by Ilya Gavrichenkov
05/30/2007 | 05:40 PM
Rapid drop of dual-core processor prices that took place in April led to the minimum prices of $70-$80 for a piece. For about a month already this is the price you have to pay either for the youngest AMD Athlon 64 X2 CPU or for Intel Pentium D working at 3.0-3.2GHz. As a result, processors with two computational cores turned into a pretty good solution not only for high-performance and mainstream systems but also for budget computers. Economical users have already realized that and are shopping for inexpensive dual-core CPUs thus increasing the sales of these particular processor models.
AMD should have been extremely happy about it as their budget processors have so far offered the best price-to-performance ratio. In the upper and mainstream price ranges, AMD is not doing too good, because Intel’s competing offers based on progressive Core micro-architecture defeat Athlon 64 X2 just like that. However, in the lower price segment Intel has so far been offering only old Pentium D processors on NetBurst micro-architecture that yielded to dual-core AMD solutions. This situation helped AMD to avoid dramatic drop in their sales volumes, which would have been very unwelcome until K10 processors came out.
In the meanwhile, Intel continues to expand their product range on Core micro-architecture. And this expansion is very actively moving to the “bottom” of the market, towards inexpensive solutions. Core 2 Duo E4000 processors supporting 800MHz bus and based on Allendale core with L2 cache cut down to 2MB started selling just recently. Any day now they should also start offering single-core Celeron 400 with Conroe-L core that will replace Celeron D processor family.
The Pentium D processors are also destined to soon leave the stage for good, they will be eventually replaced with CPUs on Core micro-architecture. However, Intel is intending to replace Pentium D processors not with the new low-cost Core 2 Duo CPUs, but with a special dual-core processor series that will be selling under the same brand name but will have new ratings and progressive micro-architecture. In other words, Pentium D will be replaced with Pentium E2000 that strangely enough have nothing to do with the older CPUs bearing the same name.
We can continue arguing about the need to keep the old name for the CPUs with new micro-architecture, but Intel’s logic in this matter is fairly simple. Pentium trademark is very well recognized by those users who are not following the new product launches and new technology announcements very closely. These users usually address their PC as a consumer electronics product, and do not really hunt for highest performance. This is exactly the type of user that Intel marketing specialists are going to offer their new processor family under the old name. As for us, we don’t really care. If you are reading this article, it means you will not get confused with the old Pentium name on the new processors.
Well, the new Pentium CPUs are being delivered to distributors as we speak, so it is high time we took a closer look at them. Especially, since a new dual-core Pentium E2000 processor family on Core micro-architecture should threaten the position of the youngest AMD Athlon 64 X2 models. In other words, it should cause certain disposition changes in the processor market that we cannot disregard.
In our today’s article we are going to discuss the peculiarities of new Intel solutions and see how their performance corresponds to their price, so that we could conclude what sub-$100 processors are going to be proclaimed the today’s best buy for the buck.
The first question that comes to mind when we look at the new Pentium processors on Core micro-architecture is about the differences between them and their Core 2 Duo brothers. Especially since Core 2 Duo product line has CPUs with 1067MHz as well as 800MHz system bus, and with different L2 cache sizes of 4MB and 2MB. According to the product positioning, the new Pentium E2000 series should be cheaper and slower than the youngest Core 2 Duo CPUs, but feature the same micro-architecture and dual-core design.
“Worsening” the specs of the existing Core 2 Duo processors is not an original tactical approach of Intel marketing specialists. The key peculiarity of Intel Pentium E2000 processors is even smaller L2 cache of only 1MB. And of course, these processors are intended to work with 800MHz bus that has become one of the main attributes of an inexpensive computer system these days.
Today the Pentium E2000 processor family consists only of two models: Pentium E2160 and Pentium E2140 with 1.8GHz and 1.6GHz respective clock speeds. In other words, only the top model in the new family works at the same frequency as the youngest Core 2 Duo processors. The youngest model in the new family deserves the title of the lowest-frequency dual-core CPU.
I would like to stress that Intel doesn’t regard the launch of their Pentium E2000 processor family as a temporary measure. This family will keep evolving and by the end of August Intel is planning to add another model to it: Pentium E2180 with 2.0GHz frequency. And according to the global company roadmaps, the new Pentium processors should strengthen their positions in the lower market segment so significantly that their share in the overall processor shipments should reach 25% by the end of the year. In other words, Pentium E2000 should become even more popular than Celeron processors in the Budget segment.
As for the technical details about the new Pentium E2000 processors, Intel didn’t have to do any engineering work to launch these solutions. At this time they are based on the same L2 core stepping that we have already seen before in Core 2 Duo processors with 2MB L2 cache. So, Pentium E2000 is physically similar to Core 2 Duo E4000 series with half of L2 cache disabled.
Therefore, the detailed specification list of the new Pentium E2000 will not surprise you, I guess:
Enhanced Halt State (C1E) Technology
Enhanced Intel Speedstep
Execute Disable Bit
Intel Thermal Monitor 2
Intel Virtualization Technology
All specs except clock frequencies and L2 cache memory size are identical to those of Core 2 Duo processors on Allendale core with L2 stepping. Therefore, the new Pentium E2000 processors, unlike the budget Celeron, feature the complete set of Demand Based Switching technologies including Enhanced Intel Speedstep, although no Virtualization Technology support.
The CPU-Z utility produced an expected report for our Pentium E2160 and Pentium E2140 processors:
The screenshots are not the only thing proving that these processors feature L2 core stepping. The electronic components soldered to the bottom of the CPU chip also indicate the same.
The bottom side of Pentium E2000 is absolutely identical to that of Core 2 Duo E4000 processor series on Allendale core with L2 cache cut down in half.
So, the newcomers stand out only thanks to their marking.
Note that Pentium E2000 processors are marked as Pentium Dual-Core. At this time Intel is also offering a few mobile CPUs with similar characteristics under the same brand name, however, we will not dwell on them today.
The launch of Pentium E2000 has cast new light on the entire dual-core processor lineup. Now the company can claim that they have CPUs on Core micro-architecture positioned for any price range. However, it may be a little difficult to find your way in this variety of models. To avoid any possible confusion we decided to put together a table that will describe all contemporary (and sometimes upcoming) dual-core Intel processors and enlist their major features and specifications.
For a more illustrative picture we have also added the CPUs with 1333MHz bus that are coming out this summer and processors from Intel Penryn family that will be manufactured with 45nm process and are due to start selling early next year.
Here is what we came up with:
Click to enlarge
As new Pentium E2000 processors emerged in the market, we got three types of dual-core processors on Core micro-architecture equipped with a shared L2 cache of 4MB, 2MB and 1MB capacity. Therefore it would be extremely interesting to see how the size of L2 cache affects the processor performance in widespread applications. To check this out we compared the performance of Pentium E2160 processor working at 1.8GHz frequency and featuring 1MB L2 cache against that of a Core 2 Duo E4300 processor with 1.8GHz frequency and 2MB L2 cache and against that of a hypothetical Core 2 Duo processors running at 1.8GHz and featuring 4MB L2 cache. Since there is no processor like that supporting 800MHz bus and 4MB L2 cache in Intel Core 2 Duo lineup, we used an Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800 processor with reduced clock frequency multiplier of 9x and bus speed set at 800MHz.
So, the diagrams below will show the performance of CPUs on Core micro-architecture that worked at 1.8GHz speed, supported 800MHz bus and featuring 1MB, 2MB and 4MB L2 cache onboard.
During video encoding the size of L2 cache doesn’t affect the performance that much. The results of CPUs with 4MB and 1MB cache differ by about 3-4%.
The same situation takes place during audio encoding. However, this time the performance difference approaches 5% and is primarily noticed when we move from 2MB L2 cache to only 1MB.
Microsoft Office Word 2007 loses a lot of speed when the L2 cache gets smaller. Moreover, if the CPU with a 2MB L2 cache is only 5% slower than its counterpart with a 4MB L2 cache, then further L2 cache size reduction results in a 15-16% performance drop compared with the “fully-fledged” CPU.
Microsoft Office Excel 2007 is also pretty sensitive to the changes in L2 cache size. However, this time the major performance drop occurs when we switch from 4MB L2 cache to 2MB, while further L2 cache size reduction doesn’t have much effect any more.
Archiving can also be considered a typical office task, and the situation here is very similar to what we have just seen in Word 2007.
Adobe Photoshop CS3 is the most indifferent application to the size of L2 cache memory.
In Adobe Premiere 2.0 the performance difference between CPUs featuring 4MB and 2MB of L2 cache is hardly noticeable. However, as we reduce the L2 cache size to 1MB, the performance immediately drops down by 5%.
The results in one of the most popular music composing applications are moderately dependent on the L2 cache size. The performance difference between the CPU with the biggest and smallest L2 cache doesn’t go beyond 5-6%.
3ds max 8 doesn’t really care about the L2 cache size. The results delta in this application lies within 3%.
So, we can conclude that the size of L2 cache memory affects the performance in office tasks in the first place. As for most applications dealing with multimedia content creation and editing, you shouldn’t overestimate the importance of large L2 cache. You will only be able to improve the performance just a little bit by choosing a Core based CPU with the maximum L2 cache: 3-5% at the most.
We decided to discuss the results obtained in gaming applications in the end, as they would be completely different. Take a look:
True, the games are very sensitive to the changes in CPU L2 cache memory size. The biggest effect is noticeable when we drop the size of L2 cache to 1MB. That is why the new Pentium E2000 processors will hardly become a good choice for gamers. It makes much more sense to invest in more expensive Core 2 Duo in this case: even a CPU from E4000 series will do if you are looking to build an inexpensive gaming system.
Besides the investigation of the L2 cache size effect on the performance of dual-core processors on Core micro-architecture, we would also like to check out the performance of the new Pentium E2000 solutions compared with that of their competitors. The official prices for the new Pentium E2160 and Pentium E2140 have been set at $84 and $74 respectively. The previous generation processors, Pentium D 935 and Pentium D 925 on NetBurst micro- architecture, cost about the same these days. Moreover, you can also buy AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ and 3600+ for about the same price. These six budget dual-core solutions offered for less than $100 a piece will be the main heroes of our today’s test session.
As a result, we used the following hardware to build our test platform this time:
The tests were performed with mainboards’ BIOS Setup parameters adjusted for maximum performance.
Pentium E2160 and E2140 processors do not work any wonders in the popular 3DMark06 testing suite. Nevertheless, they still show some performance advantage over the predecessors and competitors from the same price range. Although Athlon 64 X2 3600+ still manages to slightly surpass Pentium E2140 working at radically lower 1.6GHz clock speed.
PCMark05 is pretty well optimized for processors with NetBurst micro-architecture, so the leadership here belongs to Pentium D CPUs. New Pentium E2000 processors win the second prize defeating the Athlon 64 X2 processors with corresponding prices.
We have already mentioned that CPUs with Core micro-architecture perform at a very high level in Microsoft Office 2007 applications. The new Pentium E2160 and E2140 processors are no exception here: they outperform all their competitors pretty significantly in some cases.
Data compression is a different type of task. At least, the results we observe here are a little different from what we have seen before. However, Pentium E2160 processor still wins this race and becomes the fastest sub-$100 offer among dual-core solutions. However, at the same time, Pentium E2140 loses to Athlon 64 X2 3600+ and Pentium D 925 priced identically.
During audio and video encoding with any of the codecs we used the new Pentium E2160 and E2140 processors on Core micro-architecture can boast higher results than any of the competing Pentium D and Athlon 64 X2 solutions.
The situation is very similar during image and audio editing. Pentium E2000 processors leave their competitors far behind thanks to their progressive Core micro-architecture. And note that this is also true for the Pentium E2140 with the “ridiculous” 1.6GHz clock speed. Even this buddy is winning a confident victory over Pentium D 925 and Athlon 64 X2 3600+.
Non-linear video editing tasks reveal slightly different results. Although Pentium E2160 is the fastest of all sub-$100 dual-core processors, Pentium E2140 still yields a little bit to Athlon 64 X2 3600+.
The results are pretty ambiguous in final rendering applications. The leadership goes to dual-core processors with Core micro-architecture in 3ds max 8, while in CINEBENCH (showing the performance in Cinema 4D suite) gives the laurels to the youngest Athlon 64 X2 CPUs.
Athlon 64 X2 processors are traditionally famous for their high results in ScienceMark 2.0 test that measures the system performance during the work of molecular dynamics algorithms. Although the new Pentium E2000 processors outperform the previous generation Intel Pentium D, they still cannot catch up with the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ and 3600+ priced similarly.
We have already mentioned earlier in this article that reduced to 1MB L2 cache is a significant slowdown for the Pentium E2000 series in gaming applications. Judging by the results of our comparative tests we see another proof to that point. Although Pentium E2000 processors outperform Pentium D 935 and Pentium D 925, they are still unable to reach the performance level of Athlon 64 X2 3800+ and 3600+. I have to draw your attention to the fact that this whole situation is pretty funny: games are actually almost the only application where the youngest CPUs with Core micro-architecture cannot even dream of competing with their immediate rivals.
Besides a few real games we have also included the results of a benchmark based on Valve Source engine that will be used for future games. It estimates the system performance during the calculation of environmental gaming physics.
The situation here is a little bit different. Pentium E2160 levels out with Athlon 64 X2 3800+, while Pentium E 2140 outperforms Athlon 64 X2 3600+.
We have also included the chess benchmark based on a well-known Fritz 9 engine into this gaming test session.
Once again the picture is totally different. New inexpensive Intel processors on Core micro-architecture get ahead of their competitors.
Low price of the Pentium E2160 and E2140 processors as well as Core micro-architecture they are based on make them extremely interesting for overclocking experiments. Especially, since they are based on L2 core that can be overclocked to 3.2-3.4Ghz, according to our previous experiments. As we have already mentioned above, the L2 cache memory size doesn’t matter that much for majority of tasks, so the new CPUs may demonstrate pretty decent performance when overclocked to their maximum frequencies.
To confirm or deny these suppositions we decided to take a closer look at the overclocking potential of the new processors in question. During our overclocking experiments we used Zalman CNPS9700 LED processor cooler.
First of all we decided to test Pentium E2160 processor. We overclocked it by raising the FSB frequency, with the clock multiplier remaining at its nominal 9x. By increasing the processor Vcore to 1.5V we could push the FSB frequency to 378MHz thus hitting 3.4GHz clock speed. The CPU was running stably at this speed and passed the ORTHOS stability check.
This is a very good result, as we overclocked our CPU by 89% above the nominal in this case and even exceeded the nominal frequency of the top CPU on Core micro-architecture from the Core 2 Extreme family.
The second processor, Pentium E2140, didn’t overclock that well at all. In the same testing conditions, i.e. with 1.5V Vcore, we managed to increase its FSB frequency only to 355MHz. further increase led to system failing to boot. Further experiments revealed that this CPU can even work without Vcore adjustment at this FSB speed, which means we have hit the “FSB wall” for this processor. This problem wouldn’t let us continue our overclocking attempts, and we had to admit that the maximum result for this processor would be 2.84GHz, which doesn’t look that appealing at all especially against the background of the previous result.
However, you should always remember, that overclocking is a lottery to some extent, so far not everyone will score high in it. We decided to find out what you could get from overclocking with some good luck on your side by comparing the performance of the Pentium E2160 overclocked to 3.4GHz with that of Intel’s top dual-core processor – Core 2 Extreme X6800.
The tests were performed in the configuration described above:
Core 2 Extreme
AutoGK 2.4/Xvid 1.2, fps
AutoGK 2.4/DivX 6.6, fps
H.264 Encoding, Apple Quicktime Pro 7, sec
mp3 Encoding, Apple iTunes 7, sec
Word 2007 (Document Compare), sec
Excel 2007, sec
7-Zip 4.45, Compressing, KB/s
Photoshop CS3, sec
Sonar 6.2, sec
Premiere Pro 2.0, sec
3ds Max 8 (SPECapc), Rendering
Fritz 9 Chess Benchmark
ScienceMark 2.0, Primordia
Quake 4, 1024x768 High Quality
F.E.A.R., Medium Quality
Company of Heroes, 1024x768
Valve Source Engine particle benchmark
The table above shows the advantage of the overclocked Pentium E2160 very clearly. It loses to Core 2 Extreme X6800 with 4MB L2 cache only in a few applications. It means that you can squeeze the performance of Intel’s top dual-core processor from a sub-$100 CPU, no matter how unbelievable it sounds.
By the way, unfortunately, you cannot achieve the same result by overclocking Athlon 64 X2 3600+ or 3800+. The performance results of the 3GHz Athlon 64 X2 6000+ prove this true. It loses noticeably to Core 2 Extreme x6800, and moreover, youngest Athlon 64 X2 processors will very rarely overclock beyond 3GHz in common conditions (with air cooling only).
All in all Pentium E2160 and E2140 processors made a great entrance. They have pushed the performance of budget solutions to a totally new level. With the price of less than $90 and promising Core micro-architecture these processors can become a great basis for contemporary low-cost systems. From this standpoint they look much better than the Pentium D processors on NetBurst micro-architecture that used to be the only offering for this segment.
Of course, the performance level of Pentium E2160 and E2140 processors doesn’t look as mind-blowing as that of their Core 2 Duo counterparts. Their relatively low clock frequencies and L2 cache cut down to only 1MB do their “dirty deed”. However, in the majority of real applications these processors outperform all alternative solutions. Although I have to specify something here. When we speak of comparatively high performance of these new processors, it is important to keep in mind that they still lose to the youngest Athlon 64 X2 models in most games where the size of L2 cache memory matters a lot.
However, the results of our overclocking experiments can make all your doubts vanish. Since Pentium E2160 and E2140 are based on Allendale L2 core stepping these CPUs will overclock approximately to the same frequencies as Core 2 Duo E4000 series. As a result, if you are lucky enough you may be able to get your new processor to work as fast as the top of the line dual-core Core 2 Extreme processors, which is a very good deal considering it will cost you less than $100.