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"Highs" and "Lows"
of Modern Multi-Core

November 2, 2005






Our readers "hinted" many times ;), that having reviewed high-end dual-core CPUs (Pentium XE 840 and Athlon 64 X2 4800+) as well as low-end dual-core from Intel (Pentium D 820), we undeservingly slid round the low-end multi-core processor from AMD: Athlon 64 X2 3800+. In this article we are going to rectify this error. Thus, diagrams in this article will show performance of the fastest and the slowest dual-core x86-processors from the two leading manufacturers. They will give you an idea of the performance range of modern dual-core x86-platforms.

Testing

Testbed configurations

  • Processors
    • Intel Pentium eXtreme Edition 840 (2 x 1 MB L2, 800 MHz FSB, 2 x 3.2 GHz core)
    • Intel Pentium D 820 (2 x 1 MB L2, 800 MHz FSB, 2 x 2.8 GHz core)
    • AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ (2 x 1 MB L2, 2 x 2.4 GHz core)
    • AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ (2 x 512 KB L2, 2 x 2.0 GHz core)

  • Motherboards

  • Memory
    • 2x512 MB PC3200 (DDR400) DDR SDRAM DIMM 2-2-2-5 (Corsair TwinX)
    • 2x512 MB PC5400 (DDR2-533) DDR2 SDRAM DIMM 3-3-3-8 (Corsair)

  • Video card: ATI Radeon X800 (256 MB)
  • HDD: Samsung SP1614C (SATA), 7200 rpm, 8 MB Cache
  • AC power adapter: FSP 550-60PLN (500-550W)
  • Windows XP Professional SP2, DirectX 9.0c
  • ATI CATALYST 5.4 (Display Driver 6.14.10.6525)

You might have already noticed that the list does not include Pentium D 840 (its results are present in the diagrams). We decided to publish the previous results of Pentium XE 840 with disabled Hyper-Threading as "Pentium D 840": de facto, Pentium D 840 is nothing more than this processor.

Test results

I remind you that diagrams with all test results (64 all in all, so dial-up users should get ready to long wait...) are published on a separate web page without comments, just as is. The article provides only summary diagrams that calculate the results of entire test groups into average scores. This approach appeases curiosity of the most inquisitive readers, who are against cutting down the number of test results published in our articles, and still makes the article less motley and graphics-intense. What concerns our comments, real professionals (who are interested in details) are expected to need none of them.

SPECapc for 3ds max 6 + 3ds max 7.0

A complete set of diagrams

Even the low-end dual-core processor from AMD scores an impressive victory over the top Intel solutions as a grand total. However, if you look into these results, you will see that the supremacy in the total score does not mean victory across all the fronts. In the rendering sub-test Athlon 64 X2 3800+ is seriously outperformed by the top solution from Intel (Pentium XE 840), but the low result of the latter in the interactive test turned the scale so that the A64 X2 3800+ is the first in total score. The advantage of A64 X2 4800+ over A64 X2 3800+ is smaller than their clock difference, so the effect of the "halved" cache in the 3800+ model is impossible to track so far.

Maya 6.5

A complete set of diagrams

The situation in Maya is more advantageous for Intel: the low-end dual-core from AMD still managed to outperform its counterpart from Intel; but at least top processors from this manufacturer are faster than the Athlon 64 X2 3800+. On the other hand, both CPUs from AMD are impressively victorious in their categories. Like in the previous case, Intel processors feel much better in rendering tasks, but they lag behind in interactive operation.

Lightwave 8.2, rendering

On the whole, the situation resembles rendering in Maya. But in this case A64 X2 4800+ put noticeably more ground between it and the top dual-core from Intel.

SPECapc for SolidWorks 2003

A complete set of diagrams

We can again witness a situation when even a low-end dual-core processor from AMD outperforms all top multi-core processors from Intel. However, SolidWorks is practically indifferent to the second processor in the system, so dual cores have nothing to do with it — the point is in the victorious K8 architecture.

Adobe Photoshop CS (8)

A complete set of diagrams

Top processors run a dead heat, but in the low end sector the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ looks much better than the Pentium D 820. Though the correlation of clocks is not to its advantage: the 3800+ clock is 1.2 times as low as the 4800+ clock, while the Pentium D 820 clock is just 1.14 times as low as the Pentium D/XE 840 clock. But let's not forget that the K8 core has a much higher "efficiency per megahertz" — it explains the situation we can see on the diagram.

The 3800+ model does not suffer from its halved cache very much: as we have already written above, its clock is lower than in the 4800+ by 1.2 times — at the same time, the difference is only 1.15 times according to the test results.

Adobe Acrobat 6.0

And again the low-end dual-core processor from AMD demonstrates an excellent result in all respects...

All-purpose data compression (archiving)

A complete set of diagrams

Athlon 64 X2 3800+ positively works wonders. Even a victory of the most powerful AMD A64 X2 4800+ in this sub-test is less impressive than the A64 X2 3800+, fairing on a par with the top dual-core processors from Intel.

Multimedia lossy compression (MP3/MPEG2-4)

A complete set of diagrams

The situation is better here, but alas, for Intel — due to a single sub-test in LAME. You are recommended to read detailed results to clear up the picture. It's especially useful as this diagram brings together results of various software, even though of the same class.

CPU RightMark 2004B

A complete set of diagrams

The situation is natural, but again rather sad for Intel processors: the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ is outperformed only by the Pentium XE 840. Even the equally-clocked Pentium D 840 without Hyper-Threading support lags behind.

3D games and graphics visualization
in professional packages

DOOM 3

Far Cry

Painkiller

Unreal Tournament 2004

Total score in games

A complete set of diagrams

I grew tired of repeating this copy-book truth, but as I should leave a comment here, I'll repeat it: AMD processors are certainly the best choice for gaming so far. Among dual-core CPUs as well (though there is no sense in using them in games...)

SPEC viewperf

A complete set of diagrams

And again, the maximum achieved by Intel dual-cores is to catch up with the Athlon 64 X2 3800+.

Conclusion

It's no secret anymore that the situation with performance of dual-core CPUs from Intel is not very bright, but we were surprised to see it that bad. In fact, Pentium D / Pentium XE processors are highly specialized solutions according to our test results, good only for a relatively small group of tasks. AMD rules everywhere else. Another fly in the Intel's ointment is that Athlon 64 X2 3800+ looks very well as a processor for classic single-threaded tasks, while the 2.8-GHz Pentium D 820 core can pretend only to the "low middle" for these days.

In fact, Athlon 64 X2 3800+ is quite a joy. We found no application, where it's outperformed by the A64 X2 4800+ more than its clock lag. It means that the halved L2 Cache does not have a fatal effect on performance (as pessimists could have expected). There is just one "but": the price. Intel's pricing policy concerning low-end dual-cores is very aggressive. Pentium D 820 costs about $240 in Moscow retail (at the time this article was written), while the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ — $380. This difference may drive some users away from AMD, who must have a system with a dual-core CPU — even despite the excellent performance of processors from this company.



Stanislav Garmatiuk (nawhi@ixbt.com)
November 2, 2005.


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