Summary: Over the past several weeks, we've conducted extensive Core 2 testing with Intel's 975X chipset and Radeon X1900 CrossFire, but what about NVIDIA's GeForce cards? That's what we're here today to find out. In this article we not only go over upcoming chipsets for Core 2 from both ATI and NVIDIA, we also test the first SLI platform that's Core 2-compliant: ASUS' P5N32-SLI SE. See how the platform performs in both single-GPU and SLI configurations in this article!
ATI is hard at work putting the finishing touches on their upcoming RD600 chipset for Core 2. According to ATI, you should see the first RD600 boards hit shelves about a month from now. Due to NDA’s, we can’t tell you much about RD600’s feature set just yet, but we have learned that it won’t be a direct translation of RD580 for Core 2, there will be some distinct differences, just about the only thing you can expect RD600 to have in common with RD580 is ATI’s new SB600 South Bridge and the chipset’s 90-nm manufacturing process. In fact we expect RD600 to be a very capable chipset when it comes to overclocking because of its smaller manufacturing process, with passive cooling a very viable option (without exotic copper heat pipes) for some motherboard manufacturers if they chose to go that route.
nForce 570 SLI/590 SLI Intel Edition
New from the NVIDIA camp comes the nForce 570 SLI and nForce 590 SLI Intel Edition chipsets. Both chipsets are ready and are in full production now, with motherboard manufacturers putting the finishing touches on their retail boards as we speak. We’ve been told to expect the first wave of nForce 570 SLI and nForce 590 SLI Intel Edition motherboards later this month. ASUS, DFI, and ECS should be the first manufacturers with boards, with other manufacturers following shortly thereafter.
3DMark continues to favor the Core 2 CPUs. Both the Core 2 Extreme X6800 and Core 2 Duo E6700 outperform the FX-62, while the E6600 finishes just behind the FX-62.
In performance testing with F.E.A.R. the X6800 outruns the FX-62 by 16%, in fact even the Core 2 Duo E6600 enjoys a 5% advantage over the FX-62 in F.E.A.R. Keep in mind though that once the screen res is cranked up to 1600x1200 and you turn on AA/AF, the bottleneck shifts from the CPU to the GPU and all platforms perform the same, as the graphics card is the limiting factor in performance.
We continue to test with id’s Quake 4 because it’s one of the few titles on the market that really takes advantage of dual-core processors and thus provides a glimpse of what future multi-threaded titles will perform like. The Core 2 Duo chips continue to perform well, with the X6800 outrunning its nearest competitor the FX-62, by 13%. Even the E6400 with its 2MB cache is able to give the FX-62 a run for its money at 800x600. We continue to be GPU-bound at 1600x1200.
Call of Duty 2
We’ve incorporated a new custom demo for Call of Duty 2, thus the results are completely different than what we’ve seen in previous tests. Our older CoD 2 demo was in hindsight too graphics-intensive, if you recall our demo took part in a multiplayer map with smoke grenades going off everywhere. This is a good demo to stress the GPU, but probably a little worse than what you’d typically encounter in the game. Our new demo comes from the single-player portion and seems to do a better job of stressing the CPU, whereas previously performance was the same across all processors at 800x600, we’re now clearly seeing the advantages of Core 2 at that resolution, with the Core 2 Extreme X6800 finishing ahead of the FX-62 by 18%. In fact, the Core 2 Duo E6400 outperforms the FX-62 with our new demo.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat
We switched from Pacific Fighters to LOMAC for this article, just so we could see how another flight sim handles the new CPUs. LOMAC is a little more graphically-intensive than Pacific Fighters, but we still see pretty significant margins between FX-62 and Core 2 Extreme. At 800x600 the gap separating the two CPUs is nearly 30%. Even at 1600x1200, a resolution where you’d expect to be GPU-bound, we’re seeing some pretty significant differences between Core 2 and Athlon 64.
Lock On: Modern Air Combat
Call of Duty 2
With that being said, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to wait and see how upcoming chipsets for Core 2 pan out. Right now street prices on ASUS’ P5N32-SLI SE motherboard are quite high, with the board selling for over $250 at the moment. 975X motherboards can be found for a little less than that, and if you really want to save some money, P965 motherboards are currently selling for under $200 at most retailers (keep in mind that P965 doesn’t support multi-GPU setups). In all honesty, until more motherboards are available on the market from a wider variety of manufacturers and retailers, prices on Core 2-ready motherboards will remain artificially high in large part due to the extraordinary demand right now for anything that’s compliant with Core 2. The debut of Intel’s latest CPU seems to have set off a surge in hardware sales as end users are eager to take advantage of the latest AMD and Intel price cuts. Even VGA prices are spiraling downwards in anticipation of new GPU releases.
With demand surging and supply of Core 2-ready products low, retailers seem to be taking a little advantage of the situation and artificially raising prices.
For instance, prior to Core 2’s launch we were told by NVIDIA to expect ECS’ nForce 570 SLI motherboard to sell for around $90, while the ASUS nForce 570 SLI board should sell for about $110. Based on today’s retail prices, we wouldn’t be surprised if both motherboards carried street prices at least twice that if they were available at retail today.
If you don’t have the luxury of waiting though, and must buy a Core 2 SLI-ready setup today, the choice is clear: ASUS’ P5N32-SLI SE motherboard. The P5N32-SLI SE has all the hardware features you’d want in an enthusiast-class motherboard, as well as a plethora of BIOS settings for tweaking FSB and DDR2 memory speeds. By updating their original P5N32-SLI motherboard with official support for Core 2, ASUS has an in demand product that’s hitting the market at just the right time. As we said earlier, until the nForce 570/590 motherboards ship (or until other manufacturers update their own nForce4 SLI offerings), ASUS is the only ticket in town right now if you want SLI support and Core 2 all in one package. We now look forward to seeing what they have in store for nForce 570 and nForce 590 SLI. Hopefully we’ll find out in a few weeks…
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