April Confrontation: AMD and Intel Start the Price War

In April we will witness a tremendous price drop on dual-core Intel and AMD processors. We decided to take a look at the future and check out our comparative testing of the most popular dual-core CPU models that become even more attractive after the upcoming price-list corrections.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
03/28/2007 | 05:18 PM

Last week we posted an article called Core 2 Duo E6420, E6320 and E4400 Plus Another 15 Sub-$200 Dual-Core Processors, devoted to the upcoming launch of a few new Intel processors on Core micro-architecture. We compared the new Core 2 Duo E6420, E6320 and E4400 processors coming out on April 22 against the existing dual-core products from AMD and Intel. However, a few days later this comparison didn’t look fair any more because we didn’t have the info on the upcoming AMD price reductions at the time and hence we compared the Intel newcomers against slower competitor’s solutions.

 

The thing is that AMD, just like Intel, was getting ready to significantly correct their price list very soon, so all the conclusions we made in the previous article need to be revised taking into account new data. On April 9 AMD will respond with a price drop to the launch of new Intel processors and simultaneous price reduction on older Pentium D and Core 2 Duo models. Therefore, the CPU market is going to change dramatically in the second half of April: dual-core processors will be selling at a much lower price-point than before.

When we evaluated the performance level and price of the Core 2 Duo E6420, E6320 and E4400 processors in the previous article, we said: “…AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ should cost no more than $180, and Athlon 64 X2 4800+ and 4600+ - no more than $140, if they want to successfully compete with the new Intel CPUs…”. These words turned out prophetic. Having got our hands on the upcoming price changes for the dual-core AMD processors we got proof that AMD’s marketing department most definitely shares our opinion. So, let’s take another look at the existing information on the upcoming April changes in Intel’s pricing and product range and compare it with the new data on the price policy of the competition:

AMD CPUs

Pricing
after 4/9/07

Intel CPUs

Pricing
after 4/22/07

Core 2 Duo E6700

$316

Athlon 64 X2 6000+

$229

Core 2 Duo E6600

$224

Athlon 64 X2 5600+

$179

Core 2 Duo E6420

$183

Athlon 64 X2 5200+

$169

Athlon 64 X2 5000+

$159

Core 2 Duo E6320

$163

Athlon 64 X2 4800+

$129

Core 2 Duo E4400

$133

Athlon 64 X2 4400+

$115

Core 2 Duo E4300

$113

Athlon 64 X2 4000+

$99

Athlon 64 X2 3800+

$79

Pentium D 935

$84

Athlon 64 X2 3600+

$69

Pentium D 925

$74

First of all, I would like to stress that this is an unofficial table. The suppliers never inform the consumers of the price-list changes for understandable reasons: this information may freeze the sales in the period of time before the price changes. Therefore, these numbers should be regarded as certain forecast (with almost 100% precision, though :)).

As you can see from the table above, this price drop promises to become one of the most impressive lately. Some CPUs will get down to less than half the price of what they used to be, and the youngest models with two computational cores will be offered at a way below $100 bar. In other words, if you are going to upgrade, April will offer great opportunities to increase your CPU performance at minimal costs.

By the way, it is remarkable that as the table suggests all AMD Athlon 64 X2 processors will be selling at less than $230. This way AMD admits openly that this processor family can no longer compete with the fastest representatives of the Intel Core 2 Duo family. In other words, AMD Athlon 64 X2 will no longer be positioned as a high-end solution: now it is just a dual-core solution for mainstream and budget systems. However, taking into account the new processor pricing, AMD processors should do really well in these price segments. So, our today’s article is going to deal with the new comparison of the AMD and Intel dual-core processors, according to the new prices posted in the table above.

Testbed and Methods

Our choice of the candidates for the new round of dual-core processor tests was solely based on the new pricing. So today we are going to have all dual-core CPUs from the sub-$230 price range after April 22 face-to-face with one another. We didn’t want to overload the results charts, so we excluded the performance numbers for the CPUs that will no longer be a reasonable purchase after the upcoming price reductions. That is why you will not see the results for Core 2 Duo E6300 and E6400 as well as Athlon 64 4600+ and 4200+.

We have already discussed the performance of these processors in detail in our article called Core 2 Duo E6420, E6320 and E4400 Plus Another 15 Sub-$200 Dual-Core Processors. We have also excluded Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 from our testing participants list. The thing is that this processor is too fast an expensive, so there is no competitor for it in the AMD’s product range. Nevertheless, you can get an idea about the performance of this processor compared against the competitors from our article called AMD Conquering 3GHz: Athlon 64 X2 6000+ CPU Review.

Here is the list of all hardware including the full list of participating processors that was used in our test session:

We ran the tests with the BIOS Setup of the mainboards adjusted for maximum performance.

Performance

Futuremark: Synthetic Benchmarks

Now that we have the opportunity to compare the AMD and Intel processors according to their upcoming pricing, the situation is no longer simple. Just recently we have complained about the slow performance of AMD CPUs, and now we have to take our words back. According to the results of the popular gaming benchmark – 3DMark06, the April price reduction will allow Athlon 64 X2 processors to become worthy competitors to dual-core Intel CPUs selling below $200 price-point. Moreover, Athlon 64 X2 become the performance leader in the CPU subtest. AMD processors outperform Intel counterparts priced accordingly (as to the April price-list) during physics and bots AI modeling.

The situation in PCMark05 is slightly different. Core 2 Duo E6600 performs almost as fast as Athlon 64 X2 6000+ priced identically. However, when it comes to cheaper solutions, Intel doesn’t look too good any more. Core 2 Duo processors priced at $100-$150 turn out slower than Athlon 64 X2 with the same price tag. However, we can again see relative parity among the best value dual-core solutions from AMD and Intel.

The CPU test from PCMark05 suite shows a little different results. There are two interesting things here: high performance of the Pentium D processors and good results of the Core 2 Duo E4400 (in relation to its price).

Gaming Applications

Relative performance of the AMD and Intel processors in gaming applications is ambiguous and the results obtained in different games are very different from one another. However, on average AMD processors turn out slightly faster than Intel CPUs prices respectively. This tendency becomes even more evident as the price of the compared CPUs goes down. By the way, low-cost Pentium D processors from Intel aggravate this tendency even more. CPUs on NetBurst micro-architecture couldn’t and still cannot compete with AMD solutions in terms of gaming performance.

Similar situation can be observed in benchmarks based on Valve Source code that will be used for future games development.

The first benchmark estimates how fast the testing participants cope with building the lighting maps, and the second – evaluates the performance during environmental physics processing. However, the diverse results of the AMD Athlon 64 X2 processors spoil the picture in this case. As we have already mentioned before, the older Windsor core is considerably faster than Brisbane in these benchmarks thanks to faster L2 cache memory.

We have also included a chess benchmark on Fritz 9 engine into our gaming test session.

This time the diversity can be observed among Intel processors in the first place. Extremely high results of the Core 2 Duo E4400 can be explained by its high clock speed of 2.0GHz, while Pentium D processors fall behind all other testing participants on different micro-architectures.

Office Applications

Unfortunately, complex benchmarks modeling the user behavior in business and content creation applications, such as SYSMark 2004 SE, do not work in Windows Vista. Therefore, we decided to estimate the typical office performance using the time it takes our test systems to resolve certain specific tasks. These tasks were the comparison of two versions of a large document in Microsoft Office Word 2007 and the calculation of a table with typical statistical operations in Microsoft Office Excel 2007.

Core 2 Duo processors performed best in Word: they will be anyway slightly faster than AMD solutions with the same price tag. However, the situation changes as we get to the cheapest dual-core product range, where AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ and 3600+ outperform Pentium D CPUs.

In Excel the picture is pretty common: Core 2 Duo is several times faster than any other processor in our tests session, and that’s final.

We have also tested the systems performance with the benchmark built into the 64-bit version of the 7-zip archiving tool. We looked at the archiving speed and data extraction from archives.

Nothing unexpected happens here. During data compression Core 2 Duo processors are ahead, while Athlon 64 X2 takes over the lead during data extraction from archive.

As a result, we can conclude that Core 2 Duo look more preferable for office applications when you selecting a CPU from over $100 price range. As for the cheapest dual-core solutions, AMD Athlon 64 X2 will offer the best performance.

Audio and Video Encoding

It is hard to describe the situation with media content encoding, because performance may depend on the type of codec you are using. So, looks like Athlon 64 X2, Core 2 Duo as well as Pentium D in some cases may be most optimal for different encoding tasks from the price-to-performance point of view.

Image Editing

Besides our standard Adobe Photoshop CS3 test session we have also checked the performance of our testing participants in Microsoft Windows Photo Gallery that was used to prepare a digital photo gallery for printing.

During image editing Intel dual-core processors show the best results among other identically priced offerings. In other words, even the impressive price reduction AMD is planning for early April will not change the situation in this type of tasks.

Nonlinear Video Editing

We tested the performance during video movie rendering in Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 and during the preparation of the video movie for posting on YouTube using a standard Windows Vista application aka Windows Movie Maker.

Although during our performance tests during media content encoding we couldn’t make any definite conclusions, now that we have checked out the processor performance in nonlinear video editing tasks, we can state that both, AMD and Intel dual-core CPUs priced similarly, show comparable results during different types of video content processing.

Final Rendering

Athlon 64 X2 processors have always proven pretty successful in 3D rendering tasks. However, the upcoming price drop will improve their performance rate in this type of tasks even more. In other words, AMD CPUs will boast much higher performance here than Intel Core 2 Duo or Pentium D priced similarly.

Price-to-Performance Ratio: Main Criterion for CPU Attractiveness

The diverse results obtained from our testing participants in different types of tasks will be primarily of interest to those users who work with their PC in narrowly specified application field. However, this type of users is definitely not a majority. Most users are looking for some “average” system performance index, because their interests may vary over time. That is why we decided to perform additional analysis and build an additional chart with average processor performance values. This parameter was calculated as the arithmetic mean of all normalized results obtained during our test session.

Note that since the performance ratio between CPUs on Intel Core, Intel NetBurst and AMD K8 micro-architecture doesn’t really differ that much in various types of applications, the integral value of average performance on the chart below serves as a great description of their actual performance level in most apps.

In fact, this chart allows us to evaluate how adequate the upcoming processor prices will be in April.

All in all, you can clearly see that the upcoming pricing corresponds very well to the average processor performance. Only Pentium D CPUs do not fit into the overall picture that well, because their new April prices seem to be a little bit too high and do not correspond to their level of performance.

In order to get a better idea of the new AMD and Intel price policy we would like to offer you another chart with both: CPU prices and their average performance level at the same time.

The diagram you have just seen gives you a better understanding of how beneficial this or that dual-core CPU would be after the companies’ price-lists have been corrected in April.

So, the fastest AMD CPU, Athlon 64 X2 6000+, can compete only with Core 2 Duo E6600, which is just a little bit faster. As a result, Core 2 Duo E6700 and more expensive solutions have every right to be considered the fastest CPUs at this time and most likely until AMD rolls out processor on new K8L micro-architecture.

However, AMD Company manages to create a few very attractive offerings that not only outperform Intel processors but also sell at a more attractive price. These are Athlon 64 X2 5600+ and Athlon 64 X2 5000+ on Windsor core, which will boast more attractive price-to-performance ratio than Core 2 Duo E6420 and E6320.

Core 2 Duo E4400 and E4300 look better than the competitors in the lower price range, despite their cut-down L2 cache and 800MHz bus: they will boast better performance than the rivals priced similarly. However, when it comes to the cheapest dual-core CPUs, AMD processors will retain their leadership being indisputably faster than the old-school Pentium D processors selling at the same price.

Overclocking

So far we have only discussed the CPU performance in nominal mode. However, there are a lot of overclocking fans out there, tweaking their CPUs to the top of their potential. Of course, our conclusions will hardly make those hardware enthusiasts happy, because all CPUs we tested today feature different overclocking potential. That is why we decided to include a chapter on overclocking into our today’s article: to answer some questions hardware enthusiasts might have.

We will overclock our testing participants to the typical frequencies that can be achieved with air cooling only. In order to make it all simpler to perceive and analyze we will assume that CPUs on the same cores overclock about the same. So, we will take one processor on Conroe core, one on Allendale core, one on Windsor core and Athlon 64 X2 on Brisbane core. We will not include any NetBurst based processors into this test session, because they are no longer of interest to advanced computer users for multiple reasons.

So, these are the CPUs that will participate in our overclocking tests:

Futuremark: Synthetic Benchmarks

Gaming Applications

Video Encoding

Image and Video Editing

Final Rendering

I don’t think any commentary is necessary. The situation is almost identical on all charts. Intel processors on Core micro-architecture have much higher frequency reserves than their competitors on AMD K8 micro-architecture. So, Athlon 64 X2 processors selling for about $230 work at the maximum of their potential while the Core 2 Duo CPUs priced about the same allow over 45% of frequency increase as a result of overclocking. So, those overclockers who decide on Core 2 Duo, get much more opportunities to increase their systems performance, than those who pick Athlon 64 X2 processors. The diagrams above prove this point. Any chart you take demonstrates indisputable advantage of overclocked Core 2 Duo processors on Conroe or Allendale core over the competing Athlon 64 X2 on Windsor or Brisbane.

Conclusion

Very soon both manufacturers of x86 processors will reduce the official prices on their products. This price reduction is going to be impressively huge: some dual-core mainstream processors will start selling at almost half the price, and other inexpensive processor models will also get much cheaper. Thanks to our test session and some data on the price-lists changes that we managed to uncover at this time give us unique opportunity to draw some conclusions about the results of the April price war round.

We cannot accuse AMD and Intel of the absence of mutual coordination. This time is going to be no exception. Upcoming price-list changes are very closely connected with one another. According to our test results, April price drop will not disturb the price-to-performance ratio for the solutions from different manufacturers. All in all, priced similarly Athlon 64 X2 and Core 2 Duo CPUs will demonstrate about the same performance level. And although, if we take a closer look at the results, there are certainly some deviations from this rule, they are not so crucial.

So, even though AMD gave in to Intel in the High-End market segment, they managed to change their CPU pricing in the mainstream and budget segments in a very efficient way. In other words, since K8 micro-architecture doesn’t allow AMD to design CPUs as fast as Core 2 Duo, the company manipulates the price of its products so that they still remain quite demanded by the consumers.

However, from a certain prospective Athlon 64 X2 still loses to competitors. These processors have almost exhausted their frequency potential by now, which made them not so attractive for overclocking fans. Pretty scarce overclocking results make this processor family very vulnerable, as the overclocking potential of their rivals, Core 2 Duo family, still lets overclockers hit some impressive heights.