Review: i7 is the fastest, but Core 2 Quad still the best choice
Every year we change our benchmark configuration and run several CPUs and boards through our benchmark-parcours. Interestingly it revealed some unexpected results.
First we introduce our test rig which should represent a standard machine which will suffice for the most needs, so there is no RAID or dual graphics-cards setup.
Power-Supply: PC Power & Cooling Silencer 500W:
We will review this product at a later date. Just to let you know, it's a 80Plus power-supply with typically about 84% (at 230V) efficiency. It provides one PCIe 6-pin and one PCIe 8-pin power connector, so it will have no troubles doing Crossfire or SLI, at least with two cards with only one PCIe power-connector. To power your CPU you get one EPS12V and one P4 connector, besides the standard ATX 2.x power-connector, 6x SATA, 6x HDD and 1x floppy connectors give you plenty of headroom.
Graphics-Card: MSI R4850-2D1G-OC:
Any HD4850 should satisfy your gaming needs up to 1920x1024. Higher resolutions are possible but with less details or without anti-aliasing. This card is a good compromise between bangs and bucks. Furthermore the MSI model has a custom PCB with lower power-consumption compared to a standard PCB. The only downside is the lame cooling solution which does not support fan-management. Sanjin will have a look at this card shortly.
You already know our boards we are testing with, because we have reviewed them all some time ago:
Intel DX58SO, Gigabyte EP45-UD3P and MSI DKA790GX.
We used AMD X2 4850e, X2 7750, Phenom II 720/810 and 940, Intel i7 920, 940 as well as E7200, E8400, Q9450, Q9650 and an overclocked Q9650 @ Q9770. You have to keep in mind that power consumption on our emulated Q9770 is a bit higher due to overvoltaging.
Qimonda 3GB Kit PC3-8500U (provided by Qimonda)
Sadly this company will be gone soon if they don't find any investor, but their memory kit worked very well. This was used for all i7 benches. The kit run at 1067MHz at CL7-7-7-20 with 1.50V.
Kingston 3GB Kit PC3-16000U KHX16000D33K/3GX (provided by Kingston)
Only two modules were used for AMD AM3 platform, running at 1333MHz, CL7-7-7-20 with 1.60V
Kingston 2GB Kit PC2-9600U KHX1200D2K2/2G (provided by Kingston)
Running at 1067MHz CL5-5-5-15 CR2T at 1.90V on all Core2 and AMD DDR2 platforms.
CPU-Cooler: Scythe Andy Samurai Master and Thermalright Ultra 120 eXterme:
As usual our reference cooler Scythe Andy was used for all AMD and Core 2 testing. This model will be replaced by the new "Kabuto" which we will review soon. Because the Andy cooler has not been made for the i7 series, we used the Thermaltight Ultra 120 eXtreme, i7s get very hot.
Harddrive: Samsung Spinpoint F1 1TB:
Samsung's F1 is one of the fastest drives out and with prices under €75,- there is no reason not to go for a big drive nowadays.
The rest of our setup has not been touched.
DVD-Burner: Samsung SH-203D
SilenX iXtrema Pro 14dB(A) (provided by PC-Cooling.at)
Cooler Master Stacker 831 Lite (provided by Cooler Master)
Because we don't like the broken OS all tests are performed with XP SP3. While 64bit software is still not very common, we also stick with the 32bit version.
The most important changes happened the last year and starting this year with the x264 development. While you would expect they would optimize for the new i7 platform, they also did this for the new Phenom II. And the results speak for itself. It's the first time AMD can keep at the same pace as any Core 2 Duo/Quad. So software-optimizing does matter, but there are no other programs we are aware of they do optimizing for AMD, as you can see with CineBench R10.
While we were benching the i7 platform with R10 and x264 we noticed when you turn on Hyperthreading the results do not stay close. There are huge differences, so you can get a better or not so good results. It does not matter how many times you repeat the bench, at no time does the result stay stable.
CineBench R10 has differences about 800 points which we consider as much too big.
The same is also true with x264. It seems after two recurrences it seems to get slower and slower.
Click here for full screen.
Click here for full screen.
All in all we picked the first CineBench result and did two recurrences with the x264 and took the best.
3DMark & FarCry 2:
We haven't done any changes, except increasing the resolution for 3DMark 2003 to 1600x1200. As you can see, more CPU does not really help. Even FarCry2 does not increase significantly with Hyperthreading enabled on the i7 platform. Yes, you get more CPU-score, but that's it. So for gamers it does not seem to matter to get the fastest CPU at all. The funny thing is, the i7 920 appears faster with 3DMark 2003 but we explained that behavior earlier.
To merely test power consumption is not enough any more. While the i7 is the fastest CPU it inherited some of the P4 features. Although Hyperthreading is not a bad thing, the turbo mode maybe questionable, the i7 like it's P4 brother gets hot, really hot. This also results in a much higher power-consumption. So we measured power-consumption with CineBench and FarCry2 too and set them in perspective with the results. Please note our results are peak values but that's ok for comparison purposes.
Let's look how FarCry 2 does:
While the i7 is the fastest CPU it does need about 50% more power compared to a Q9650. If you check the efficiency you see that the Q9 series has the best performance/consumption ratio. Intel claimed any 2% performance improvement does only cost 1% more power-consumption, but we clearly see they failed.
AMD on the other hand has the same problem as Intel, it does consume huge amounts of power, but with the right software-optimization they can keep up with Intel Core2 CPUs. Sadly besides x264 we have not seen much in that area. But while AMD is not just that fast, it's Phenom II X4 CPUs are much cheaper, the 920 sells for under €160,- which can be considered as bargain, while the cheapest Q9300 sells for about €185,-. We hope the recently announced 65W CPUs will give Intel more competition.
We think the Q9 series is the best CPU you can buy, you don't even need to change your memory and still save money on the board. Besides, DDR2 memory is still cheaper, because the 1.65V DDR3 kits have a price-premium and you don't need massive cooling for the CPU. Only professionals where time is essence can profit from the faster i7, but even hardcore gamers can leave it alone. The Q9650 is available for about €285,- and works at 3GHz while the cheapest Nahalem Core i7 920 at 2.66GHz costs under €250,-. A Q9650 is much easier to overclock and you have not to calculate any internal clocks and memory overclocking also works much better.
Also our review proves that, a decent power supply is enough to fit anybody's needs. As long as you don't care about Crossfire or SLI a small power-supply will fit. PC Power & Cooling Silencer 500W does the perfect job and is enough to power all of these nineteen systems, of course not at once. Sadly the companies are into making PSUs bigger and bigger, there is no company out providing a decent 250W and 300W PSU with good efficiency and most "entry" models don't have sufficient connectors such as an often needed EPS12V CPU power connector.
So, long story short, the winner is Core 2 Quad Q9650.