for sequencers where you make music (in DAW-based computeres) is seldom mentioned. It is very important to be able to cram out every ounce of performance in real-time with a lot of software synthesizers and effects using a low latency setting(not memory latency but the delay from when you press a key on the synt until it is procesed in the computer and put out from the soundcard for example).
    Here's an interesting benchmark:

    (Sorry, using the linking button didn't work, you have to copy the link manually)
    If you scroll down to the Cubase4/Nuendo3 Test you can compare the QX6850(4 core) with the E6850 (2 core). They both run at 3 GHz. Look at what happens when the latency is lowered. Yes the dualcore actually beats the quadcore, even though these applications use all cores available. The reason could be that all 4 cores compete for the fsb and memory access when the latency is really low. Very interesting indeed, as DAW is an area in much more for cpu than gaming...

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