The Real World Rules!
While it’s great to use software like PCMark and SYSMark to get an idea of how a PC generally performs in various scenarios (and they are getting even better, benchmarking within real-world applications), nothing beats doing the tests yourself to see exactly where each CPU model excels and falls behind in performance.
The one thing our readers are most interested in, after gaming, is probably video and audio transcoding. After all, who wants to keep music on annoying discs? The same can often be said for video, as today’s huge hard drives allow us to store a lot of movies.
For our audio encoding tests, we use the latest version of dBpoweramp Music Converter (at this time, R13.2). This program has the slickest interface I’ve seen for an audio converter, as it integrates into the Windows Explorer shell (right click > convert to). It also supports a plethora of codecs, although we’re only going to look at the two main ones – MP3, and WMA.
Both MP3 and WMA were run in Constant Bit Rate, converting an entire CD to 128 kbps. WMA was also run in Lossless mode.
We have recently updated this test to support multi-threading capabilities offered by dBpoweramp. We used to benchmark the conversion of a single large track, but that only ever used one thread. With the latest version of the software, you can encode up to four tracks at once. So from now on, we will be encoding a group of 26 tracks, ripped directly from a CD in WAV format.
As you can see, al of these CPU’s can encode an entire CD in under half a minute (as long as you stick to WMA), and are all within a few seconds of each other. For some reason, the Core i7 doesn’t excel in these tests.
As usual, we are converting a portion of Groundhog Day DVD to MPEG-4 Part 2 using VirtualDub. The codecs we’re using are DivX, which is multi-threaded and getting better with every version, and the still single-threaded XviD, which “the scene” still prefers to use for some reason.
I am going to look into something a little more up to date for our next review, using HDTV source material and a more modern MPEG-4 AVC codec. Since DivX and XviD are so widely used, I’ll probably keep this as an SD video transcoding scenario. If someone knows of a good HD encoding method that is easy to run and automatically keeps track of encoding time, please let me know.
Again, the new Phenom II’s have no problem handling the Core 2 Quad processor, which is the intended target. However, the Core i7 920 easily outperforms the rest, at a total system cost of around $120 more.
iPod Video Encoding
Here’s a new test, based on another real-world scenario. Say you want to have some music videos on your iPod or iPhone. What do you do? If you’re a clueless Apple fanboy drone, you probably shell out $1.50 on iTunes for each one. But if you know better, you could just grab the videos from Youtube, quickly convert them with whatever software you wish, and transfer them to your device with Winamp or whatever (Youtube is even starting to offer direct MP4 downloads which should be compatible as well, so this test is going to be outdated pretty soon anyway).
In this test, we are using ImToo converter to encode 10 music videos from Youtube’s FLV format to iPod-friendly MP4 format. This program is multi-threaded, converting as many videos as possible (the limit can be increased to whatever you want).
With the ability to process 8 streams at once, the Core i7 has an even greater advantage in this test. So once again, the X4 955 beats the Q9550, but is easily handled by the i7 920.