Summary: A few weeks ago we took at look at the performance of Intel's latest Core 2 CPUs, the Core 2 Extreme X6800 and Core 2 Duo E6700, finding them to be excellent performers. But what if you don't have the budget to spend $500+ on a new CPU? This is where Intel's Core 2 Duo E6400 comes in. It ships with lower clock speeds and a smaller L2 cache, but as you'll see in today's benchmarks, it still puts up respectable numbers. In fact, with a little bit of overclocking (how does a 1.3GHz overclock sound?) it will actually outrun a Core 2 Extreme. See how this CPU performs in comparison to the latest and greatest, as well as older CPUs like the Athlon 64 X2 4800 and Athlon 64 3500+ in both single-GPU and multi-GPU setups in this review!
Intel had been saying for months that Core 2 would take back the performance crown from AMD when it was released, but as everyone knows, itís PRís job to make bold claims when it comes to performance. Practically no one outside of Intel expected Core 2 to dominate AMDís high-end CPU lineup so thoroughly.
ďBut what about the lower-end Core 2 CPUs?Ē Thatís the million dollar question a lot of you asked after seeing the Core 2 Extreme benchmarks. After all, while itís always fun to read about $999 CPUs, not many of us have the budget to afford such a processor. Because of this, weíve been eager to get our hands on one of Intelís more affordable Core 2 processors. This is where the Core 2 E6400 comes in.
The Core 2 E6400 boasts many of the same key features found in Intelís more expensive Core 2 Duo CPUs Ė in fact itís built on the same manufacturing line Ė only Intel disables half the processorís cache and it runs at a lower clock speed: 2.13GHz. In comparison, the Core 2 Duo E6700 runs at 2.66GHz, while the Core 2 Extreme X6800 runs at 2.93GHz. With the smaller cache and slower speed the Core 2 Duo E6400 commands a significantly lower price, just $224 compared to the $999 price tag of the Core 2 Extreme X6800 and $530 price of the Duo E6700, making it a tempting alternative to the more expensive Core 2 CPUs. In fact we canít recall the last time a next-gen CPU launched with such affordable pricing.
With their dominance of the high-end market over, AMD quickly responded to the Core 2 threat by slashing CPU prices of their own. Whereas just a month ago the Athlon 64 X2 5000+ sold for $696, after cuts the price was reduced to $301. AMDís new pricing was clearly intended to battle Intelís Core 2 lineup. Hereís how the CPU market looks after this latest round of cuts:
Note that these are the prices that distributors pay in quantities of 1,000. This is not the same as street prices. Distributors like Ingram Micro ultimately sell PC components to retailers like Newegg and Zipzoomfly. These retailers then sell the parts directly to you and me, the public. Distributors can buy in quantities greater than 1,000 and pass those savings on to retailers, this is how street prices can fall below list prices. Weíre using AMD and Intelís official list prices to keep things simple.
As a result of the cuts, Intelís Core 2 Duo E6400 is pegged $16 below the X2 4600+. With this in mind, weíre eager to see how the E6400 stacks up against the 4600+Ö
Core 2ís shared L2 cache also helps to reduce power by minimizing memory traffic.
Overclocking the E6400
Everyone likes the idea of free performance, especially when youíre dealing with lower-end CPUs. After all, with a few keystrokes in BIOS, you can turn your ďlow-endĒ CPU into a processor capable of outperforming the latest and greatest CPUs with the right system components and a little bit of knowledge on the relationship between the CPU, front-side bus (FSB), and memory bus. Thatís why we were eager to see how far we could push the Core 2 Duo E6400, and it didnít disappoint.
To push the CPU even further we had to up the voltage. After slowly cranking up the FSB speed we finally hit 3.4GHz at 1.5V with a 425MHz FSB (8.0x425MHz). We were actually able to run Windows and various apps at speeds as high as 445MHz and higher voltage, but in order to complete our looped 3DMark run for stability we had to settle for 425MHz. CPU temps at that speed were around 53 degrees Celsius at load. Components used to hit these speeds were the aforementioned ASUS P5W DH Deluxe motherboard, a retail B2-stepping Core 2 Duo E6400 CPU, 2GB (2x1GB) Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C3 DDR2 memory, and finally, Zalmanís massive CNPS7700-Cu CPU fan which features an all-copper design and a large 120mm fan.
Keep in mind that weíre running all of our Core 2 performance tests with the memory bus running as close to the official speed of 667MHz as possible (including the OCíed results), but as we showed in you in our Tweaking Core 2 For More Performance article, you can easily dial in memory speeds of 800MHz or 1066MHz if youíre looking for even more performance.
LAME MT MP3 Encoding (MS Compiler)
Itís important to note that weíre running three different systems here. For testing older Athlon 64 CPUs, weíre running one Xpress 3200 platform with DDR400 and the X2 4800 as well as the A64 3500+. To test the strengths of AMDís new AM2 platform, weíre running a second system based around MSIís K9A Platinum motherboard. Finally, youíll see the Core 2 CPUs running on ASUSí P5W DH Deluxe motherboard.
Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9
LAME MT MP3 Encoding
Intelís Core 2 Duo E6400 excels in our media encoding tests, with the E6400 finishing 13 seconds ahead of the X2 4600+ in WME 9, while MP3 encoding is 18 seconds faster than the 4600+. The most dramatic difference between the X2 4600+ and the C2D E6400 is seen in our tests with DivX converter, where we convert a 1080p WMV-HD video into DivX format. Here the Core 2 chip finishes nearly 1 minute ahead of the 4600, in fact, Core 2 Duo E6400 even outperforms AMDís FX-62 CPU!
3DMark gives Core 2 the edge in both CPU performance (by a nose) and overall performance, although even there the difference is only 2%.
In F.E.A.R. Core 2 Duo E6400 outruns the X2 4600+ by 3% at 800x600, while the CPUís pull even at the GPU-bound resolution of 1600x1200 with 4xAA/8xAF. Itís looking like the E6400 vs. X2 4600+ is a much closer race than the 4MB Core 2 Duo CPUs. Letís take a look at performance in Quake 4 though, which has been reprogrammed to take advantage of dual-core CPUs.
The margin separating the Core 2 Duo E6400 from the X2 4600+ is a little greater in Quake 4, weíre looking at a 7% difference in performance at 800x600 in favor of Intelís Core 2 CPU. While this may not sound like much, interestingly enough itís just enough for the Core 2 Duo E6400 to squeeze ahead of AMDís Athlon 64 X2 5000+ in our testing. By the time you hit 16x12 weíre bound by the performance of the GPU and performance across all processors is the same.
Call of Duty 2
Call of Duty 2 just doesnít take advantage of the faster CPUs like the previous games did, even with the latest dual-core patch.
Flight sims are the most CPU-intensive game genre out there, so it was a no-brainer for us to test with Pacific Fighters, which has been patched to take advantage of SM 3.0ís vertex texture fetch feature to improve the gameís water. Here we can see where Intelís new Core 2 CPUs really shine, with the Core 2 Duo E6400 even pulling away from AMDís flagship Athlon 64 FX-62! Even at 1600x1200, a resolution youíd normally expect to be GPU-bound in, the C2D E6400 comes out ahead.
Performance is pretty similar in our outdoors testing, regardless of the processor used. Once we go into the market district of Imperial Village things begin to change though, as the area we test in contains lots of NPCs which the CPU is responsible for handling AI for. Here the Core 2 Duo managed to squeak ahead of the 4600+, but weíd call this one a draw considering the margin of error.
The Core 2 Duo E6400 continues to outpace the Athlon 64 X2 4600+, although the performance difference isnít as dramatic as what we saw in Pacific Fighters. It definitely looks like AMDís pretty competitive performance-wise with Intelís highest-end 2MB Core 2 Duo offering, the E6400.
It looks like weíre CPU-bound with Core 2 in the city area, although by 2048x1536 the margins close up slightly as the burden shifts increasingly from the CPU to the GPU.
Call of Duty 2
Performance: Intelís brand new ďConroeĒ Core 2 processor core incorporates many architectural enhancements that are designed to improve the CPUís performance. For starters, Intelís knocked the number of pipeline stages down from 31 stages in Pentium D, to just14 stages in Core 2. This allows Core 2 to deliver more instructions per clock cycle, in essence Core 2 gives up some clock speed, but it can perform more work per clock. Core 2 can also complete up to four instructions versus three in previous processors and features more accurate branch prediction. Core 2 can also execute 128Ėbit SSE, SSE2 and SSE3 instructions within one clock cycle.
Availability: Core 2 CPUs have barely been on the market for a week now, so finding CPUs can be a tough task. Complicating matters is the huge demand for Core 2 CPUs right now, especially with back-to-school season now underway. OEMs are scrambling to get as many Core 2 CPUs for use in these PCs as they can, while the do-it-yourself (DIY) crowd is plucking up these CPUs as quickly as they can find them at retail.
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