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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [12.01.07]
Manufactured by: AMD, Intel


Back in the Saddle

Okay, we've been having fun running HCW Tech Blog this year, and it has been going very well. I wanted to take something I've loved to do over the past 7 years - writing about PC gaming hardware - and combine it with something I've loved all my life - video games. But that doesn't mean we should be neglecting what we've become known for over the past 7 years - writing kick ass PC hardware reviews.

This article will be our first full-blown CPU review in... quite a while... I decided to make it a comparison of dual core processors offered by both Intel and AMD.

Why not Quad-Core?

Intel has been doing very well with their Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Extreme platforms, and we've been covering that here all along. And AMD recently launched their quad-core "Phenom" platform as well. So why not do a full quad-core comparison? Two reasons really.

First of all, AMD typically has production issues when introducing a new product, and thus usually have very few samples to go around. The Phenom was no different - they weren't even able to launch the processor running at speeds they'd originally intended. So they only work with a handful of sites on reviews (and many of those didn't even get samples of the Phenom, but were flown in to see benchmarks being done by AMD themselves).

About 5 years ago, back in the AthlonXP days, we sort of gave AMD a hard time for launching products that were not available in stores for quite a while after reviews came out. This was known as a 'paper launch'. In an attempt to be funny, we took liberties with their logo design and their "me" marketing slogan. Although the image was well received by our readers (and other webmasters), AMD wasn't too pleased with it. We apologized, and noted that it was indeed against their terms of service to modify their logos. Because of their stock issues, we basically got moved down to the bottom of the list of websites they wanted to work with. Ever since then, we've had to buy our AMD processors to review. This usually means we're quite a few days behind on most processor launches, because it still takes a while for new AMD products to show up on store shelves. It really sucked to have to buy a 4600+ for around $300 for the Core 2 Duo review, only to see its price was essentially cut in half the very next week. We weren't going to be late for Intel's most important CPU launch in years though.

So to answer the question; we haven't bought a Phenom yet, so we can't review it until we do. We'll have one soon enough though, possibly once AMD is able to get a faster one out there.

The second reason is a price issue. Sure, quad core systems provide a huge speed boost in many instances. But for many people, $250-300  is still too much to ask for a CPU. In terms of gaming, dual core is sufficient, and for the same price you are able to get a dual core CPU with a higher clock speed.

So I took this opportunity to say, "Hey, Phenom and Core 2 Quad are great in their own right, but if you're looking for a sub-$200 CPU that is even faster in games, here's a review for you! Yeah~!"

The Contenders

For this year's DUAL CORE WAR, we are taking the fastest model of each dual core available for under $200, as well as the next two models below that, price-wise.

I say price-wise, because Intel's Core 2 Duo lineup is currently going through some interesting pricing fluctuations right now. Let's take a quick look at our Real Time Pricing Chart, as of December 1, 2007. All prices can be found using our Real Time Price Search Engine.

As you can see, AMD's lineup scales perfectly with speed; expect a $20 discount for every 200 MHz drop in processor speed. Core 2 Duo takes a similar drop from the E6750 to the E6550 (although their speed drops 333 MHz), but the next step down actually sees a slight price increase. And the E6320 we're including in this review is actually several logical steps down in model numbers...

We used to give AMD a hard time for their confusing processor naming scheme, and Intel is getting to be just as bad. Take a look at their desktop dual-core CPU spec sheet:

Their lineup now consists of different clock speeds, frontside bus speeds, cache sizes, and more. You might think that the next logical model below the 6750 is the 6700 since the only difference is FSB speed. But the cheapest we were able to find the 6700 was over $300! The next one down on Intel's list is the E6600, but once again don't expect to see it for less than $220 online.

It isn't until you reach the E6550 that you see a drop in price from the (recently lowered) E6750. From there, you have models such as the E6540, where the only difference is the lack of Intel TXT support. I couldn't even find that model for sale anywhere online. The E64xx processors are the next drop in clock speed (and FSB speed) - the E6420 for just around $200, and the E6400 for as low as $158. Unfortunately, the E6400 is based on the Allendale core, which only has 2MB of cache. You wouldn't want one anyway, so don't worry about it ;). That's why we have to go all the way down to an E6320 for our third Core 2 Duo entry in this DUAL CORE WAR. It's the only other CPU that is slower than the E6750 that is actually cheaper!

Most of this is caused by the recent huge price drop of the E6750, so really, it's a good thing. However, I think you'll agree that all the differences in Intel's lineup are incredibly confusing. Not only to you have to look at clock speed, but also FSB speed and cache size as well. You will also have to make sure to buy a motherboard with the right chipset, as some FSB speeds are not officially supported by previous chipsets.

For the purpose of this review, you'll basically want to compare the E6750 to the $10 cheaper X2 6400+, and the E6550 to the $10 cheaper X2 6000+. You can pretty much ignore the E6320, although there is the X2 5600+ to look at if you really are a cheapskate.

I also included the Q6600 in here, so you can see how an entry-level quad-core CPU compares to these dual-cores. Again, I don't have a Phenom in house to test. But consider that the Phenom costs as much as the Q6600, and for the most part performance is slightly lower, and you'll be able to include that in your thoughts as well.

Next Page: (Test Configuration; CPU Benchmarks)