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Intel’s Core i3-530 – The Budget Powerhouse?
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by Rob Williams on March 4, 2010 in Intel Processors

When Intel launched its Westmere-based line-up this past January, one of the more interesting models released was the Core i3-530. The big reason was its budget $120 price tag. But if there’s one thing that can make a budget chip interesting, it’s overclocking, and fortunately, there’s huge potential where this chip is concerned.

Introduction

In the past two months, there has been a greater concentration of product launches than I ever recall seeing before. AMD alone was responsible for the bulk of them, with its four new desktop graphics cards, mobile graphics, CPUs in February and of course, the recently-launched 890GX chipset, which we took a look at earlier this week.

It was Intel that wanted to kick the year off with the biggest product launch possible though, and it did that rather well with the help of its Westmere architecture. On the same day, the company unveiled Clarkdale desktop processors to fit all budgets, and Arrondale mobile variants as well. At the same time, we published an exhaustive look at Clarkdale as a whole, and in particular, the Core i5-661.

If you’re not familiar with Clarkdale or all of what it offers, I highly recommend reading through the first couple of pages to that article to get a good grasp on how it differs from Intel’s previous generation, and also the competition. At CES, our favorite Intel rep handed me a little box and uttered, “No embargo, just review it when able.” Inside? The Core i3-530. Sure enough, after that 10,000 word mammoth of a launch article, I received a follow-up mere days later. Ahh, the joys.

Given that this CPU was handed to me right at CES, you could say I’m a little behind on publishing a review on it. That’s certainly the case, and I regret it taking so long, but as you can see, we haven’t exactly been slack with our other content. But, I’ve been wanting to tackle this CPU for as long as I’ve had it, because although we can generally expect what we’ll see performance-wise, because it retails for a mere $125 on the market, it gives good hope that this could be some sort of budget wonder chip.

As a Core i3 model, there are a couple of things to bear in mind when deciding on which CPU to purchase, because after all, there’s a reason there exist i5’s and i7’s. The most noticeable difference between i3’s and the rest of the line-up is the lack of the Turbo feature. That means that as the CPU gets pushed hard, the clock-speed won’t budge. This behavior is no different than Intel’s previous-generation.

There’s another omission with i3’s that I didn’t even realize when writing our launch article. As we saw there, with the i5-661, the AES-NI instruction set can make a major difference with tools that support it. But, that’s one feature Intel decided to drop here. I find that a bit odd, given that it’s a feature most home users aren’t going to touch, but on the other hand, it could be that Intel doesn’t want to offer up the feature on its lowest-end chips so security firms will purchase them en masse. If they are to do that, it’s clear Intel would prefer them go with i5’s, for obvious reasons.

Aside from these two features, there’s little else lacking. Anything else would be business-oriented, such as Intel TXT. For those who want to take advantage of virtualization, you can relax, as VT-x support is included. This is nice to see, as low-end models from the Core 2 line-up did not include this feature. For this generation, even the lowest-end Pentium G6950 features the support!

Since Intel first launched its Core i line-up in the fall of 2008, it followed-up with two more families, Lynnfield and of course Clarkdale. As you can see, there really is a huge selection here to choose from.

Intel CPU
Cores
Threads
Clock
Turbo
Cache
GPU
TDP
1Ku Price
Core i7-975 (1)
4
8
3.33GHz
3.60GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$999
Core i7-960 (1)
4
8
3.20GHz
3.46GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$562
Core i7-950 (1)
4
8
3.06GHz
3.33GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$562
Core i7-870 (2)
4
8
2.93GHz
3.60GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$562
Core i7-860S (2)
4
8
2.53GHz
3.46GHz
8MB
N/A
82W
$337
Core i7-930 (1)
4
8
2.80GHz
3.06GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$294
Core i7-860 (2)
4
8
2.80GHz
3.46GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$284
Core i7-920 (1)
4
8
2.66GHz
2.93GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$284
Core i5-670 (3)
2
4
3.46GHz
3.73GHz
4MB
733MHz
73W
$284
Core i5-750S (2)
4
4
2.40GHz
3.20GHz
8MB
N/A
82W
$259
Core i5-750 (2)
4
4
2.66GHz
3.20GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$196
Core i5-661 (3)
2
4
3.33GHz
3.60GHz
4MB
900MHz
87W
$196
Core i5-660 (3)
2
4
3.33GHz
3.60GHz
4MB
733MHz
73W
$196
Core i5-650 (3)
2
4
3.20GHz
3.46GHz
4MB
733MHz
73W
$176
Core i3-540 (3)
2
4
3.06GHz
N/A
4MB
733MHz
73W
$133
Core i3-530 (3)
2
4
2.93GHz
N/A
4MB
733MHz
73W
$113
Pentium G6950 (3)
2
2
2.80GHz
N/A
3MB
533MHz
73W
$87
Microarchitecture: (1) Nehalem, (2) Lynnfield, (3) Clarkdale

When Intel unveiled its Westmere-based line-up at CES, we thought we knew of all the available models, but as I could tell now, there were two that the company didn’t talk openly about. As you can see in the table above, the “S” model suffix has returned, with the Core i5-750S and i7-860S. The S is the quick way for saying “Power Efficient”. So compared to a non-S model, it will always have a lower TDP, and likewise have a higher price tag.

There’s something interesting about these particular S models though that’s worth talking about. The S models in the Core 2 line-up shared the same clock speed as the respective non-S model, but that’s not the case here. While the i7-750 is clocked at 2.66GHz, the S variant is clocked at 2.40GHz. The same kind of difference can be seen with the i7-860. So what’s the deal?

While I won’t talk to much about it at depth here (I’ll talk more about this at a later date in our news), the S models use different Turbo multipliers, and in the end, the S models can end up being just as fast as the non-S, or even a bit faster, if all you’re using are two of the available cores. To help with the power savings, two of the cores will never be affected by Turbo.

While it’s rather difficult to know exactly how Turbo behaves on these CPUs without actually touching them, it can be assumed that for most people, the difference in performance won’t be too noticeable. But while that’s not, the price sure is. As you’d expect, there’s a rather hefty premium for the power-efficient models, and whether or not that premium is worth the 13W TDP reduction is up to you.

By now, you should all have a good grasp on what Clarkdale as a whole offers, and what to expect from the Core i3-530, so let’s get a move on and take a look at our testing methodologies and then finally tackle our performance results.