Now that their initial quad-core launch is successfully behind them, in 2007 Intel plans to take the technology mainstream. Today’s introduction of the Core 2 Quad Q6600 is the first step in that direction. But is the Core 2 Quad Q6600 up for the challenge? And is the market even ready for quad-core processing? That’s what we’re here today to find out.
We’re going to start by answering the latter question first: “is the market even ready for quad-core processing?” As of today, that’s a pretty easy question to answer: no. Clearly when it comes to gaming, there’s no real flagship application out there that really takes advantage of quad-processing cores, but that’s about to change. Over the coming months we’ll see the debut of a wealth of games that are capable of pushing all four cores. There’s Gas Powered Games upcoming RTS, Supreme Commander, as well as a slew of FPS shooters, including Half-Life 2 Episode 2, Unreal Tournament 2007, and Crysis, not to mention the shooter everyone’s been talking about lately, Alan Wake, although it’s doubtful that particular title will ship in 2007.
AMD and Intel have counted around 20 games that will ship in 2007 with quad-processing support. That’s a pretty high number considering that even today, there are probably fewer than 10 titles that truly take advantage of dual-core processing, and dual-core processors have been on the market since 2005. A large part of the reason why the game development industry is finally catching up to the hardware is because AMD and Intel have been working with game developers in advance this time around to incorporate multi-threading support into their games. It also doesn’t hurt that game consoles are multi-core as well. This further gives game developers added incentive to take the time out to properly code their games so that they take advantage of multiple processing cores. Audio/video encoding is another usage scenario that’s going increasingly multi-core, as well as other content creation/creativity apps such as Adboe Premiere Pro 3.0 and Pinnacle Studio 10 and 3D rendering programs like 3D Studio Max 8/9.
So now that we’ve made the case for quad-core processing on the software-side, what about the new CPU itself? Let’s take a look at the new processor…
New CPU, same core
Intel’s latest quad-core processor is based on the same Kentsfield processing core first used by Intel in the Core 2 Extreme QX6700. If you recall, with Kentsfield Intel simply crams two dual-core processor dies into one package. The two dies are then linked to the system chipset via the FSB.
In the case of the Core 2 Quad Q6600, as the “6600” designation in its name implies Intel merely combines two Core 2 Duo E6600s into one package. This means that the CPU runs at 2.4GHz with a 1066MHz FSB, and a total of 8MB L2 cache (2x4MB combined).
Since the two dies are independent of each other, they cannot share data internally; instead they communicate along the slower CPU bus, and share the same memory interface. On paper this isn’t as elegant as a native quad-core design, but in reality today’s apps aren’t capable of pushing these bottlenecks found in Intel’s Kentsfield architecture and performance scales well under the right conditions – in our multi-tasked gaming scenarios for instance we’ve found that Intel’s quad-core QX6700 CPU often ran over twice as fast as the Core 2 Duo E6700 it’s based on, and even delivered double the performance of a Core 2 Extreme X6800 in multiple tests.
With the slower clock speed, Intel is able to reduce the processor’s operating voltage from 1.35V in the Core 2 Extreme QX6700 to just 1.325V in the Core 2 Quad Q6600; this reduces thermal design power to just 105W (from 130W in the QX6700). With lower power requirements, this should help the CPU run in a wider variety of configurations -- we wouldn’t be surprised to see home theater PCs based around the Q6600 at some point.
As of today, Intel’s Core 2 Quad Q6600 carries a list price of $851. Keep in mind this is the price Intel charges its distributors in quantities of 1,000, and not the same as the CPU’s street price, which can ultimately prove to be higher or lower. At a price of $851, the Q6600 is priced just $148 lower than the Core 2 Extreme QX6700, which runs over 200MHz faster and also features an unlocked clock multiplier. Because of this, you can make an argument that the Core 2 Extreme QX6700 is the better value, at least right now. It has been widely speculated that Intel will slash prices on the Core 2 Quad Q6600 next quarter; many reports have the CPU selling for as low as $530 as a result of these price cuts. At that price, going to quad-core will likely be a very tempting upgrade for a lot of folks, at the same time however it has also been reported that Intel will be slashing prices on the rest of their Core 2 Duo lineup as well, with today’s E6600 selling for just $224.
In any case, this is something you may want to keep in mind if you plan on upgrading in the near future.