Date: February 9, 2009
Author(s): Rob Williams
The benefits of a low-TDP processor are obvious, but a usual downside is also obvious: low clock speeds. Intel’s changing that thinking with their Core 2 Quad “S” series, which includes the Q9550S, Q9400S and also the Q8200S. Compared to their non-“S” variants, they draw less power and run cooler, all while retaining the performance they’ve become known for.
With Intel’s Core i7 launch now more than two months behind us, the question now is, how much longer will we go before Intel begins phasing out their Core 2 line-up? That’s a question I obviously don’t have an answer to, and given the state of the economy, Intel likely doesn’t either. Because as we found out in our Core i7 launch article, the latest CPUs from Intel are the fastest the planet has ever seen, but, compared to the Core 2 line-up, they carry an obvious premium.
So while Core 2 isn’t going to be phased out soon, we’re unlikely to see many more releases under that moniker. Last month, specifications were leaked for a potential Core 2 Duo E8700, a 3.5GHz offering, which we could probably expect to be the final C2D Dual-Core chip, although nothing’s ever really set in stone. On the Quad-Core side of things, Intel helped pad their line-up with the help of three new models, launched late last month.
Each of these new models belong to the “S” series, although I don’t believe that the letter represents an actual word. In addition, each of the new chips are absolutely identical to their non-“S” counterparts, aside from the lower TDP. At the top-end, the Q9550s is Intel’s only 65W offering that includes 12MB of L2 Cache. This chip, like the original, settles in nicely at 2.83GHz.
That’s not the CPU we’re investigating today, however. Rather, we have both the Q9400S and Q8200S, two different processors that cater to two different crowds. The mid-range Q9400S runs at 2.66GHz and includes 6MB of L2 Cache, while the Q8200S (and non-“S”) currently remains as Intel’s lowest-end desktop Quad-Core offering, at 2.33GHz with 4MB of L2 Cache. All three of the new models continue to run with a 1333MHz front-side bus.
So, what’s the reason for a launch of 65W Quad-Core parts at this point in time? It’s difficult to assume, but it could be that since the Core i7 launch, the company hasn’t released much in the way of processors, so the timing might have seemed right. To add to it, we can no longer go a single day without hearing about the effects of global warming and the shape of the environment, so the “S”-line might intrigue crowds who are passionate about those issues.
There is one caveat, though – the price. As we first mentioned in our news a few weeks ago, these models are going to see limited adoption solely because of their premium pricing, and even Intel themselves acknowledge this. People that purchase these are those who are either building SFF (Small Form-Factor) PCs and want a fast CPU with great thermals, or those who are simply looking for the fastest CPU with the lowest power consumption possible.
Intel notes that all three of these models have been available as off-roadmap chips to OEMs for some time, and that won’t change. It’s only now that they’ve begun offering them to regular consumers, and while it’s still catering to a very specific audience, it’s a nice move.
Quad-Core CPU Name
|Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition|
|Intel Core i7-940|
|Intel Core i7-920|
|Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775|
2 x 6MB
|Intel Core 2 Extreme Q9650|
2 x 6MB
|Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550S|
2 x 6MB
|Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550|
2 x 6MB
|Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400S|
2 x 3MB
|Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400|
2 x 3MB
|Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300|
2 x 3MB
|Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200S|
2 x 2MB
|Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200|
2 x 2MB
As seen in the table above, the pricing premiums are rather stark. Where the Q8200 is concerned, we can see a 50% ($82) increase, while at the top-end, the Q9550 sees a 38.7% ($103) bump. There’s an obvious price to be paid for fine-tuned products, but it’s still too bad to see increases like these. If it was a more modest bump, we’d likely see far greater adoption.
One thing that should be stressed though, is that while the new models will naturally draw less power over time, when compared to non-“S” models, thermals will also see an improvement. With less voltage being required to run to the CPU, the temperatures will drop, which is one of the reasons the “S”-line is perfectly-suited for SFF PC builders.
Although it’s difficult to gauge the benefits before testing, Intel’s specifications show that these new CPUs can also function at a slightly higher temperature as well. Whereas the non-S versions of these chips are designed with a 71.4°C top-end (that’s not a per-core temperature, but rather the temperature at the center of the IHS), the new models have been bumped to 76.3°C… a healthy increase.
Because the “S” models share identical clock speeds and other features as their non-“S” versions, we don’t expect to see a difference through any of our benchmarks, but we ran the entire fleet of tests to find out for sure. We didn’t have a Q8200 on-hand to directly test against the Q8200S, but we did have a Q9400 to test against the Q9400S, so let’s take a quick look at our testing methodology and then dive right into our first set of results, courtesy of SYSmark 2007.
At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.
If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.
The table below lists the hardware for our two current machines, which remain unchanged throughout all testing, with the exception of the processor. Each CPU used for the sake of comparison is also listed here, along with the BIOS version of the motherboard. In addition, each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective review of that product, or if a review doesn’t exist, you will be led to the product on the manufacturer’s website.
Core i7 Test System
ASUS Rampage II Extreme – X58-based, 0705 BIOS (11/21/08)
Palit Radeon HD 4870 512MB (Catalyst 8.11)
Core 2 Test System
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9770 – Quad-Core, 3.20GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 – Quad-Core, 3.00GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 – Quad-Core, 2.83GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 – Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400S – Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, Auto Voltage
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 – Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200S – Quad-Core, 2.33GHz, Auto Voltage
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 – Dual-Core, 3.33GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 – Dual-Core, 3.16GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 – Dual-Core, 3.00GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Duo E8300 – Dual-Core, 2.83GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 – Dual-Core, 2.66GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Duo E7200 – Dual-Core, 2.53GHz, 1.30v
Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 – Dual-Core 2.50GHz, 1.30v
ASUS Rampage Extreme – X48-based, 0501 BIOS (08/28/08)
Palit Radeon HD 4870 512MB (Catalyst 8.11)
(Sim) represents models that were tested using a faster, but underclocked processor. For example, for the Q9550, we used the QX9770, since the specs are identical all-around, except for the clock speeds. Those were adjusted appropriately, effectively giving us a Q9550 to test with.
When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:
To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows Vista from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.
To help test out the real performance benefits of a given processor, we run a large collection of both real-world and synthetic benchmarks, including 3ds Max, Adobe Lightroom, TMPGEnc Xpress, Sandra 2009 and many more.
Our ultimate goal is always to find out which processor excels in a given scenario and why. Running all of the applications in our carefully-chosen suite can help better give us answers to those questions. Aside from application data, we also run three common games to see how performance scales there, including Call of Duty: World at War, Crysis Warhead and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
In an attempt to offer “real-world” results, we do not utilize timedemos in any of our reviews. Each game in our test suite is benchmarked manually, with the minimum and average frames-per-second (FPS) captured with the help of FRAPS 2.9.8.
To deliver the best overall results, each title we use is exhaustively explored in order to find the best possible level in terms of intensiveness and replayability. Once a level is chosen, we play through repeatedly to find the best possible route and then in our official benchmarking, we stick to that route as close as possible. Since we are not robots and the game can throw in minor twists with each run, no run can be identical to the pixel.
Each game and setting combination is tested twice, and if there is a discrepancy between the initial results, the testing is repeated until we see results we are confident with.
The three games we currently use for our motherboard reviews are listed below, with direct screenshots of the game’s setting screens so you can see exactly how we configured the game, in case you’d like to replicate any of our runs.
Synthetic benchmarks have typically been favored for performance testing, but the results they provide can be fairly abstract, and the methods they use to assign their scores can be dubious at times. By contrast, real-world application benchmarks provide performance metrics that apply directly to real-world usage, and we endeavor to apply both in our performance comparisons.
SYSmark 2007 Preview from BAPCo is a special case, because its synthetic scores are derived from tests in real-world applications. However, we still believe that synthetic benchmarking scores are best used to directly compare the performance of one piece of hardware to another, and not for developing an impression of real-world performance expectations. SYSmark is more useful than most synthetic benchmarking programs in our opinion, because its tests emulate tasks that people actually perform, in actual software programs that they are likely to use.
The benchmark is hands-free, using scripts to execute all of the real-world scenarios identically, such as video editing in Sony Vegas and image manipulation in Adobe Photoshop. At the conclusion of the suite of tests, five scores are delivered: an E-learning score, a Video Creation score, a Productivity score, and a 3D Performance score, as well as an aggregated ‘Overall’ score. These scores can still be fairly abstract, and are most useful for direct comparisons between test systems.
A quick note on methodology: SYSmark 2007 requires a clean install of Windows Vista 32-bit to run optimally. Before any testing is conducted, the hard drive is first wiped clean, and then a fresh Windows installation is conducted, then lastly, the necessary hardware drivers are installed. The ‘Three Iterations’ test suite is run, with the ‘Conditioning Run’ setting enabled. Then the results from the three runs are averaged and rounded up or down to the next whole number.
The results exhibited here are on par with what we expected, with identical performance between both Q9400’s overall. Interestingly enough though, despite the Q9450’s sharing of their clock speed, the extra L2 cache helped it pull ahead by another 10 points.
Where the Q8200S is concerned, our findings there are also what we expected. Although we haven’t tackled it much before, we can see that SYSmark, while offering a mostly-realistic simulation of computing scenarios, isn’t able to push Quad-Cores as much as we’d like. That’s why we see the Dual-Core E7200 keeping close to our Q8200S, despite the fact that the latter is much more capable for heavier multi-tasking scenarios.
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 a 1100×825 resolution, while the Bathroom is rendered as 1080p (1920×1080).
Once again, our Q9400’s don’t vary much in their results, and that’s a theme we’ll be able to expect to see all throughout this article. Both CPUs are identical aside from the TDP, as mentioned, so the performance isn’t supposed to vary in least, and that’s evidenced well here.
The Q8200S is an interesting target though, since this is the first time we’ve had one in our lab. For Intel’s lowest-priced 45nm Quad-Core offering (assuming we are dealing with the non-“S” version), it’s quite a performer. It costs less than the Dual-Core E8600, but when it comes to heavily multi-threaded applications like this, it leaves any Dual-Core in the dust.
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.
Even though we expect to see identical performance between both of our Q9400’s, it’s still fun to see just how close each one of their scores came, especially since they were tabulated by running each test three times and then averaging them. This test also shows-off the slower clock-speed of the Q8200S, which, in the single-threaded test, actually falls behind the inexpensive Pentium E5200. The Q8200S well makes up for it in any multi-threaded application, however.
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.
Following tradition, the Q9400’s are neck-and-neck, which is exactly what we want to see. The Q8200S also performs quite well in its multi-threaded test, but I have to admit, it’s hard to get too excited with anything Core 2 when we see just what kind of monsters the i7 chips are where ray tracing is concerned.
Photo manipulation benchmarks are more relevant than ever, given the proliferation of high-end digital photography hardware. For this benchmark, we test the system’s handling of RAW photo data using Adobe Lightroom, an excellent RAW photo editor and organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic.
For our testing, we take 100 RAW files (in Nikon’s .NEF file format) which have a 10-megapixel resolution, and export them as JPEG files in 1000×669 resolution, similar to most of the photos we use here on the website. Such a result could also be easily distributed online or saved as a low-resolution backup. This test involves not only scaling of the image itself, but encoding in a different image format. The test is timed indirectly using a stopwatch, and times are accurate to within +/- 0.25 seconds.
Although I wouldn’t have otherwise imagined it, Lightroom can actually take advantage of more than 6MB of L2 Cache, which is seen by comparing the Q9450 to our Q9400’s. All three chips run with the same clock speed, but the extra Cache of the Q9450 helped it pull ahead by a fairly noticeable 7.5 seconds. That’s quite considerable given we are only doing a modest scenario here, which takes only ~2 minutes total.
With our Q8200, we can begin to see where the lower clock speed can cause bottlenecks. Here, the E8400 actually performed quite closely to the Q8200, which I wouldn’t have expected. Although Lightroom takes advantage of Multi-Core processors, it doesn’t to the extent that the 3D rendering applications on the previous page do. However, part of this could also be a storage bottleneck, given how fast each one of these freshly-created files are saved to the disk.
When it comes to video transcoding, one of the best offerings on the market is TMPGEnc Xpress. Although a bit pricey, the software offers an incredible amount of flexibility and customization, not to mention superb format support. From the get go, you can output to DivX, DVD, Video-CD, Super Video-CD, HDV, QuickTime, MPEG, and more. It even goes as far as to include support for Blu-ray video!
There are a few reasons why we choose to use TMPGEnc for our tests. The first relates to the reasons laid out above. The sheer ease of use and flexibility is appreciated. Beyond that, the application does us a huge favor by tracking the encoding time, so that we can actually look away while an encode is taking place and not be afraid that we’ll miss the final encoding time. Believe it or not, not all transcoding applications work like this.
For our test, we take a 0.99GB high-quality DivX H.264 AVI video of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay with stereo audio and transcode it to the same resolution of 720p (1280×720), but lower the bitrate in order to attain a modest filesize. Since the QX9770 we are using for testing supports the SSE4 instruction set, we enable it in the DivX control panel, which improves both the encoding time and quality.
Like Lightroom, this is another test where we can see that faster frequencies will sometimes make a larger difference than more cores. Unlike Lightroom though, I would have expected to see the Q8200S perform quite a bit better than say, the E8400, but it really didn’t. That was only with the high-definition test, though. Where the mobile test is concerned, Quad-Core processors clean house.
While TMPGEnc XPress’ purpose is to convert video formats, ProShow from Photodex helps turn your collection of photos into a fantastic looking slide show. I can’t call myself a slide show buff, but this tool is unquestionably definitive. It offers many editing abilities and the ability to export in a variety of formats, including a standard video file, DVD video and even HD video.
Like TMPGEnc and many other video encoders, ProShow can take full advantage of a multi-core processor. It doesn’t support SSE4 however, but hopefully will in the future as it would improve encoding times considerably. Still, when a slide show application handles a multi-core processor effectively, it has to make you wonder why there is such a delay in seeing a wider-range of such applications on the marketplace.
Our Q9400’s and Q8200 might be the lowest on Intel’s Quad-Core totem pole, but even the Q8200 vastly improves the performance over the Dual-Cores throughout both tests here. It would be great to see more performance scaling like this throughout most of our multi-threaded applications, but sadly that’s not the case. Photodex really helped pave the way with ProShow, as it’s had great multi-threaded performance for quite a while, while larger companies are struggling to put our four cores to great use.
To help show a more “raw” version of the kind of potential Nehalem offers, we ran the Multi-Media test built into Sandra. This test here stresses the CPU’s ability to handle multi-media instructions and data, using both MMX and SSE2/3/4 as the instruction sets of choice. The results are divided by integer, floating point and double precision, three specific numbering formats used commonly in multi-media work.
Although it’s difficult to gauge real worth with this benchmark, we can easily see just how much more capable our Quad-Cores are over Dual-Cores, if an application is able to properly take full advantage of them.
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.
Mathematical-based processes perfectly exhibit the gains that can be had with a processor upgrade. Regardless of whether you have a Dual-Core or a Quad-Core, if you upgrade, you’re going to see a nice performance boost… period. The reason this is important isn’t because people are expected to use Microsoft Calculator all day, but since many of the applications you use utilize complex algorithms, benefits are sure to be seen with faster CPUs. How true is that? Well, let’s take a look at the following test.
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.
Sure enough, we can see the exact same gains here, with almost 100% gains when moving from a Dual-Core to a Quad-Core CPU. How about real-world math?
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 Carlo – This 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.
Calculations – This 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.
Yet again, rather significant gains can be seen here as well. Admittedly, this is all seen with very comprehensive spreadsheets, but for the person who constantly updates such files and needs to run macros more than a few times a day, faster processing will be most appreciated.
Generally speaking, the faster the processor, the higher the system-wide bandwidth and the lower the latency. As is always the case, faster is better when it comes to processors, as we’ll see below. But with Core i7, the game changes up a bit.
Whereas previous memory controllers utilized a dual-channel operation, Intel threw that out the window to introduce triple-channel, which we talked a lot about at August’s IDF. Further, since Intel integrates the IMC onto the die of the new CPUs, benefits are going to be seen all-around.
Before jumping into the results, we already had an idea of what to expect, and just as we did, the results seen are nothing short of staggering.
Where bandwidth is concerned, absolutely no increases are seen on the Core 2 platform when sticking to the same front-side bus. That only changes with Core i7, as the incredible results at the top of the graph shows. Since both the Q9400’s and the Q8200 utilize a 1333MHz FSB, the bandwidth hovers around 7,500 for both the Int and Float. Latencies for the most part are the same way, although they don’t average out as well as the bandwidth does, and each run of the benchmark would be ±3 – 5.
How fast can one core swap data with another? It might not seem that important, but it definitely is if you are dealing with a true multi-threaded application. The faster data can be swapped around, the faster it’s going to be finished, so overall, inter-core speeds are important in every regard.
Even without looking at the data, we know that Core i7 is going to excel here, for a few different reasons. The main is the fact that this is Intel’s first native Quad-Core. Rather than have two Dual-Core dies placed beside each other, i7 was built to place four cores together, so that in itself improves things. Past that, the ultra-fast QPI bus likely also has something to do with speed increases.
This Sandra test gives pretty expected results. The faster the CPU, the lower the latency and faster the core negotiations. This is one area where i7 excels, thanks in part to its ultra-fast QPI bus.
While some popular game franchises are struggling to keep themselves healthy, Call of Duty doesn’t have much to worry about. This is Treyarch’s third go at a game in the series, and a first for one that’s featured on the PC. All worries leading up to this title were all for naught, though, as Treyarch delivered on all promises.
To help keep things fresh, CoD: World at War focuses on battles not exhaustively explored in previous WWII-inspired games. These include battles which take place in the Pacific region, Russia and Berlin, and variety is definitely something this game pulls off well, so it’s unlikely you’ll be off your toes until the end of the game.
For our testing, we use a level called “Relentless”, as it’s easily one of the most intensive levels in the game. It features tanks, a large forest environment and even a few explosions. This level depicts the Battle of Peleliu, where American soldiers advance to capture an airstrip from the Japanese. It’s a level that’s both exciting to play and one that can bring even high-end systems to their knees.
Luckily for hardcore CoD players, the game’s performance doesn’t change with a faster CPU, which is rather impressive. Here, the game ran just as well on our lowly E5200 as it did on our QX9770.
The original Half-Life 2 might have first seen the light of day close to four years ago, but it’s still arguably one of the greatest-looking games ever seen on the PC. Follow-up versions, including Episode One and Episode Two, do well to put the Source Engine upgrades to full use. While playing, it’s hard to believe that the game is based on a four+ year old engine, but it still looks great and runs well on almost any GPU purchased over the past few years.
Like Call of Duty 4, Half-Life 2: Episode Two runs well on modest hardware, but a recent mid-range graphics card is recommended if you wish to play at higher than 1680×1050 or would like to top out the available options, including anti-aliasing and very high texture settings.
This game benefits from both the CPU and GPU, and the skies the limit. In order to fully top out the available settings and run the highest resolution possible, you need a very fast GPU or GPUs along with a fast processor. Though the in-game options go much higher, we run our tests with 4xAA and 8xAF to allow the game to remain playable on the smaller mid-range cards.
Unlike CoD, HL2: Episode Two does love extra CPU power, and that’s evidenced above. But, I don’t think many people would complain about such high FPS results at max resolution with nice AA and AF settings, which is achievable on any processor.
As PC enthusiasts, we tend to be drawn to games that offer spectacular graphics… titles that help reaffirm your belief that shelling out lots of cash for that high-end monitor and PC was well worth it. But it’s rare when a game comes along that is so visually-demanding, it’s unable to run fully maxed out on even the highest-end systems on the market. In the case of the original Crysis, it’s easy to see that’s what Crytek was going for.
Funny enough, even though Crysis was released close to a year ago, the game today still has difficulty running at 2560×1600 with full detail settings – and that’s even with overlooking the use of anti-aliasing! Luckily, Warhead is better optimized and will run smoother on almost any GPU, despite looking just as gorgeous as its predecessor, as you can see in the screenshot below.
The game includes four basic profiles to help you adjust the settings based on how good your system is. These include Entry, Mainstream, Gamer and Enthusiast – the latter of which is for the biggest of systems out there, unless you have a sweet graphics card and are only running 1680×1050. We run our tests at the Gamer setting as it’s very demanding on any current GPU and is a proper baseline of the level of detail that hardcore gamers would demand from the game.
CoD didn’t seem to care much about what CPU was installed, and for the most part, Crysis is the same way. None of the performance is that impressive, thanks to Crysis’ extremely robust graphics and our mainstream GPU.
Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.
The company first started out as MadOnion and released a GPU-benchmarking tool called XLR8R, which was soon replaced with 3DMark 99. Since that time, we’ve seen seven different versions of the software, including two major updates (3DMark 99 Max, 3DMark 2001 SE). With each new release, the graphics get better, the capabilities get better and the sudden hit of ambition to get down and dirty with overclocking comes at you fast.
Similar to a real game, 3DMark Vantage offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, High and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test.
Performance is the stock mode that most use when benchmarking, but it only uses a resolution of 1280×1024, which isn’t representative of today’s gamers. Extreme is more appropriate, as it runs at 1920×1200 and does well to push any single or multi-GPU configuration currently on the market – and will do so for some time to come.
The results here are just as we expected. Generally, the better the CPU, the higher the score. The overall 3DMark Score doesn’t vary much, however, as the benchmark doesn’t weigh the CPU score that heavily, which after taking a look at our three games tested here, is a good thing.
It goes without saying that power efficiency is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds today, and for good reason. Whether you are trying to save money or the environment – or both – it’s good to know just how much effort certain vendors are putting into their products to help them excel in this area. Both AMD and Intel have worked hard to develop efficient chips, and that’s evident with each new launch. The CPUs are getting faster, and use less power, and hopefully things will stay that way.
To help see what kind of wattage a given processor draws on average, we use a Kill-A-Watt that’s plugged into a power bar that’s in turn plugged into one of the wall sockets, with the test system plugged directly into that. The monitor and other components are plugged into the other socket and is not connected to the Kill-A-Watt. For our system specifications, please refer to our methodology page.
To test, the computer is first boot up and left to sit at idle for five minutes, at which point the current wattage is recorded if stable. To test for full CPU load, IntelBurnTest is run with maximum memory stress for a total of five minutes. During that run, the highest point the wattage reaches on the meter is captured and becomes our “Max Load”. For i7, we use eight instances of SP2004 instead of IntelBurnTest, as the latter is not yet fully compatible with the newer processors.
Though we didn’t have a Q8200 on-hand for comparison, we did have a Q9400, so we were able to directly see the differences in actual power draw from the wall. As you can see, the differences aren’t too great, and to be honest, I expected a bit more. After discussing the issue with Intel, however, I was told that measuring the power straight from the wall isn’t entirely representative of the benefits of a 65W TDP. Over time, greater differences are likely to be seen.
One thing to consider is that IntelBurnTest stresses the processor far more than a regular scenario could (I’d actually be hard-pressed to find any normal application out there that could push the CPU as hard as IBT), and it’s difficult to measure power draw from regular usage. Where idle and load draws are concerned though, not much is supposed to be different. The idle states, for example (C4, C1E, etc) are identical on the “S” version as they are the non-“S” models.
While the differences in power draw from the wall won’t floor anyone, the thermal differences might. With a room temperature of 71°F (Q9400) and 73°F (Q9400S), the “S” model managed to shave an exact 6°C off both the idle and load Core 0 temperatures. It might not seem like much, but pack this CPU into a SFF PC, and any decreases in temperature can be appreciated.
When Intel first released their 65W Quad-Core offerings, they were catering to their customers who demanded fast processors with the lowest possible TDP. It wasn’t until a few months after-the-fact that the company decided to release the same CPUs to the general public, and while it’s going to be a niche product, it’s great that they made that decision. Any day that a consumer has a sheer amount of choice available is a good one.
That being said, these processors are a hard sell. It’s difficult to explain the true benefits of a processor with a lower TDP, but those who own or build SFF PC’s understand just how important it is to have as efficient a processor as possible. Normally, this results in an under-performing processor, because people don’t want their PCs to overheat. But with the “S” series, the ability to have both a high-efficiency and high-performance processor is far greater.
Take the Q9400S, for example. At 2.66GHz with 6MB of L2 Cache, it’s no slouch. In fact, it’s a fantastic processor for those who take multi-media seriously, as the added Cache over the Q8200S would make a reasonable difference in most rendering/encoding/converting/etc jobs. Plus, with our IntelBurnTest stress test, which pushes the CPU like no other (you can read more on this in a thread in our forums), the CPU still capped out at 40°C. Even if it is only 6°C different, it’s still a very impressive result.
The fact remains though, if you are not building a PC with constrained space (SFF/USFF), there’s no reason to consider the “S” series. Even in a mid-tower chassis, there would be sufficient airflow to keep temperatures within a normal threshold, so the benefits of an “S” chip wouldn’t be worth the premium price. The “S” series is strictly a CPU for small form-factor PCs, although if you simply want a low-power/low-thermals CPU, it would be beneficial as well. It’s just quite a premium to consider for such gains.
As you can see in the above CPU-Z screenshot, the “S” suffix is not listed under the processor name or specification. Rather, in order to know whether or not a CPU is indeed a 65W model, you’ll need to compare the SPEC code. Normally, revision codes are enough to go by, but in the case of the Q9400 and Q9400S, those are identical, so it’s really impossible to use that as a basis. If you want to purchase an “S” model, be sure to keep these SPEC codes in mind:
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