Summary: Its got four cores, 8MB of L2 cache, and runs at 2.4GHz. Most importantly though, it sports lower pricing. Is the Core 2 Quad Q6600 the mainstream quad-core CPU most enthusiasts on a budget have been waiting for? Read on to find out!
Weíre going to start by answering the latter question first: ďis the market even ready for quad-core processing?Ē As of today, thatís a pretty easy question to answer: no. Clearly when it comes to gaming, thereís no real flagship application out there that really takes advantage of quad-processing cores, but thatís about to change. Over the coming months weíll see the debut of a wealth of games that are capable of pushing all four cores. Thereís 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 everyoneís been talking about lately, Alan Wake, although itís 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. Thatís 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 doesnít 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 thatís 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 weíve made the case for quad-core processing on the software-side, what about the new CPU itself? Letís take a look at the new processorÖ
New CPU, same core
Intelís 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.
As of today, Intelís 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 CPUís 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 todayís E6600 selling for just $224.
LAME MT MP3 Encoding (MS Compiler)
For the Core 2 Quad Q6600 launch Intel isnít providing CPU samples of the processor itself to press in advance, so weíre forced to lower the multiplier on our Core 2 Extreme QX6700 processor instead in order to obtain our benchmark results for this article. Performance between this underclocked QX6700 running at 2.4GHz and the real deal should be pretty similar, although obviously we canít provide any indication on how well the CPU overclocks, as we donít have a real sample to test with.
Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9
LAME MT MP3 Encoding
Of the tests we ran here, Cinebench 9.5 clearly demonstrates the advantages of quad-core computing best. The four-core systems, including AMDís 4x4 platform, all demonstrate a notable performance advantage over the dual-core Core 2 CPUs, with the Core 2 Quad Q6600 delivering over 1.5 times the performance of the dual-core E6600 CPU. Windows Media Encoder 9 also shows a slight performance advantage for the quad-core CPUs, although here the difference isnít as substantial, with the Q6600 encoding a 200MB 720p HD video five seconds faster than the E6600 processor. With a larger file however the difference between the two CPUs would be notably greater.
FutureMarkís 3DMark 06 is one synthetic benchmark that does takes advantage of multi-core. The Core 2 Quad Q6600 nearly outperforms AMDís FX-74 in 3DMarkís CPU test, and generates a score within 12% of the QX6700.
Valve is one of many game developers that plans to incorporate support for multi-core in their latest games. In fact, multi-core optimizations will be incorporated into the next Source engine update just ahead of Half-Life 2 Episode 2.
For our gaming tests, weíre running a mixture of high and low-res testing. We realize that most of you donít game at 800x600, which is the ideal res to test CPUs, so we also include results at 1600x1200 with 4xAA/8xAF, which are graphics settings more typical of someone with a GeForce 8800 GTX card. Also keep in mind that as we stated at the outset, most games donít take advantage of dual-core processing, much less quad-core, so for the most part, the additional processing cores found in Intelís latest processors sit around idling during single-tasked gaming sessions. Thatís why towards the end weíve included multi-tasked gaming benchmarks.
As far as we know, id has no plans to update the Doom 3 engine used in Quake 4/Prey to take advantage of multi-threading; Enemy Territory: Quake Wars isnít listed as a game that will push todayís latest quad-core solutions. In any case, as you can see, the Core 2 Quad Q6600 performs just like the E6600 in this benchmark.
Company of Heroes
Under our multi-tasked gaming scenarios we run our MP3 and WME9 encoding tests in the background while also gaming. This puts an enormous burden on the CPU, particularly at lower resolutions, and thus performance drops significantly for the dual-core CPUs and the quad-core CPUs really begin to shine. Under this scenario in F.E.A.R. the Q6600 delivered nearly double the performance of its dual-core sibling the E6600 at 800x600. Under the greater demands of 1600x1200 with 4xAA/8xAF however the graphics card begins to bottleneck the quad-core CPUs even under this usage scenario and the margin separating the two CPUs narrows to just 17%.
Yes and no.
Hardware-wise, Intelís Core 2 Quad Q6600 is primed for success. Because Intelís quad-core processors are compatible with most of the Core 2-compliant 975X and P965 motherboards already on the market, the hardware infrastructure is already in place for the Core 2 Quad Q6600, itís practically a drop-in replacement for most folks who already own one of these motherboards. All youíll likely need is a BIOS update for Q6600 support. The processor itself is also a terrific performer, outpacing AMDís 3.0GHz FX-74 4x4 system in many of our tests, although keep in mind that in apps that donít take advantage of multi-threading (read: games), it performs similarly to a Core 2 Duo E6600.
The biggest obstacle that the Core 2 Quad Q6600 will have to overcome, at least in the short term, is pricing. As of right now, the CPU carries an $851 price tag. As we mentioned in the intro, thatís an awfully expensive price considering that for less than $150 more, you can get a Core 2 Extreme QX6700 which runs over 200MHz faster and more importantly, has an unlocked clock multiplier, allowing you to OC the CPU to your hearts content provided youíve got the right motherboard.
The bottom line is that as it stands today, the Core 2 Quad Q6600 is priced too close to the Core 2 Extreme to really be a good value.
All this is expected to change in Q2í07 however, when itís rumored that the Q6600 will sell for under $550. At that price point, the Q6600 would be a much more enticing upgrade, and as such, thatís the time weíd suggest you pick up a Q6600 if quad-core interests you, but you canít afford to drop $1K on a new processor.
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