So Dual-Cores are no Longer Extreme?

It may be hard to believe, but the quad-core concept just celebrated its first birthday. Launched in late 2006, this anniversary also signifies the introduction of a rather significant adjustment to Intel's eternally-evolving marketing strategy. For the first time ever, Intel has decided not to produce a dual-core Extreme Edition variant of their leading quad-core product offering. That means there are currently no plans to manufacture a 45nm dual-core CPU featuring an unlocked multiplier (or as Intel likes to put it, with "overspeed protection removed"). Until now, this made choosing the right processor easy: those that lacked the means (or the need) for a quad-core could feel content in knowing they would not be expected give up having an unlocked multiplier should they decide to go with the dual-core in lieu of quad. Now, anyone that wants to enjoy the operational freedom that comes with having a fully adjustable multiplier with a 45nm processor will have to pony-up the dough for a QX9650 (or QX9770) or go without.

We recognize this change for what it really is - a bold move when it comes to fulfilling the needs of enthusiasts worldwide, considering how a vast majority of today's games and applications still favor systems with fewer high-speed cores over those with more cores at lower frequencies. Intel's decision to supply processors with unlocked multipliers under an "Extreme Edition" branding became an essential ingredient in the creation of all future roadmaps. Eventually these unique processors became the basis for a new class of computing platforms, one that embodied a shift in marketing philosophy. Rather than focus solely on serving the large OEMs, Intel also recognized the direct importance of the enthusiast community. 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.

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. From there only a small default FSB speed bump from 266Mhz (1066 quad-pump) to 333Mhz (1333 quad-pumped) and a stepping change from B3 to G0 was all that was needed to justify the creation of the QX6850, which ran at a slightly higher speed of 3.0Ghz (9x333). Again, the X6850 matched the QX6850 in every way but one, that being that it had two fewer cores.

Writing multithreaded code that makes efficient use of four or more cores is a daunting task - to date few applications and even fewer game developers are able to boast of this accomplishment. Given this, is it that hard to admit that perhaps we've all been a little guilty of demanding too much, too soon from our favorite software vendors? It should not be surprising then to learn then that many of today's ultimate gaming machines make use of "lesser" dual-core CPUs in place of their quad-core counterparts. With most titles able to take advantage of only two cores at a time, optimum gaming performance (read: maximum FPS) is often achieved by running a dual-core CPU at a greater frequency than is attainable using even the best quad-core processors.

Because dual-cores can often be coaxed to run at a higher, final stable speed then quad-core CPUs - which also consume significantly more power - most modern games have been engineered to make use of no more than two threads simultaneously executing in parallel. These games thus benefit from the additional overclocking headroom of dual-core CPUs. Meanwhile, in the case of the quad-core processor, approximately half of the processing resources sit idle while the code executes on any two of the four slower cores.

If you're not an overclocker, aside from the obvious processor count increase from two to four cores, there is little difference between Intel's top-end dual-core E8500 and their QX9650 Extreme Edition quad-core CPU. Each is fabricated based on exactly the same underlying 45nm, second-generation Core 2 architecture. Both interface with their host motherboard's MCH at an equivalent quad-pumped FSB speed of 1333MHz. And technically speaking, on a by-core basis, each must contend for the same amount of shared Level 2 cache (6MB per die). The only real difference is their core operating frequencies - the E8500 at 3.16GHz (9.5x333) and the QX9650 at 3.00Ghz (9x333). Because of the raw speed advantage, if the target application or game only makes use of two cores then the E8500 ends up being the better choice.

This isn't to say that the quad-core CPU is left without the existence of a proper application - far from it. Programs that heavily rely on the impressive parallel processing capabilities of a quad-core processor can realize up to nearly double the per-clock performance. This is especially true of tasks that lend themselves to the use of multiple program instances. For example, consider an encoding program that makes use of only two cores. Running two instances, and simultaneously encoding two files, would effectively load all four cores. Of course, this assumes there is a work queue in which the next available job can be drawn from, without which no benefit could be realized. There are certainly applications where more cores is almost always better; whether you use those applications on a regular basis is the real question.

E8000 Lineup and Early Overclocking Results "Accurate" Temperature Monitoring?


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  • mdma35 - Friday, October 09, 2009 - link

    Epic Article was pleasure to read thnx for sucj informative stuff Reply
  • jamstan - Sunday, July 13, 2008 - link

    I just did a build with an E8500. The temp always shows 30 degrees no matter how high I overclock it or what speed I have my Vantec Tornado at. Being an overclocker it stinks that I bought a cpu with a temp sensor that doesn't work. I guess its a common problem with this cpu and I hear Intel won't RMA a cpu with a bad sensor. I'm gonna be giving them a call. Reply
  • Johnbear007 - Saturday, March 08, 2008 - link

    I'd still like to know (other than microcenter) what retailer(S) are carrying the q6600 for "under 200$". I would much rather have a sub 200$ q6600 than a 260$ e8400 from mwave Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, March 06, 2008 - link

    I do not agree with much of mindless1's critique on page 3, but we arrive at a somewhat similar conclusion: the section " The Truth About Processor "Degradation" " is lacking. Rather than adressing my issues with mindless1's post I'll just explain my point.

    Showing the influence of temperature on reliability is nice and well, but you neglect the factor which is by far the most important: voltage. It's effect on reliability / expected lifetime / MTTF is much higher than temperature (within sane limits).

    How did you generate the curves in the first plot on that page? Is it just a guess or do you have exact data? Since you mention the 8500 specifically I can imagine that you got the data (or formula) from some insider. If so I'd be curious about how these curves look like if you apply e.g. 1.45 V. There should be a drastic reduction in lifetime.

    If you don't think voltage is that important and you have no ways to adjust the calculations, you could pm dmens here at AT. I'd say he's expert enough in this field.

  • Toferman - Thursday, March 06, 2008 - link

    Another great article, thanks for your work on this Kris. :) Reply
  • xkon - Thursday, March 06, 2008 - link

    where are the sub $200 q6600's? i know microcenter had some for $200, but they are no where near me. any other ones? stating it in the article like that makes me think they are available at almost any retailer for that price. maybe if it was rephrased to something like they have been known to be priced as low as $200 or something like that. then again. maybe i'm not in the know, and am just not looking hard enough. Reply
  • TheJian - Thursday, March 06, 2008 - link

    Yet another example of lies. The cheapest Q6600 on pricewatch is $243. And that doesn't come with a 3yr warranty OR a heatsink. So really the cheapest is $253 for retail box with heatsink/fan and 3yr. That's a FAR cry from $200. Cheapest on is $255. Where did they search to find these magical $200 Q6600 chips? I want one. I suspect pricegrabber etc would show the same. I'm too lazy to check now...LOL Reply
  • MaulSidious - Thursday, March 06, 2008 - link

    dunno about america but in britain you can get a q6600 anywhere for 130-150 pounds Reply
  • Johnbear007 - Thursday, March 06, 2008 - link

    150 pounds is about 250-300$ american which is nowhere near what the articles author is claiming. One microcenter deal doesnt really constitute claiming you can bag one from retailer(S) for under 200$. Also, another poster pointed to what he called a q6700 for 80$. That is not true, it was an e6700 which is dual core not quad. Reply
  • Karaktu - Wednesday, March 05, 2008 - link

    I would just like to point out that it has been possible to run a sub-90-watt maximum HTPC for nearly two years. In fact, I've been doing it.

    It DOES require a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo mobile chip, but MoD isn't a new concept.

    - Using onboard Intel graphics, Realtek SPDIF and Gigabit network
    Core Duo T2500 (2.0GHz)
    - Cooled by a Nactua NC-U6 northbridge cooler and 60mm fan set to low
    2 x 1GB DDR2 667
    Vista View D1N1-E NTSC/ATSC PCI-E tuner
    Vista View D1N1-I NTSC/ATSC PCI tuner
    - (That's two analog and two HDTV tuners)
    1TB WDC GP 5400rpm hard drive
    750GB Samsung Spinpoint F1 7200rpm hard drive
    Antec Fusion case (rev 1)
    - VFD
    - 430-watt 80 Plus power supply
    - 2 x 120mm TriCool fans set to low
    - External IR for remote and keyboard
    Running MCE 2005

    Idles at 68 watts AT THE WALL and draws a maximum of 90 watts at full load (recording 4 shows and watching a fifth show/movie).

    If I ever get around to dropping the PSU to an EA-380, I'm sure the efficiency would go up a little since I would be closer to that magic 20 - 80% range on the power supply.


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