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by Rob Williams on January 3, 2010 in Intel Processors

To help kick 2010 off right, Intel has filled out the rest of its current-gen processor line-up with the help of Westmere. We’re taking a look at the desktop variant here, which brings a lot to the table compared to the previous generation. For those who’ve been holding out for that next affordable PC upgrade, the wait has been worth it.

Mathematics: Sandra Arithmetic, Crypto, Microsoft Excel

With each new processor launch, one thing that’s bound to prove faster are mathematical equations, which when all said and done, plays a massive role in a lot of our computing today. The faster an equation can be completed, the faster a math-heavy process can finish.

Sandra includes applications designed to specifically test the mathematical performance of processors, with the main one being the arithmetic test.

Similar to what we just saw with Sandra’s multimedia test, we can see here that once again, the Core i5-661 is the oddball of the bunch, with faster MFLOPS performance than its MIPS performance. Could this have something to do with the addition of the AES-NI instruction set? If I were a betting man, I think my odds would be good if I settled on that theory.

Sandra 2009 Cryptography

Crypto is a major part of computing, whether you know it or not, and certain processes can prove slower than others, depending on their algorithms. User passwords on your home PC are encrypted, as are user passwords on web servers (like in our forums). Past that, crypto is used in other areas as well, such as with creating of unbreakable locks on files or assigning a hash to a particular file (like MD5).

In Sandra’s Cryptography test, the results are outputted as MB/s, higher being better. Although this is somewhat of an odd metric to go by, generally speaking, the higher the number, the faster the CPU tears through the respective algorithm, which comes down to how fast a password is either encrypted, decrypted, signed, et cetera.

Go ahead and laugh… it’s fine. From both an AES and SHA perspective, the Core i5-661 is beyond excellent. Compared to the E8600, the i5-661 performs close to 35% faster. Where AES is concerned, there’s no competition… not even Intel’s highest-end chips. Compared to the E8600 once again, the i5-661 proved a staggering 12.39x faster for AES computation, and 5.6x faster than Intel’s highest-end processor, the Core i7-975 Extreme Edition.

What do these kinds of gains mean for you? Depending on your computing lifestyle, it could range from not much, to a whole lot. If you take advantage of encryption using AES, and the program you are using supports AES-NI, you’ll see incredible performance gains.

Like most new instruction sets, it’s going to take a little while before we see wide support for AES-NI, but given the performance gains, you can be sure that developers won’t be waiting around to support it, because it could mean having a much more successful product than the competition. Clock for clock, we saw a 12x performance boost… that’s incredibly significant. I can’t wait to see this properly supported in some tool, whether it be hard drive encryption, archiving or what have you.

Microsoft Excel 2007

Most, if not all, businesses in existence have to crack open a spreadsheet at some point. Though simple in concept, spreadsheets are an ideal way to either track information or compute large calculations all in real-time. This is important when you run a business that deals with a large amount of expenses.

Although the importance of how fast a calculation takes in an Excel file is, we include results here since they heavily test the mathematical capabilities of each processor. Because Excel 2007 is completely multi-threaded (it can even take advantage of an 8-Core Skulltrail), it makes for a great benchmark to show the scaling between all of our CPUs.

I’ll let Intel explain the two files we use:

Monte CarloThis workload calculates the European Put and Call option valuation for Black-Scholes option pricing using Monte Carlo simulation. It simulates the calculations performed when a spreadsheet with input parameters is updated and must recalculate the option valuation. In this scenario we execute approximately 300,000 iterations of Monte Carlo simulation. In addition, the workload uses Excel lookup functions to compare the put price from the model with the historical market price for 50,000 rows to understand the convergence. The input file is a 70.1 MB spreadsheet.

CalculationsThis workload executes approximately 28,000 sets of calculations using the most common calculations and functions found in Excel*. These include common arithmetic operations like addition, subtraction, division, rounding and square root. It also includes common statistical analysis functions such as Max, Min, Median and Average. The calculations are performed after a spreadsheet with a large dataset is updated with new values and must re-calculate many data points. The input file is a 6.2 MB spreadsheet.

It’s impossible to follow-up to the incredible AES results we saw in the previous test, but here, we can again see the Core i5-661 perform a fair bit faster than the E8600. The differences here are a bit smaller than what we saw in our other tests, but when the entire test takes under 30s, that’s no real surprise.