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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.

Workstation: Autodesk 3ds Max, Cinebench, POV-Ray

Autodesk’s 3ds Max is without question an industry standard when it comes to 3D modeling and animation, with DreamWorks, BioWare and Blizzard Entertainment being a few of its notable users. It’s a multi-threaded application that’s designed to be right at home on multi-core and multi-processor workstations or render farms, so it easily tasks even the biggest system we can currently throw at it.

For our testing, we use two project files that are designed to last long enough to find any weakness in our setup and also allows us to find a result that’s easily comparable between both motherboards and processors. The first project is a dog model included on recent 3ds Max DVD’s, which we infused with some Techgage flavor.

Our second project is a Bathroom scene that makes heavy use of ray tracing. Like the dog model, this one is also included with the application’s sample files DVD. The dog is rendered at an 1100×825 resolution, while the Bathroom is rendered as 1080p (1920×1080).

It’s clear that as a dual-core, despite having HyperThreading, the Core i3-530 isn’t going to compete that well to a native quad-core of a similar frequency. Interestingly, we can see that it’s even having a hard time passing the tri-core AMD Phenom II X3 720 of a slightly lower frequency (2.80GHz). There, the X3 proves to be the better choice in our dog render, but as expected, the brawn behind Intel’s excellent ray tracing performance shines through (no pun of course) by proving much, much faster than all except the highest-end (and more expensive) X4 965 Black Edition from AMD.

Cinebench R10

Like 3DS Max, Cinema 4D is another popular cross-platform 3D graphics application that’s used by new users and experts alike. Its creators, Maxon, are well aware that their users are interested in huge computers to speed up rendering times, which is one reason why they released Cinebench to the public.

Cinebench R10 is based on the Cinema 4D engine and the test consists of rendering a high-resolution model of a motorcycle and gives a score at the end. Like most other 3D applications on the market, Cinebench will take advantage of as many cores as you can throw at it.

Cinebench results are usually fairly expected, but I found the i3-530 to be a bit interesting. It might only be a dual-core, but it comes very close to the multi-threaded performance of the Athlon II X4 620. For single-threaded performance, the entire game is changed, with the i3-530 dominating all AMD chips on our chart… and that’s without having the benefit of Turbo.

POV-Ray 3.7

Similar to Cinebench, the “Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer” is as you’d expect, a ray tracing application that also happens to be cross-platform. It allows you to take your environment and models and apply a ray tracing algorithm, based on a script you either write yourself or borrow from others. It’s a free application and has become a standard in the ray tracing community and some of the results that can be seen are completely mind-blowing.

The official version of POV-Ray is 3.6, but the 3.7 beta unlocks the ability to take full advantage of a multi-core processor, which is why we use it in our testing. Applying ray tracing algorithms can be extremely system intensive, so this is one area where multi-core processors will be of true benefit.

For our test, we run the built-in benchmark, which delivers a simple score (Pixels-Per-Second) the the end. The higher, the better. If one score is twice another, it does literally mean it rendered twice as fast.

What we see here is quite similar to our 3ds Max test. For true multi-threaded performance, the i3-530 has a hard time keeping up to AMD’s Athlon II X4’s, but overall, the excellent ray tracing performance of all Nehalem-derived processors from Intel help set it apart.