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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [11.02.08]
Manufactured by: Intel


PCMark Vantage

Okay, let's start looking at some more practical real-world benchmarks, starting with PCMark Vantage. We have been using PCMark for quite a while in our CPU and motherboard reviews. It was always a simple way of contrasting performance of various components of a PC with its ability to test different subsystems individually. It used components of real-world tests to give combined scores in various scenarios. For instance, the CPU Suite ran various tests that stress the CPU specifically; file compression, decompression, encryption, audio encoding, etc. Multi-threaded results were given by simply running several tests at once.

For CPU reviews, we would run the CPU Suite and the System suite, and it generally gave us a good idea on how the processors compared in terms of overall performance. But these were never 'real world' tests.

PCMark Vantage was recently released, and is a completely different approach compared to what we've seen before from the PCMark team. Instead simply testing low-level performance of PC's, there are several new suites in the program that attempt to recreate what a real user might do, all using the software built into Windows Vista. This is really the way we've been going with our reviews as well, something you'll have noticed if you've been following us over the years. Although we include some synthetic benchmarks like SiSoft Sandra and even 3DMark, we feel it's far more important to test real-world scenarios. Futuremark agrees, and thus PCMark Vantage is a great fit for us.

Vantage itself runs in a way similar to the older PCMark programs - select a 'suite' to run, and it will test a variety of scenarios and give an overall score for that 'suite'. There is also a CPU test that is very much like the CPU test from PCMark 05, and a Graphics test that uses components of 3DMark 06.

Each Vantage suite was run three times, and an average score of the three is given each time.

Memories Suite

Memories focuses on Vista's photo and video features. The tests include some image manipulation, which depends on the CPU and GPU. There is also some video transcoding (two videos are compressed to 320x240 1 Mbps WMV9 - one is 720x480 35.38 Mbps, and the other 1280x720 11 Mbps) which is obviously CPU dependant as well.

The Memories suite doesn't appear to be very CPU-limited, so the Core i7 CPUs perform in line with their Core 2 Quad counterparts.

TV & Movies Suite

This one is pretty obvious - it uses Vista's various video playback and transcoding features. All sorts of video types are played in these tests - 720p VC1 from an HD-DVD, 1080i MPEG-2 from terrestrial HD, and 1080p MPEG-2 from Blu-Ray. Even more video transcoding is done in this test, a lot of it also in HD. As you can guess, this suite is very CPU bound, but relies on GPU as well.

This time we are seeing better scaling, with performance of the i7 920 starting off just below the QX9770, and the rest going up from there.

Music Suite

The music suite does a lot of music transcoding, something a lot of people do every single day. There's some WAV > WMA Lossless, MP3 > WMA, as well as shrinking WMA files to a higher bitrate WMA format. There is even some web-browsing thrown in (you gotta buy your music somewhere right!) with transcoding and Windows Media Player library management going on in the background.

As we see in all our CPU reviews, music encoding doesn't scale very well with faster processors.

Communications Suite

We all communicate using our PCs, right? So why not test it! Actually, the communication suite in PC Mark Vantage has a lot of data encryption (CNG AES ABC) as well as some data compression. Also tested in the suite are web browsing using IE7, searching within Windows Mail, and some audio transcoding to simulate VOIP.

And as we saw with encryption in the SiSoft Sandra tests, Core i7's data encryption performance isn't anything to write home about.

Productivity Suite

Probably the least intriguing suite in the program; after all, how productive can you be in Windows without installing an Office application? Still, these tests utilize Windows Contacts, Windows Mail, IE7, Windows Defender, and WordPad. Yes, WordPad. At least it's not Notepad. Also, Vista's startup time is tested.

As expected, performance in line with price in this somewhat lame test.

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