Review: Too expensive to compete against AMD?
This review is also available in German.
It's been a while since our latest platform review. Today we take a look at Intel's Ibex Peak platform. We would like to thank Mindfactory for providing the CPUs for our testing, because Intel was not able to supply us with samples.
For some reason Intel decided to split the 5th generation chipset into four distinctive models. The differences are so small that you can be sure it's just the same chip but with some functions fused off. While the P55 chipset is able to split the CPU integrated PCIe 2.0 x16 lanes into two x8 lanes, the H and Q brothers can't do that. Intel decided to fuse of two PCIe x1 lanes on the H55, so you get only six, while H57, Q57 and P55 support eight of them. These lanes are crippled, even if Intel states they are not. The lanes run at just 250MB/s which makes it impossible to attach a USB 3.0 controller with the required bandwidth directly, so some companies, for example MSI, are using a PCIe switch to combine two PCIe x1 lanes to connect the NEC USB 3.0 chip. With the next generation of chipsets this limitation will be lifted and PCIe 2.0 x1 lanes will run at full speed, but of course, you have to swap the entire system, because Intel thinks they need to grab your hard earned money and change the socket again. The standard H55 is also crippled by removing RAID support which can be done by software anyways.
So the reason for having three chipsets for the new CPUs is beyond our understanding, it's obviously just to confuse consumers and squeeze out more cash from them. While in the "good old days" you got two chips, northbridge and southbridge, this is now a single chip and it replaces the southbridge. But of course the price has remained the same, so the profits for Intel are nearly doubled out of thin air.
MSI 790GM-E65 (provided by MSI)
ASRock H55M Pro (provided by ASRock)
Intel Pentium G6950, Intel i3-530 (provided by Mindfactory)
AMD Athlon II X2 240e, 245 (provided by AMD)
AMD Athlon II X4 620 (provided by AMD)
Scythe Kama Angle (provided by Scythe-Europe)
G.Skill 4GB Kit PC3-12800 (provided by G.Skill)
1067MHz CL7-7-7-20 CR1T 1.30V for Athlon II X2, Pentium G6950
1333MHz CL7-7-7-20 CR1T 1.30V for Athlon II X4, i3-530
MSI R4850-2D1G-OC (provided by MSI)
PC Power & Cooling Silencer 500W (provided by PC Power & Cooling)
Samsung F1 1000GB RAID-Edition (provided by Ditech)
SilenX iXtrema Pro 14dB(A) (provided by PC-Cooling.at)
Cooler Master Stacker 831 Lite (provided by Cooler Master)
All tests are performed with XP SP3. As 64-bit software is still not very common, we stick with the 32-bit version. We will change to Windows 7 when we swap the graphics card for a DX11 capable one.
Intel does not only cripple chipsets, they also cripple CPUs. The G6950 has been stripped of 1MB of L3 cache, the Uncore clock is reduced to 2.4GHz, compared to the 3.2GHz the i5-6xx/750 offers and the new integrated graphics are clocked at just 533MHz. The i3-530 has an Uncore clock speed of 2.933GHz, the internal graphics runs at 733MHz and the full 4MB 3rd level cache. While the i5-6xx series offers the AES-NI extensions the smaller models have been left out. This is of no concern for the normal user, except if you are sure you need to encrypt your hard drives. Like AMD, Intel also restricts the memory speed for the Pentium models to 1066MHz. Also for virtualisation the small CPUs are not the best choice, because they do not support VT-d. The G6950 does not feature any SSE4 support either. While both CPUs have two real cores, the i3-530 does support Hyperthreading, which gives you four logical CPUs for your OS and can speed up some applications. This does work well on two cores CPUs, but backfires most of the time on real four core CPUs. Also both CPUs don't feature Turbo Mode, which is not as bad as it sounds. They are rated with a 73W TDP.
On our ASRock board setting the CPU 4.2GHz inside the BIOS worked without any problems. You may increase the VCore because the setting may not be prime-stable. Also you may be have better results with a graphics card, because you don't need to overclock the internal graphics. If you choose offset voltage increase instead of manual VCore the CPU can reduce voltages depending on load. Please keep in mind the ASRock H55M Pro motherboard is a low-end board, but the overclocking results are very good.
Intel G6950 @ 4.2GHz, Offset voltage increase +0.150V:
After adding a graphics card and disabling the internal graphics we even achieved nearly 4.5GHz. That's impressive, but as you can see, you need a huge voltage increase in our case 1.450V. Results will vary with each CPU, but because this is a CPU from a shop, it's a good indicator how high you can go with superior air-cooling or the quite cheap water-cooling solutions we reviewed here and here.
Intel i3-530 @ 4.2GHz, Offset voltage increase +0.1750V:
As you can see the internal graphics gets also a boost but requires +0.200V voltage increase which may be dangerous for the graphics core itself. Due to a BIOS bug or because we fried the i3-530 we could only get to 195MHz on the ASRock board, we will check out if the MSI board can do better.
Because the CPUs run very efficient at a VCore of about 1.100V we see no reason to attempt lowering the VCore itself. You could only shave off some 0.01V, so we think it's not worth the effort.
Both CPU feature a 73W envelope with the H55 rated at 5.2W. AMD CPUs have a lower TDP but the combination of 785G and SB750 does require more power. Surprisingly AMD has the lead in the idle power consumption, while of course Intel fares better under load. As we have shown, you can under-voltage AMD CPUs very well, so even AMD can be competitive in power-consumption. We have no included a second monitor to our scores, but here Intel leads with a surplus of only about 3W, compared to AMD which requires about 8W more for the second screen. With two screens both platforms consumes about the same power in idle. Please note that the i5-750 platform run on the MSI P55-GD65 platform with an HD 4850 installed.
In our performance/wattage check with Cinebench we see AMD is closer as thought, especially when under-voltaged. That is because standard boards do not waste power with features nobody needs, such as ten, twelve, sixteen or 32 phases and with less add-on chips.
Before we can think of a conclusion we need to check the system costs and performance. As usual the Intel platform is a tad pricier and with the integrated graphics core overclocking works well too, but we think overclocking an AMD system is just easier. Performance wise AMD is not as far off as Intel would like them to be. The Athlon II X4 series is very cheap and at the same price level as the more feature-rich i5-6xx series, but the Athlon features four real cores compared to Intel's two cores with hyperthreading.
While a comparable AMD system is a tad cheaper, AMD does not cripple it's chipset and CPUs as much as Intel does. By cost per performance the performance as you have seen is on par, even hyperthreading on the i3 does work well. What is surprising, AMD can cope with Intel even in idle power consumption. As you can see, Intel and AMD are pretty close, but with advantages for AMD in our test. We will test shortly the MSI H55M-ED55 board which supports a low power consumption VRM which may close the gap but comes with a hefty price tag. While games are mostly optimizied for Intel, even AMD can cope quite well as seen in FarCry2 with an HD 4850 installed.
AMD 785G boards are about the same price-levels compared to the H55, AMD CPUs and chipsets offers more features and the 785G offers TrueHD/DTS-HD MA streaming. AMD CPUs can be under-voltaged very well which gives AMD 45nm CPUs a better standing against Intel 32nm parts. Also AMD is not not in the habit of changing the socket with every platform which gets really tiresome. The only advantages Intel CPUs have to offer are better overclocking and better performance in single threaded scenarios. For a causal gamer this is not that much important. Compared to our last CPU review, DDR3 memory prices have spiked with an increase of about 25%. Also the AMD Athlon II X4 620 has seen prices under €68,-/$80 while now it costs about €83,-/$96. It seems this CPU will be phased out soon, so we suggest you get yourself a X4 630 instead, which costs now only €2,50/$4,- more but offers an increased clock-speed of 200MHz which should improve performance about 5-7%. The Intel Pentium G6950 is available for about €74,-/$98,- while the i3-530 sets you back about €99,-/$125,-.
Of course the choice is yours but for low cost systems we prefer AMD over Intel. For gamers the i5-750 offers four real cores and turbo modes which increases the performance especially in single threaded applications, but the Athlon II X4 still offers a very cheap way to get a quad core CPU. We will check out the Phenom II X6 shortly which will bring six cores at nearly the same price as the i5-750 to the masses.
As always here are all the benches we performed.
We could not be bothered with game tests with the integrated graphics because we think nobody really likes to play a game at 800x600 if it's not from the DOS era. Here 3DMark2003 with the i3-530 at 733MHz and overclocked with 1GHz:
The following game tests were done with a HD4850 installed: