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Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 Processor
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Date: Apr 28, 2008
Section:Processors
Author: Chris Connolly
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Overview and Specifications

Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q9300 has some rather large shoes to fill. This newly shipping, relatively low-cost (~$270) quad-core processor from Intel is a replacement for their long-standing price to performance champ, the Core 2 Quad Q6600. The Q6600 was the first quad-core in Intel’s arsenal which was actually affordable, and even today, it remains one of the best values on the market. Not only is the Core 2 Quad Q6600 inexpensive for a quad-core at around $230, but it is extremely overclockable and provides a significant amount of computing power for the dollar. Core 2 Quad Q6600’s are still in high-demand – a trend which is likely to continue until Intel physically removes from them from the market.

Like we said, rather large shoes to fill. Luckily, the Core 2 Quad Q9300 processor has some impressive new features under the hood along with a higher clock speed, all at a similar price point as the Q6600. As the Core 2 Quad Q9300 utilizes Intel’s new 45nm manufacturing technology (as opposed to 65nm of the Q6600), potential buyers will be expecting the Q9300 to perform better and produce less heat compared to its predecessor – certainly a difficult task but one which we believe Intel can meet. We’ve already seen what Intel’s 45nm manufacturing technology is capable of with its dual-core “Wolfdale” architecture, and if Intel can bring the same benefits to the quad-core market as it did for dual-cores with “Wolfdale”, Intel will be in good shape.

The Q9300 is coming to market at an interesting time. Intel has struggled somewhat to get their mainstream 45nm quad-core components on to market, and the Core 2 Quad Q9300 represents Intel’s first real attempt at holding on to the low-cost quad-core market against a newly resilient AMD. With AMD’s new lineup of quad-core Phenom X4 B3 processors bringing similar features at a lower price point than the Q9300, Intel may have to work a little harder in order to make the Q9300 a success. Let's see if they're up for the challenge.
 


Intel's Core 2 Quad Q9300 Engineering Sample


  • 2.5 GHz Clock Speed, Quad-Core

  • "Yorkfield" Core Architecture

  • 45nm Manufacturing Technology

  • 256 kB L1 Cache (Data/Instruction)

  • 6 MB Shared L2 Cache (Full Speed)

  • 1333 MHz Front Side Bus Speed
  • Socket-775 Form Factor Design

  • 1.225V Default Core Voltage

  • Supports 32/64-bit Processing (EM64T)

  • Supports SSE / SSE2 / SSE3 / SSE4.1

  • Supports Intel Speedstep / C1E

  • Supports Execute Disable (xD) Bit


Core 2 Quad Q9300 - Top


Core 2 Quad Q9300 - Bottom

This Core 2 Quad processor, as we mentioned before, is based on Intel’s 45nm “Yorkfield” architecture, which replaces their 65nm Kentsfield designs that dominated Intel’s product lineup throughout 2007 and most of early 2008. The “Yorkfield” architecture is, more or less, two 45nm “Wolfdale” cores connected together into a single chip design. The Core 2 Quad Q9300 is not a native quad-core like AMD’s Phenom processor, but rather is two dual-cores connected under a single heat spreader - a multi-chip module. As our tests have shown in the past, this does not affect performance in any real way, and shouldn’t be a consideration when thinking of buying one of these chips. However, it is just an interesting aspect to note, from a technology perspective.

The Q9300 is somewhat of an anomaly as it’s the only member of the Core 2 Quad 45nm family which has 6 MB of L2 cache (2 x 3 MB cache per dual-core die). All other members of the Core 2 Quad family have a double-sized 12 MB of cache, which will give an estimated 5-10% performance boost at the same clock speed compared to the 6 MB variants. Interestingly enough, with 6 MB of L2 cache, the Q9300 actually has less cache compared to its predecessor (the Q6600), which had 8 MB of L2 cache (2 x 4 MB). However, cache latencies have improved with the new architecture, so performance will not suffer greatly due to this design decision. We do find it strange that Intel is introducing only one model based with 6 MB of cache, although it's certainly possible that Intel will be introducing newer models to fit alongside this chip in the future.

While the Q9300 takes a hit on cache, its architecture is improved just about everywhere else. The Q9300 runs at a clock speed of 2.5 GHz with a front side bus speed of 1333 MHz (compare to the Q6600 at 2.4 GHz @ 1066 MHz FSB). In addition, the Q9300 supports Intel’s new SSE 4.1 instruction set, which unlike any other SSE release we’ve seen in the past, can offer huge performance increases with properly coded applications. The biggest benefactor of this new instruction set have been video encoding applications, which can see massive (30%+) performance gains with SSE 4.1 supported processors.

Even with all these new features under the hood, the Core 2 Quad Q9300 runs on a standard Socket-775 interface and is compatible with the vast majority of Socket-775 motherboards on the market today. Most motherboards require a BIOS update in order to see the proper CPUID’s of these new processors, but if your motherboard supports 45nm, 1333 MHz FSB processors, you’ll likely be able to run one of these new chips. The Q9300 has a TDP (thermal design power) rating of 95W, which means you likely won’t have to replace your existing cooler, either. However, if you buy a retail boxed processor, you’ll get one of Intel’s (decent) retail cooling systems. For our tests, we’ll be using something a little bigger – after all, we want to see what this chip is capable of without cooling being a limitation.

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Power Consumption, Cooling and Overclocking

While a 95W TDP rating doesn’t seem extremely power-friendly, this TDP rating is actually quite good in comparison to other quad-core solutions on the market. AMD’s new Phenom 9850 chips run in the range of 125W TDP, and Intel’s previous generation quad-cores run art 105W+. While the spec sheets will tell you one story, we can say that after testing this chip first hand, it’s very friendly in terms of power consumption and heat-production for a quad-core. The Q9300 doesn’t need large, copper contraptions with fancy heatpipes and high-speed fans to stay cool (although, they help). The chip is perfectly happy running on fairly basic cooling systems with low-to-moderate speed fans. When idling, our Q9300 chip ran just above room temperature, and only hit temperatures of roughly 125°F / 51°C under sustained processing loads. For a quad-core with this much computing power under the hood, that's pretty impressive.

Of course, this makes for a beautiful segue to talk about overclocking. As the Q9300 runs cool under sustained loads at its stock 2.5 GHz clock rate, it’s only natural to think that the chip can run at much higher clock speeds when pushed. Being the low-end model of a new family of processors, people will be looking at this chip to be the new low-cost, high-speed overclocking price/performance champ that the Q6600 once was, and still is. From our tests thus far, the Q9300 does indeed surpass the overclockability of the Q6600, but not by the huge amounts we had originally expected. Here’s why.

The Q9300 runs with a 7.5x multiplier at 1333 MHz front side bus, which isn’t ideal for overclocking. The multiplier can be adjusted downwards, but it’s not incredibly flexible, leaving potential overclockers to rely on high front side bus speeds. Most modern motherboards don’t have any trouble hitting 1666 MHz FSB speeds and up, but when you get to the areas of 1800-1900 MHz and up, you really have to rely on the motherboard in order to help you unlock the true potential of this chip. With our tests, with a brand, spanking new XFX nForce 790i SLI motherboard, we were able to coax a maximum clock speed of 3.4 GHz out of our (2.5 GHz stock-clocked) Q9300 sample processor. Early reports from users getting these chips in hand are showing similar results.

In order to reach clock speeds of 3.3 GHz and higher, the Q9300 requires a voltage boost (up to 1.325V) in order to stay happy. Even with high clock speeds and increased voltage levels, our chip ran surprisingly cool throughout our tests. At 3.4 GHz, our chip would run through all of our benchmarks but one (a video encoding benchmark), no matter what voltage or cooling we threw at it. We found the sweet spot of overclocking on the Q9300 to be 3.33 GHz, which was rock solid throughout all of our testing. We’ve included a set of benchmarks at this overclocked speed in the following pages.


Core 2 Quad Q9300 - Stock Speeds


Core 2 Quad Q9300 - 3.33 GHz O/C

One of the most interesting areas to look at is the Core 2 Quad Q9300’s power consumption. With Intel’s 45nm process technology, a fairly low clock speed, and a small amount of cache, we would expect power consumption levels to be somewhat low in comparison to other quad-core solutions on the market today. We ran our power consumption numbers with our standard testbed (seen in the following page) with identical hardware configurations. Power consumption levels are tested for the whole system (not just the processors) through a hardware AC wattage meter. Idle numbers are taken at the Windows desktop after the OS has loaded and settled down. Full load meters are taken during our Cinebench R10 test when all four cores are active and running at maximum consumption levels. Power management features (EIST, C1E, Speedstep, PowerNow) were disabled across the board in order to keep consistency.


At first glance, the Core 2 Quad Q9300 looks very good from a power consumption perspective.  This 45nm quad-core chip at 2.5 GHz only consumes a scant few more watts compared to Intel’s 45nm dual-core E8500 at 3.16 GHz.   The Q9300 consumes about 30W less under load compared to the Q6600, despite a higher clock speed, which is also impressive.

What is most impressive is that even when overclocked to 3.3 GHz, the power consumption of this processor is roughly at the same level as a Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor at a stock 2.4 GHz.  Even with nearly a 1 GHz clock speed difference there is nearly no difference in power consumption, which is a testament to Intel's Penryn microarchitecture and its advanced manufacturing prowess.
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Testbed and SiSoft Sandra
Test System Details
Specifications and Revisions

  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 (3.16 GHz Dual-Core, 45nm)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 (3.0 GHz Dual-Core, 45nm)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8650 (3.0 GHz Dual-Core, 65nm)
  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 (2.5 GHz Quad-Core, 45nm)
  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.4 GHz Quad-Core, 65nm)
  • Intel Core 2 Exteme QX6750 (3.0 GHz Quad-Core, 65nm)
  • AMD Phenom 9600 Black Edition (2.3 GHz Quad-Core, 65nm - TLB Patch Disabled)
  • AMD Phenom 9500 (2.2 GHz Quad-Core, 65nm - TLB Patch Disabled)

  • eVGA Nvidia nForce 680i LT SLI Motherboard (For Intel Testing)
  • MSI K9A2 Platinum AMD 790FX Motherboard (For AMD Testing)
  • Kingston HyperX DDR2-800 Memory (4 x 1 GB, CAS 4-4-4-12)
  • Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB (169.74 Driver)
  • Western Digital Raptor 74 GB Hard Drive)
  • Plextor PX-755SA DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Corsair HX620W 620W Power Supply
  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate Edition (32-bit, SP1)

Synthetic CPU and Memory Benchmarks
SiSoft Sandra 2008 SP1 (Higher Numbers Are Better)




In terms of CPU arithmetic performance, the Core 2 Quad Q9300 scores pretty well across the board.  The chip only showcases a small increase in number-crunching performance compared to the Q6600, but in terms of multimedia performance shows massive gains, due to SSE4.1 instruction support.  The new core architecture also allows for increases in overall system memory bandwidth, jumping from 5.4 GB/s with the Q6600 to 6.5 GB/s with the Q9300.

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3DMark06 and Cinebench R10
Synthetic Benchmarks
Futuremark 3DMark06 and Cinebench R10 (Higher Numbers Are Better)



Our synthetic gaming and rendering tests also showcase the Q9300 in a positive light.  Both tests show the new Q9300 besting the Q6600 by substantial margins, and when overclocked, the Q9300 can provide better performance compared to Intel’s ~$1,000 QX6850 processor.   The overclocked Q9300 numbers in Cinebench are particularly impressive.

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Crysis and Half Life 2
Crysis Demo
Integrated CPU Benchmark, Average Of Five Runs (Higher Numbers Are Better)


Half Life 2 : Episode Two
Custom Designed CPU Intensive Benchmark (Higher Numbers Are Better)



Gaming performance is where we see the Core 2 Quad Q9300 stumble a bit.  The Q9300 has a smaller amount of L2 cache compared to the Q6600, but has a slightly higher clock speed to help offset this fact.  The end result is that gaming performance is roughly equal to the Q6600 at stock speeds for this new generation model.  Frankly, not terribly impressive, but this chip certainly can provide very solid overall gaming performance, especially when overclocked.  However, if you’re a gamer, we would recommend checking out Intel’s latest generation of highly clocked dual-core chips, which perform very well in gaming environments.

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Photoshop CS3

Adobe Photoshop CS3 Filter Benchmark
Cumulative Time Of CPU Intensive Filter Runs (Lower Times Are Better)


Adobe Photoshop CS3 RAW Photo Processing Time
Processing Effects and Resizing of Canon RAW Photos  (Lower Times Are Better)


While Photoshop CS3 can be a cache-sensitive application at times, the smaller amount of L2 cache on the Core 2 Quad Q9300 doesn’t seem to hold this chip back, as both of our CS3 tests show the Q9300 delivering better stock performance compared to the Q6600.  We’re certain that with more cache, it could deliver better performance at this clock speed, but its performance is certainly quite good overall.  When overclocked, the Q9300 gives some downright amazing Photoshop performance.

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7-Zip and Divx Author
7-Zip 4.43 File Compression Speed
Integrated Compression Benchmark (Higher Numbers are Better)


Divx Author 6.7 Video Encoding Speed
Encoding 30 Minute Show to Divx Format (Lower Times are Better)


The Q9300 puts up some moderate improvements in our file compression test, but shows a much more dramatic performance leap in our Divx encoding test.  The Q9300 encoded our file nearly two minutes faster than the Q6600 processor.   However, our lower-clocked quad-core components were still overpowered by Intel’s high-speed dual-core components in this particular test. 

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Conclusion

As our benchmark results and power consumption tests have shown, Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q9300 represents a solid upgrade over the Core 2 Quad Q6600, which we’ve come to know and love. Even though the Q9300 has a decreased cache size and only meager improvements in terms of clock speed, all in all, performance is improved, especially in video encoding tasks, and power consumption and heat production are reduced by substantial margins as well.


In our eyes, the Core 2 Quad Q9300’s biggest competitor comes from Intel itself. Intel is starting to begin mass shipments of the rest of their quad-core lineup, including the highly anticipated Core 2 Quad Q9450 processor, which has double the amount of L2 cache as the Q9300 and slightly higher clock speeds for a meager price increase. Given the massive difference in cache, we’d expect that enthusiasts will target this chip rather than the Q9300 as a starting point for a new system. Of course, AMD’s new Phenom X4 processors also represent a substantial threat, something we couldn’t say about AMD’s first generation Phenom processors. With their TLB issues worked out, clock speeds boosted, and prices at a very competitive level, AMD is definitely competing once again in the more mainstream market segments. Currently, AMD's top of the line Phenom X4 9850 Black Edition is about $50 less expensive than the Q9300, and is more widely available at the time of this writing.

We would recommend this chip for those who want an inexpensive and low-power quad-core option for desktop or workstation usage. For gamers, we would recommend opting for a higher-clock speed dual-core model like the Core 2 Duo E8500, which can deliver better stock performance compared to the Q9300 in a gaming environment. If you want quad-core and top-notch gaming performance, we would recommend opting for one of Intel’s higher-end quad-core models with a full 12 MB of cache, like the Q9450 and up.

All in all, a quad-core chip which runs cool and is overclockable to over 3.3 GHz with simple air-cooling at a ~$270 price point is a product which is undeniably attractive. With more and more applications being coded with true multi-core support, along with the steep processing requirements of Windows Vista, there is no doubt that these chips will be popular. We wish Intel would have just gone with a solid 12 MB of cache across the board for this new Core 2 Quad lineup, but we certainly won’t harp on this point. The Q9300 is an excellent chip and we are hard pressed to find any major fault with it.

 

 

  • Good Price - Still Under $300
  • Nicely Overclockable
  • Low Power, Low Heat
  • SSE4.1 Performance Gains
  • Decreased Cache Size Hurts Gaming Performance
  • Currently Selling For Higher Price Than MSRP
  • Closely Priced to 12 MB L2 Cache Models
  • Not Widely Available In Volume


  • Content Property of HotHardware.com