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Intel's quad-core chip powerful but pricey

New Core 2 Extreme offers an overwhelming amount of performance that exceeds the demands of most PC users, according to reviews.

Only the most demanding PC users will be able to keep Intel's new quad-core processor satisfied, according to several reviews released Thursday.

Intel's first attempt at putting four processing cores into a PC delivers an awful lot of performance, but it underscores the need for software developers to create more multithreaded applications, reviewers said. In terms of raw performance, the Core 2 Extreme QX6700 blows away any other chip available from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices, but when it comes to several applications, the four-core chip isn't any better than its dual-core siblings.

Intel's Core 2 Extreme lineup, like the Pentium Extreme Edition processors that preceded it, consists of very expensive chips designed to appeal to the type of PC user who upgrades a system every six months or so, in the never-ending quest for more performance.

The new QX6700 will cost around $1,000, and PCs with the QX6700 should start shipping by the middle of November. Gateway and Dell have already announced plans to support the processor, according to CNET Reviews. A second quad-core chip called the Core 2 Quad 6600 will be released in January.

When only one application is running, the QX6700 doesn't perform as well as the dual-core Core 2 Extreme X6800 or even the Core 2 Duo E6700, according to AnandTech's review. The reason? To keep the QX6700 within the same thermal profile as the Core 2 Extreme X6800, Intel reduced the clock speed of the QX6700. The X6800 runs at 2.93GHz, while the QX6700 and the E6700 run at 2.66GHz.

The PC industry has taken one giant step away from its historical strategy of pushing clock speed as the only performance metric worth considering. But that doesn't mean clock speed is no longer relevant. By keeping other variables like microarchitecture design or cache memory constant, faster chips still deliver better performance than slower ones.

This really shows up when looking at gaming performance, as noted in a review from The Tech Report. Lots of applications have been designed to take advantage of dual-core processors, but far fewer pieces of PC software available are capable of utilizing four cores. Some media applications, such as video-editing software like Adobe Systems' Premiere Pro, can immediately take advantage of the QX6700's four processor cores.

But when it comes to serious multitasking--running two or three processor-intensive applications simultaneously--the QX6700 is able to spread the workload over four cores. In tests conducted by Hexus.net, the QX6700 was able to handle the "Quake 4" game while encoding DivX video files in the background. It did so much better than the dual-core Core 2 Extreme X6800 or AMD's dual-core Athlon FX-62, the review said.

Mainstream PC users won't need the QX6700 for some time, since it delivers far more performance than needed for surfing the Web, typing term papers or playing simple games. In fact, just about any modern processor can handle basic tasks like those. But graphics designers and multimedia professionals will gladly welcome the additional performance from Intel's quad-core chips.

AMD won't release a quad-core chip until next year, but in the coming weeks it plans to introduce a gaming platform called "4x4" that comes with two dual-core processors and multiple graphics processors.