Core 2 Duo: An Intel Revolution

A little over a month ago, Intel officially released their new line of processors, named Core 2. This release marks a turning point for Intel for several reasons. First, it’s the first Intel 64-bit computing solution for notebooks. It also unifies Intel’s desktop and notebook processor lines into one standard design, as both Conroe and Merom (codenames for Core 2 desktop and notebook CPUs, respectively) are based on one similar design with only minor differences. But most importantly it’s faster and more energy-efficient than comparable AMD models. So what exactly makes Core 2 so much better than Athlon 64?

64-Bit Mobile CPUs
Until Core 2, AMD Turion processors (and recently Turion X2, the dual-core version) were the only ones that would support 64-bit computing on a notebook. But the cost of getting a Turion notebook was – well, you didn’t get an Intel processor. There may be serious competition in the desktop market, but it’s pretty widely accepted that Intel’s notebook solutions offer a lot more performance per watt. But Core 2 gives you both: an Intel processor and the ability to install and use a 64-bit operating system.

Lower Power Consumption
For the most part, Core 2 Duo desktop processors have a TDP (thermal design power) of 65W. Yes, some of the new Socket AM2 processors AMD has released have a 65W TDP too, but these are the expensive, hard to find ones. If you go to the store and buy an Athlon 64 X2 processor, chances are it’ll have a TDP of 89W or more; you’ll only get the 65W ones if you’re really looking for them.

So what does lower power consumption do? Well, the obvious one is that it lowers your electric bill. A computer that consumes, say, 500W uses the power of five 100W light bulbs. If you leave your computer on all the time, that adds up. Intel had forgotten about energy efficiency, at least on desktops, for a while, but now they’re back in the race.

But that’s not all: lower power also means less heat coming from the processor. Heat has to be expelled from your system, usually using some sort of fan. Which brings me to my next point: noise. The more power you’re using, the more heat is generated, and the louder the fans have to be to cool the computer.

More Cache
A CPU’s cache stores instructions that are used often; this way, it doesn’t have to wait for memory all the time. More cache means less idle time while waiting for memory. The Core 2 architecture provides 4MB of L2 cache (this is scaled down to 2MB on lower models). It also allows this cache to be used by whichever core needs it more, rather than splitting it into 2MB of cache per core, so if you are using only one program that could benefit from more cache, the processor will automatically give one core a larger share of the cache than the other.

Enhanced SpeedStep Technologies
Core 2 CPUs come with Intel’s SpeedStep technology, which dynamically changes the performance level of a CPU to meet the needs of the computer to optimize power consumption even further. One website found that when idle, the Core 2 Extreme X6800 (which has a TDP of 75W, higher than the others) operated at 25oC, which is just above room temperature and much lower than normal idle temperatures (see the Resources section for this article).

Overclocking
Core 2 processors, like most Intel processors, overclock quite well, as many are discovering. There are reports of E6600 processors, originally running at 2.4GHz, reached 4GHz and still remained stable, even with its multipliers completely locked. Similar results have been achieved with the other Core 2 processors.

More Processing Power Than Athlon 64
This, of course, is the most important thing. After all, why else do you upgrade your processor? Sure, the other things are nice to have, but when it comes down to it you’d only spend more money if you get more processing power out of the upgrade. Does Core 2 give you that extra processing power? You bet. Let’s compare the Core 2 Extreme X6800 with the Athlon 64 FX-62. The statistics I use here are from an article by AnandTech, to which I have posted a link in the Resources section below. First of all, let me point out that the X6800 has a TDP of 75W, which the FX-62 has a TDP of 125W, 67% higher. The X6800 defeated the FX-62 in every single benchmark; it didn’t lose even one. In fact, the Core 2 Duo E6600 performed at equivalent levels to the FX-62, and it’s approximately $500 cheaper.

So there you have it. The Core 2 is faster, more energy efficient, cooler, and quieter than the Athlon 64. Intel is back in the game, and right now they’re on top. Of course, in a market moving this rapidly, that doesn’t mean much.

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