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59 CPU Roundup

Summarizing results obtained with CPU Test Method v4.0.

March 12, 2010



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Final thoughts on platforms

Now let's try to assess each of the five platforms as a whole.



Socket AM2+

This one is long-living. The review of the Biostar TF560 motherboard is about 2.5 years old. Today, this platform is kind of obsolete. It lived through the last year only because newer AM3 processors could also work with many AM2+ motherboards. This platform has been interesting for a long time, because DDR2 memory has been cheaper than DDR3. But those days are over. As we can see, Athlon II is always better than Athlon, and Phenom II is always better than Phenom. What's more important, Athlon II X3 and X4 are already better than Phenom, the number of cores being equal. When used with DDR3 memory, these CPUs work even faster. Essentially, you should only be loyal to this platform, if you have lots of DDR2 memory.

Socket AM3

This platform meets modern mainstream requirements. It's affordable, there are lots of processors, from the cheap, single-core Sempron 140 to the quite fast Phenom II X4. The rollout of Phenom II X6 will push this platform higher in the general rating. But speaking of today's situation, the platform's only drawback is that Intel's new offerings are faster. Obviously, that doesn't prevent you from getting performance adequate to the money you've spent. What's even better, the platform is the most flexible today. If offers up-to-date CPUs with one, two, three and four cores. Moreover, almost any of those (except for single-core) can be with or without L3 cache. Moreover, nothing prevents your from further upgrades, be it quad or hexacore CPU plus integrated graphics, or any CPU plus integrated graphics plus one or two discrete graphics cards. In other words, the choice is really yours. The variety can be confusing, but if you like to ponder on upgrades, this platform is the most interesting.

LGA775

This platform is even longer-living. Formally, our first review of it was published 5.5 years ago. However, that first generation didn't support any dual-core CPUs whatsoever. Motherboards based on Intel 945/955/975 chipsets arrived a year later. Those could work with Pentium D, but only some of them supported Core 2 products. So, another generation was in order, making three in total. Most CPUs we tested required the fourth generation of motherboards -- supporting 45nm Core 2 processors. Which takes us back to 2007, when we first got to review Socket AM2+ solutions. On the one hand, there were two Conroes, on the other, Socket AM2 also arrived in 2006. As you remember, AMD was criticized for offering too many sockets, but the result turned out to be pretty much the same. Whether they change sockets or not, the life cycle of the platform, as a whole, remains the same. They have to introduce changes, making newer processors incompatible with older motherboards. Then quantitative changes turn into qualitative, making newer motherboards incompatible with older processors. Only a couple of platform generations can provide compatibility. Though sometimes it can be achieved by changing sockets as well. For example, AM3 processors are compatible with AM2+ and even some AM2 motherboards. By the way, Intel's LGA775 is not an exception among long-living platforms. As you remember, Socket 370 had three similar iterations, the third being completely incompatible with the first.

Anyway, we can state that LGA775 remains a decent choice these days, meeting nearly all users' requirements to performance. Its only drawback is that the highest-end CPUs are very expensive. So expensive, in fact, that it could be the first time, when a series got cancelled starting from the top. Well, of course, each transition was accompanied by cancelling the top-end extreme edition CPU. But this stage is already over, while offerings are still being thinned out. However, there's nothing to be upset about, this process is accompanied by curious side effects. In particular, Intel has failed to make Q9650 and Q9550 cheaper, but there are Q9505 and Q9500, close in terms of performance and much more affordable. If those are not enough, though, you'll have to consider other platforms.

LGA1156

As of the early 2010, this platform can finally be considered complete. Intel has covered almost all market segments, except for the lowest-end. This platform offers no extreme editions, but those are not needed. One thing this platform can use is smoother transition from Pentium to Core i3 and from Core i5 to Core i7 (see the diagrams). The former gap can be fixed by a couple more Pentiums that will probably be announced some day. The latter gap is more difficult to close. Xeon X3440 and X3450 look like a good choice, but we hardly believe that Intel will turn them into a couple of Core i7's. More likely, there will be some Core i5-680 to pull up the performance of the dual-core family. And i5-750 may be replaced by some i7-850. Of course, only the time will tell.

LGA1366

This platform remains the fastest. It's a bit strange that they've never "improved" i7-920 which even loses to some mainstream CPUs these says. (Two CPUs have already been to the higher-end spot in one year's time. Now it's occupied by i7-960 we haven't tested yet.) But this can be fixed easily.

The higher-end processors, in turn, remain the fastest in the single-CPU desktop domain. And new hexacore CPUs can only strengthen the positions of the LGA1366 platform.

Conclusions

The conclusions are not quite pleasant for buyers of top-end processors. The slowest CPU in our list is about 25 times cheaper than the fastest, even if we disregard Xeon 5500 (we've never used its ability to work in dual-CPU configurations which takes a large part of this processor's price). But the performance difference is just a bit more than 2.5 times. In other words, if we consider the slowest CPU as 100%, 25 times more cash will get you another 150% of performance. Funny thing is that the first 100% of that additional performance will cost you $100. The next hundred bucks will only get you 10% of the additional performance. The last 10% will cost you about $500. Nice, huh. Such non-linear price-performance ratio is why only 7% of buyers choose processors for less than $80 (there's not sense in saving that much), and why only 3% of buyers choose processors for more than $200 (price isn't adequate to performance).

Well, that's technological progress for you. Today, you can buy a decent PC for a sum you would have to cough up for a CPU alone some time ago. What's most pleasant, the absolute computing power of processors continues to grow. The performance of a five-year old extreme edition CPU is now affordable to owners of lowest-end CPUs. A four-year old EE processor performs like an up-to-date low-end CPU. The performance of a three-year old extreme edition processor is affordable to today's mainstream users. That of a two-year old extreme edition CPU... Well, at least it's affordable at all. In turn, up-to-date extreme edition processors outperform older counterparts by 1.5 times. Considering that the de facto upgrade period is every 3-5 years, every new mainstream PC you buy for the same (or smaller) money is twice as fast as the old one. Of course, given performance is not bottlenecked by something else than processor. But we can't blame that on processor manufacturers, can we?


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