|Introduction & Specifications|
Since the launch of their latest processor architecture in the form of the Core i7 processor line, Intel has been busy slowly reorganizing their desktop CPU offerings. While the Core i7 line-up currently takes a performance leadership position, it only covers the high end of the market at this time, and a new Core i7 capable platform can be a bit on the pricey side. This means the aging but trusty Core 2 line-up still has a place in Intel's front-line battle plans.
AMD's recent release of the refined Phenom II processor line has put quite a bit of pressure on Intel's Core i7 plans. While Phenom II can't compete toe-to-toe with Core i7 in pure performance, it's certainly very competitive when it comes to overall value, as we found out in our evaluation recently. However, in terms of performance for your dollar, Core 2 still holds the line for Intel and a series of price cuts over the last few months have positioned Core 2 to better compete in the mainstream and value segments.
In order to make room for Core i7 and to better compete with AMD's offerings, Intel has been busy cutting prices on Core 2 processors and phasings out many models. Some of the first to go were the bulk of the Core 2 Extreme line-up. The QX6800, QX6850, QX9770, and QX9650 have all been retired and their former market segment, now filled by the new Core i7 chips. Most of the 65nm Core 2 Duo models have also been cleared out and a few Core 2 Quad models are also on the chopping block, including the extremely popular 65nm Q6600 and the relatively new 45nm Q9450.
In the midst of the Core 2 line-up restructuring, Intel has released a new line of low power Core 2 Quad processors. The first three members of the new S-series line-up are the Q9550S, Q9400S and Q8200S. As their names suggest, these three chips are closely related to the existing, standard non-S Q9550, Q9400 and Q8200 chips. In fact, the new S-series is identical to existing Core 2 Quad models with one significant exception; a Thermal Design Power (TDP) of just 65W.
At just 65W, Intel's new S-series quads have a TDP that's 30W lower than standard Core 2 Quad chips which are all rated for 95W. In fact, the only other 65W chips Intel offers are from the Core 2 Duo line-up of dual-core processors. AMD has offered a line-up of low power 65W TDP quad-cores for some time in their Phenom e-series, but AMD achieves the lower TDP by significantly downclocking existing Phenom models. The latest Phenom e-series chip, the recently released 9450e only manages 2.1GHz. Intel's new S-series, on the other hand, pulls no punches and they are available up to 2.83GHz. High performance quad-core chips with the thermal envelope of dual-cores? It almost sounds too good to be true. Let's look and see if they are...
45nm Yorkfield Quad-Core
The new low power Core 2 Quad S-series initially consists of 3 chips, the Q9550S, Q9400S and the Q8200S. A fourth chip, the Q8400S will be arriving on April 19th. It will be a higher clocked version of the Q8200S and it will offer the same clock frequency as the Q9400S. Just like the Q8200S, the Q8400S will only have 4MB of L2 cache and no support for Intel's virtualization tech. It will initially be offered for an MSRP of $245 and it should fit in well between the Q8200S and the Q9400S. A standard, full-power 95W model, the Q8400, will also be launched at the same time for $183.
|Vital Signs, Cooling & Overclocking|
As you saw on the previous page, the new S-series 65W Core 2 Quads aren't much different than the standard TDP models. It appears that they are simply specially binned parts which can operate at lower TDPs than normal. Their physical appearances and specifications both seem to suggest this, as they are no different from standard 95W TDP chips.
It is worth noting that these new chips are not meant to be replacements for the existing Core 2 Quads. According to Intel, the new S-series' primary purpose is to serve OEMs who may wish to use quad-cores in tight thermal applications like all-in-one PCs, where a standard quad would simply be too hot. A realitvely small number of S-series chips will be made available to the channel to eventually find their way into the inventory of your favorite computer shop. Availability at this time is a little spotty and you may need to do a bit of hunting if you want a S-series quad.
Unfortunately the lower TDP doesn't come for free, as there is a significant price premium attached. However if you were thinking about putting together a HTPC, SFF or any sort of system with very limited thermal characteristics, the new 65W quads are one of the best bets for a high performance quad-core solution to your low thermal envelope problem.
A quick look at the CPU-Z details for the Q9550S and Q8200S confirms that these chips are identical to their standard 95W TDP cousins. However, what exactly does TDP mean to you?
So now that we have an idea of what the TDP rating represents, let's see how it translates into real-world metrics. We measured the temperature of the Q9550S and the Q8200S while idle as well as under load. For reference, we also measured the idle and load temperatures of a Core 2 Duo E8400 dual core processor. The E8400 is a 3.0Ghz chip with the 45nm Wolfdale core, a close cousin of the 45nm Yorkfield core used by the S-series chips. Like all Core 2 Duo chips, the E8400 also rated for a TDP of 65W.
All measurements were made with the Everest utility and double-checked using the Core Temp utility. Processor loading was performed using the Everest burn-in test. The processors were cooled by a Silverstone NT-06 air cooler with the stock fan set to 900RPM.
It seems the low TDP of the new S-series quads isn't just for show. Both the Q9550S and the Q8200S operated at impressively low temperatures. Especially surprising is how close the quad-cores are to the dual-core E8400, despite having double the number of transistors. The Q8200S actually ran cooler than the dual-core E8400 while under load. The Q9550S was the hottest running of the bunch but not by much, it still manages to stay in the same general vacinity as the E8400.
We're sure you are wondering if these new quad chips overclock any better than the standard 95W TDP models, so we put them through a quick round of overclocking. All overclocking was performed with the Intel stock cooler and at stock voltage.
We were able to take the Q9550S from its stock frequency of 2.83Ghz at the stock FSB of 333MHz up to a maximum stable overclock of 3.825GHz with an FSB of 450MHz. We took the Q8200S up to 3.29Ghz with an FSB of 470MHz, from its stock clock frequency of 2.33Ghz. It's worth noting that the test bed we used is known to be capable of reaching a stable FSB of 490, so our overclocking results were not bottlenecked by the system board itself.
Overclocking the new S-series quads didn't give the results we were hoping for. Unfortunately the lower thermal envelope didn't quite translate into higher overclocks. Both of our samples overclocked about 1GHz over their stock frequency. This is roughly on par with other Core 2 Quad chips we have seen in the past. However, as is always the case with overclocking, results will vary from chip to chip and your experiences may vary, but it doesn't seem like the new chips are any more adept at overclocking than traditional 45nm Core 2 Quads.
|Test Setup & SiSoft SANDRA|
How We Configured Our Test Systems: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and set memory timings for either DDR2-1066 (AMD) with 5,5,5,15 timings or DDR3-1333 with 7,7,7,20 timings (Intel). The hard drives were then formatted, and Windows Vista Ultimate was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we updated the OS, and installed the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software, defragged the hard drives, and ran all of the tests.
The Q8200S and Q9550S performed as expected in the SANDRA processor arithmetic and multimedia benchmarks. Our results for both processors were right on par with SANDRA's reference numbers. The Q8200S performed identically to the standard Q8200, and the Q9550S performed just like the Q9550. Unsurprisingly, these new 65W quad-core chips don't seem to lose anything in the performance department.
Of particular interest are the results from SANDRA's power management efficiency test. In this test, SANDRA runs a ALU performance benchmark while calculating the processor's power usage. The Q8200S had an overall power efficiency ratio score of 1.26 while the Q9550S managed even better at 1.30. It's worthy of note that these power efficiency values are calculated from system parameters as SANDRA does not measure power consumption directly, so they should be taken with a grain of salt.
We then ran a handful of processors and platforms, including the new Q8200S and Q9550S, through Futuremark’s latest system performance metric built especially for Windows Vista, PCMark Vantage. PCMark Vantage runs through a host of different usage scenarios to simulate different types of workloads including High Definition TV and movie playback and manipulation, gaming, image editing and manipulation, music compression, communications, and productivity. Most of the tests are multi-threaded as well, so the tests can exploit the additional resources offered by a quad-core CPU.
Intel's new low TDP quad core chips performed well in PCMark Vantage. The Q8200(S) is currently Intel's lowest clocked quad-core processor at just 2.33Ghz. The standard Q8200 can currently be found for the same price as the much higher clocked dual-core E8400. Despite the nearly 700Mhz clock frequency gap, the lower clocked Q8200S edges out the E8400 in PCMark thanks to its additional processing cores. The 2.83Ghz Q9550S closes the clock frequency gap with the E8400 to just 170Mhz, giving it a significant performance advantage. At least in PCMark Vantage, quad-cores clearly reign supreme.
A more interesting comparison is the Q9550S and the Phenom II X4 940. They are very evenly matched and performed roughly on par with each other with the Q9550 coming out ahead in all but the Music and Communications tests, where the Phenom II has a large lead. Neither the Q9550S nor the Phenom II X4 940 could touch the Core i7-920 which performed best overall, with a very significant lead in the gaming test.
Cinebench R10 is an OpenGL 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation tool suite used by 3D animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of system processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.
This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a single 3D scene and tracks the length of the entire process. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.
Our results with the Cinebench R10 benchmark tells us quite a bit about the processors in our test group. The results of the single-core rendering test, shown here in yellow, gives us a good idea of each architecture's clock-for-clock efficiency. Overall, Intel's new Core i7 is the most efficient clock-for-clock. The Core i7 920 has the second-best single-core result despite having one of the lowest clock frequencies at just 2.66Ghz. It was able to beat out the much higher clocked Phenom II and the 2.83Ghz Q9550S. Here we also see that the Phenom doesn't quite stack up to the Core 2's in terms of clock-for-clock efficiency in Cinebench.
While the single-core results are interesting, the multi-core test is the one that really matters. After all, you don't plan on using only one of your processors cores at a time in a multi-threaded app like this, do you? In the multi-core test we see a similar order of distribution as in our PCMark Vantage results, with the Core i7 920 coming in first followed by the Q9550S, Phenom II, Q8200S and finally the dual-core E8400. Once again, despite a much higher clock frequency, we see the dual-core E8400 losing out again to the Q8200S.
For this next batch of tests, we ran Kribibench v1.1, a 3D rendering benchmark produced by the folks at Adept Development. Kribibench is an SSE aware software renderer in which a 3D model is rendered and animated by the host CPU and the average frame rate is reported. We used two of the included models with this benchmark: a "Sponge Explode" model consisting of over 19.2 million polygons and the test suite's "Ultra" model that is comprised of over 16 billion polys.
Overall, Kribibench seems to tell a similar story as Cinebench, which may be expected since they are both 3D Rendering tests. While both Kribibench and Cinebench test a system's ability to render a 3D scene, they operate very differently. Namely, the Cinebench test only renders a single frame while the Kribibench test renders a short frame rendering sequence entirely on the CPU. The difference in how these two benchmarks work is evidenced by the performance of the Core i7-920. In Cinebench it reigned supreme but we see in our Kribibench results that it is now more in line with its Core 2 relatives.
Looking at the results, the Core i7 architecture's efficiency doesn't seem to come into play and it actually performs as if it was a Core 2, falling in between the Q9550S and the Q8200S. The Q9550S performs very well in this test although the Phenom II is able to edge it out for the top spot. Once again we see the Q8200S beats out the E8400 thanks to its extra cores, further corroborating that the time for dual-cores at the top of the charts has long past.
In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source mid to high bit-rate and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3 audio encoder that is used widely around the world in a multitude of third party applications.
In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application in single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. In this test, shorter times equate to better performance.
Our LAME MT results break front the distribution order we've seen in the previous tests. For the first (and only) time, the dual-core E8400 actually posted the best result in a multi-threaded test. However, this is because LAME MT only supports a maximum of two cores, which essentially downgrades all of the quad-core chips in our test to dual-cores. It seems that when all of the chips are limited two just two cores, the E8400's high clock frequency gives it the edge.
Despite the handicap, the Q9550S still manages to perform very well, coming in second overall and beating out the Core i7 920, although only in the multi-threaded test. The Q8200S didn't fare nearly as well. Its relatively low clock frequency really hurt it in this test, although it still managed to edge out the higher clocked Phenom II X4 940, which didn't seem to enjoy this test in the least.
|3DMark Vantage CPU & Crysis|
|The last set of performance tests are gaming oriented. In order to assess gaming capability, we have chosen a synthetic benchmark, Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage, and a retail game, Crysis.
3DMark Vantage's CPU Test 2 is a multi-threaded test designed for comparing relative game physics processing performance between systems. This test consists of a single scene that features an air race of sorts, with a complex configuration of gates. There are aircraft in the test that trail smoke and collide with various cloth and soft-body obstacles, each other, and the ground. The smoke spreads, and reacts to the planes as they pass through it as well and all of this is calculated on the host CPU.
The 3DMark Vantage's CPU Test 2 benchmark didn't particularly favor the Core 2 Quads. As we saw in our original review of AMD's Phenom II, this particular benchmark is a strong point for AMD. The Phenom II X4 940 takes the top spot here and the Core i7 920 is a close second. The Q9550S is relegated to third while the Q8200S comes in last. Surprisingly the dual-core E8400 was able to keep pace in this test, indicating that this particular benchmark does not take advantage of quad-cores especially well.
For our next set of test, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis. In testing processors with Crysis, we drop screen resolutions to 800x600, and reduced all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible. However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually do place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.
Our Crysis numbers tell a different story than 3DMark Vantage. The Q9550S does quite well here and comes in second place overall, beaten only by the Core i7 920. The Phenom II, E8400 and Q8200S are grouped up tightly in the rear of the pack, with the Q8200S coming in last. It seems that Q8200S just doesn't have enough juice to keep up with the E8400 and Phenom's signicantly higher clock frequencies.
|Summary & Conclusion|
Performance Summary: Overall the new 65W Core 2 Quads performed about the same as their older, higher TDP 95W brethren. Our benchmarks have shown that the Core 2 Quad line-up remains competitive with newer processor models like the similarly priced Phenom II line-up, although it does seem to be at a performance disadvantage when compared to the new Core i7 architecture. The Core 2 Quad Q9550S competes well with the Phenom II X4 940 through most of our tests. The Q9550S also managed to keep pace with the cheapest Core i7, the i7-920, although it would be no match for the higher-end models. The Q8200S, the low power version of Intel's current cheapest quad-core chip, also performed well but unlike the Q9550S, it couldn't quite keep up with the most current higher-clocked processor models.
Intel's new series of 65W TDP Core 2 Quad processors is the latest and likely one of the last major additions to the Core 2 portfolio. While the new chips don't offer any new additions or features to the existing Core 2 Quad 45nm Yorkfield design, they finally provide a much lower heat generating quad-core solution from Intel. While AMD has had low TDP quad-cores for quite some time, they have achieved this through significant downclocking. The new 65W Core 2 Quads, on the other hand, perform no different than standard 95W models.