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Intel's Core 2 Duo lives up to hype

Supporting early claims, Intel's upcoming Core 2 Duo outperformed AMD's chips in several independent tests by a wide margin.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
5 min read
Even Steven Spielberg's "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" didn't get these kind of reviews.

Independent chip reviewers across the Internet unveiled the results of their tests of Intel's upcoming Core 2 Duo processor for desktops, or the chip formerly known as Conroe. For the first time in several years, Intel has a clear performance lead in a wide variety of benchmarks for office applications, games and other software.

Back in February, before Intel had released details about the Core architecture used to build Conroe, Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile Platforms group, claimed that, in general, the Core architecture chips would deliver a 20 percent performance lead over comparable chips from Advanced Micro Devices. While it's hard to assemble an overall figure based on dozens of benchmark results, the Core 2 Duo meets that target in some areas and comes in shy of that figure in others. But its lead was clear in the minds of reviewers, who did not hold back their praise for Intel's new chip.

CNET.com, which like CNET News.com is published by CNET Networks, said "the Core 2 Duo chips include not only the fastest desktop chips on the market, but also the most cost-effective and among the most power-efficient." Most reviewers evaluated three chips that will formally launch later this month: the Core 2 Extreme X6800, the Core 2 Duo E6700 and the E6600. The Extreme version runs at the fastest clock speed and costs a lot more than the E6700 and E6600, but it will be the most powerful desktop PC chip on the planet when it is released.

Anandtech, which was one of the sites that was granted access to a preproduction version of Conroe, declared that "Intel's Core 2 Extreme X6800 didn't lose a single benchmark in our comparison; not a single one." Even Intel's mainstream E6700 and E6600 processors beat AMD's highest-performing chip, the Athlon FX-62, in several benchmarks.

Sharky's Extreme, another hardware review site, was equally impressed with the new Core 2 Duo chips. "The launch of the Core 2 processor line has hit the market with a bang, and offers up an incredible combination of performance and value, coupled with low heat and power specifications. These processors are so good, that it's difficult to highlight any real negatives."

Core 2 Due outperforms

Hardware reviewers were overwhelmingly positive in their praise of Intel's upcoming Core 2 Duo chip. Here's a brief sampling:

"But make no mistake, what you see before you is not the power hungry, poor performing, non-competitive garbage (sorry guys, it's the truth) that Intel has been shoving down our throats for the greater part of the past five years. No, you're instead looking at the most impressive piece of silicon the world has ever seen, at the fastest desktop processor we've ever tested. What you're looking at is Conroe, and today is its birthday."

"Intel once again has the fastest desktop processor on the market...If you're after the best performing desktop processor on the planet, you're going to be shopping for an Intel Core 2 processor." --Reg Hardware

"After years of wandering in the wilderness, Intel has recaptured the desktop CPU performance title in dramatic fashion." --The Tech Report

"For the first time in about two years, Intel is offering a superior desktop processor that may cause more than just a headache for AMD." --Tom's Hardware Guide

"There is no doubt that when it comes to editing video, manipulating images or encoding music, the Intel Core 2 Duo and Extreme processors at 2.66GHz and above currently enjoy a healthy performance advantage over AMD's Athlon FX and Athlon 64 line of processors. Moreover, I would be remiss if I did not mention the Core 2 Duo and Extreme also do a great job of making the Pentium 4 look like a dinosaur." --Hard OCP

On PC World's own benchmark, WorldBench, the E6700 processor outscored AMD's FX-62 processor by a substantial margin, and the gap was even wider between the FX-62 and the Core 2 Extreme. PC gamers, who have been solidly behind AMD's Athlon 64 processors almost since the day they were released, will have to rethink their stance based on some of the gaming benchmark figures, according to PCMag.com.

The language used to describe the Core 2 Duo chips was almost reverent, perhaps in part because it has been so long since Intel has been this competitive from a performance standpoint in the desktop PC market. Intel's Netburst chips, which the world knows as the Pentium 4 and Pentium D processors, trailed AMD's Athlon 64 chips on many of these same tests and also consumed a great deal more power than AMD's offerings. But the performance tide has turned, and the power consumption of the new processors meets or beats AMD's chips in tests done by several reviewers.

AMD is using 2006 to catch its breath after its surge over the last few years. The company isn't planning any major overhauls to its Athlon 64 X2 processors this year. But it has introduced support for faster DDR2 memory and announced plans to launch a gaming platform known as 4x4 that can accommodate two AMD processors such as its Athlon 64 X2 chips or its FX chips. AMD hasn't officially said which processors it will use in the 4x4 design. It's unclear whether that will be enough to overcome the performance of Conroe, but in 2007 AMD plans to make more sweeping changes to its processors, including support for quad-core designs.

Beneath all the critical praise, however, is the fact that most PC users won't be pushing their PCs near the limit of the Core 2 Duo's performance. For those who just like to check e-mail or manage their finances, most any processor will do. But gamers and multimedia enthusiasts are influential forces in the PC market, and praise from that demographic tends to carry over into the larger market.

Some of the reviews noted that AMD is about to cut prices on its desktop chips to keep pace with the Core 2 Duo. An AMD representative confirmed pricing changes are in the works. "AMD will perform an aggressive price move in July to ensure we maintain price-performance leadership in desktop products," the company said in a statement. Intel also plans to cut prices on its older Pentium D chips when the Core 2 Duo chips start to arrive later this month.