I’ve been writing about the “new” Intel for nearly three years now. It’s been so long that I almost forgot what the old Intel was like. It’s not that the old Intel wasn’t competitive performance-wise, it’s that the old Intel wasn’t pleasant to work with. The old Intel was the one that always thought the Pentium 4 was the fastest thing on the planet, even when it wasn’t. The old Intel wasn’t forthcoming with information and acted like it worked in a world where it had no competition. The old Intel wasn’t a very good Intel.

The new one is nothing like that. We get open sharing of information, real discussion about AMD’s strengths and weaknesses and it also helps that we also get the world’s fastest microprocessors with it.

We’ve seen that the new Intel can stand the test of time, at least over the past three years. But can the new Intel last when it’s not always winning reviews? Sure, Intel’s Core i7 remains untouched but what about at cheaper price points? Last month we found out that Intel is quite competitive at the $70 with its Pentium E5300. But between the $70 E5300 and the $280 Core i7-920 there are a few price points where AMD is recommendable.

The question then becomes how does the new Intel deal when it isn’t the fastest on the market?

Surprisingly well it turns out.

This is the Core 2 Quad Q8400:

It’s a quad-core chip running at 2.66GHz with a 2MB L2 per pair of cores (4MB total). It’s like two Pentium Dual Core processors on a single package.

These chips actually have a 6MB L2 but with 2MB disabled either because they have irrecoverable defects in the cache or simply to hit the right price point. In other words, the Q8400 is literally a Q9400 but with 2MB of its L2 disabled.

The Q8400 is Intel’s most recent response to the Phenom II X4 940. Initially AMD priced the 940 similarly to the Q9400. Then, Intel cut prices so that the 940 had to compete with the much faster Q9550. AMD responded, with a price cut that put the 940 on par with the Q9400 again.

Once AMD began shipping Socket-AM3 Phenom IIs, it dropped the prices on its Socket-AM2+ parts once more. This wasn’t so much a price cut but rather a gradual phasing out of the AM2+ CPUs, eventually I expect an AM3-only market since those chips can also work in AM2+ boards.

Rather than take the bait and drop the Q9400 prices once more, Intel instead responded with the introduction of a similarly priced Q8400 at $183.

AMD’s Phenom II X4 940 was generally the same speed if not faster than Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q9400. With less cache, the Q8400 shouldn’t perform any better than the Q9400, so the question is - does it perform any worse?

Then there’s power consumption to worry about and overclocking, but we’ll get to those in due time. Let’s just say that the situation is far more complex than it seemed at first sight.

Core 2 Quad Q9400 vs. Q8400: An Extra $30 buys you 6%
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  • TA152H - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link


    Have you ever asked Intel why they don't lower the latency of their processors when they cut the cache size? Why should a processor with two MB cache run at the same latency as one with six MB? Certainly it does not need to.

    I could understand it where they are just cutting off some of the cache because it's faulty, but when they are actually two different dies, with the different cache sizes designed into the chip, why do they artificially slow down the chips with the smaller cache? They should have no trouble lopping off one cycle, since the 4 MB Conroes were 14 instead of 15, and these processors are 2 MB cache per core, so it could allow 13 cycles, but surely can handle 14 easily.

    It's maddening when Intel slows things down for no good reason. It's probably a marketing decision, and we all know how marketing decisions are.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    It actually comes down to design resources. It's fairly easy to change a cache size, but changing the access latency requires more of a design change. I'm guessing those resources are better spent on newer architectures. e.g. Intel could go back and make even better versions of the Penryn based cores, but it makes more sense to put those efforts into engineering Westmere and its successors.

    Plus, a given architecture is usually optimized for whatever latency cache it's originally designed with. Speeding up the L2 may not yield as big of a gain as it would had the architecture been originally designed around a faster L2.

    I believe there's always a focus on lowering cache latencies, and that's what we saw with Nehalem. From what I've heard, the new focus is bringing down that L3 latency...

    Take care,
  • Seramics - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    I noticed a strange trend in Phenom II X3 720 performance. They consistently performed very well, always outperforming similarly clocked buy quad core model of PII X4 920 and sometimes even besting PII X4 940. Strange... wonder why is that... the only advantage of 720 over quad models is higher L3 cache per core... but still, i would thought even 920 should be better.... strange strange
  • cfaalm - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    Why are we getting new Core2 models in the first place? Shouldn't Intel be selling us i5 rather sooner than later?
  • garydale - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    In almost every benchmark the AMD chip bested the (cheaper) Intel - often by a noticeable margin. The real competition for the 940 remains the 9400. A better comparison would have been between the 8400 and one of AMD's comparably-priced CPUs.

    Still, with VT disabled on the 8400, we're talking apples and oranges. I don't know what Intel were thinking by disabling it but seems remarkably silly with virtualisation even hitting home users these days. It's quite like disabling SSE but the idea seems like a win for marketing over engineering. Pay the extra $30 and get a CPU.
  • ssj4Gogeta - Saturday, May 9, 2009 - link

    I can't understand what all this fuss is about. As if everyone in the world is going to be running the Ultimate version of Windows.
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    Intel VT as well.

    Sorry, I think my Q6600 is worth more than a Q8400 for that reason alone. I'm also pretty sure that AMD's hardware virtualization trickles down to a cheaper level than Intel's does.

    Intel really needs to stop cutting VT on all but perhaps Celeron-class CPU's and maybe Pentium Dual-Core on laptops. I certainly wouldn't buy anybody's quad-core that didn't have it.
  • leexgx - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    all AM2 or higher chips have amd-V (apart from semprons None of them have amd-V), i think some 939 cpus have amd-V not sure but not the point realy as thay not been sold for years

    all q8000 cpus do not have VT (unless thay bring one out that does), q9000 do
  • Scali - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    Yup, AMD leaves VT enabled on pretty much everything.
    Makes sense, because it's an added value over Intel's offerings, and it doesn't cost much extra, since it's already in the chip design.

    For Intel it makes sense to leave it disabled, because it's a feature that's mainly useful for business users, and Intel has always tried to push business users to the high-end CPUs by disabling certain features on the lower-end models. Performance alone isn't really a reason to get a high-end CPU anymore.
  • LoneWolf15 - Friday, May 8, 2009 - link

    It will be useful for far more than business users shortly. Windows 7's new XP-mode option requires Intel VT or AMD-V. While I admit that so far I haven't had app issues under Win7RC (that includes 32-bit app issues in a 64-bit environment) there IS one 16-bit app I still run that I'm sure I'll need XP mode for under 64-bit Windows. I'm also sure there will be other instances that pertain to the general market.

    Eventually, hypervisors are going to be a big deal, just like multi-core processors are becoming now. At that point, people without Intel VT will be screwed, and I think they'll be pretty ticked if they're the ones that thought that buying a quad-core CPU like the Q8400 was a good future-proofing move.

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