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AMD AM2 vs Intel Core 2 Duo


AMD and Intel have been engaged in a processor rivalry for well over 10 years and now both companies have their next-generation dual-core CPUs (central processing units) primed and ready to go.

For AMD, its new processors could be considered an evolutionary step forward rather than a brand new product altogether, as the new Athlon 64 processors share the same sort of technology found on the older models.

The key difference is that the new Athlon 64 chips feature built-in DDR2 memory controllers, which means they can now be used with DDR2 modules running at frequencies of 533MHz, 667MHz and 800MHz. This of course means you cannot use these new CPUs with your existing Athlon 64 motherboard as those are equipped with only regular DDR RAM sockets.

Another reason you can’t use these new AMD CPUs with your existing motherboard is that they feature 940pins rather than 939. The new 940-pin CPUs won’t work with the much older 940-pin Opteron and Athlon 64 FX motherboards either. In other words, the new 940-pin CPUs, also known as AM2, are only compatible with new AM2-ready motherboards. With us so far?

The CPU on test here is a 5000+ Athlon 64 X2 processor that has both of its cores running at 2.6GHz. 1Mbyte of L2 cache is onboard; the CPU runs on a front side bus of 200MHz and is fabricated using a 90nm manufacturing process. This chip is expected to retail for approximately $696.

Over on the Intel side of the fence, Core 2 Duo is a completely new architecture. With these new desktop chips (codenamed Conroe), based on the ‘Core’ architecture, Intel has abandoned the old, high-frequency-producing NetBurst architecture in favour of something more efficient.

In addition, Intel has finally dropped its ‘Pentium’ brand. Instead, all chips based on the new architecture will feature ‘Core’ branding.

Conroe, like its older counterpart the Pentium 4, makes use of the LGA775 socket. While this means the processor will physically fit into any existing motherboard, a lot of the existing LGA775 boards aren’t compatible with Core 2 Duo CPUs. Some vendors are offering BIOS updates however for certain 975X boards, so it’s a good idea to check if a vendor offers such an update for your 975X motherboard before rushing out to buy a new one.

Our test sample Core 2 Duo CPU will retail for roughly $530 and is known as the Core 2 E6700. It features two cores ticking along at 2.66GHz. The chip is produced using a 65nm manufacturing process and is packed with 4Mbytes of L2 cache. It runs on a 266MHz quad pumped bus, which effectively means it’s running at a speed of 1066MHz (266MHz x 4). This processor lacks hyperthreading technology but features 64-bit software support and SpeedStep technology. The latter reduces the core speed when load on the CPU is light, thereby reducing power consumption and thus heat.

How we tested

We used a mix of benchmarks to test the capabilities of these two processors. Standard application results came courtesy of PCMark 2005, which reports CPU, memory and hard drive performance results as separate figures. Higher

numbers here signified a quicker, more effective CPU.

Moving to multimedia, we put together three separate tests to put each CPU under some major strain. Our MPEG to DivX conversion test involves converting a 24-second, 1920 x 1080 pixel MPEG2 file, measuring 53Mbytes, into a DivX video using DivX Coverter 6.1’s high-definition convert profile. We timed how long each processor took to finish this process and, as with all our timed tests, lower times represent better performance.

The next multimedia test involved creating a DVD 4:3 NTSC compatible MPEG2 video from a 416Mbyte digital video (DV) file. The file contains two minutes and one second of footage at a resolution of 720 x 480 pixels.

We used TMPGEnc 2.524 at its default settings and timed how long it took for each processor to finish this exam.

To round off the multimedia tests, we used Lame Encoder

3.98 to convert a 718Mbyte WAV (audio) file into an MP3 using a 128kbits/s bit rate.

Each component’s gaming performance meanwhile was determined by running F.E.A.R, Serious Sam, 3DMark 2003 and 2005 at 1024 x 768 pixels. At this resolution, the speed of the CPU is more important than the GPU, so higher numbers are directly indicative of a faster processor.

Performance points

From an application software perspective, there’s no denying that Core 2 Duo is stupendously fast. The 2.66GHz E6700’s PCMark CPU and memory scores comprehensively trounced the Athlon 64 X2 5000+. If you use your machine to tackle Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or any other applications, Conroe then is the way to go right now. Interesting, as traditionally Athlon 64 CPUs always finished with better PC Mark results than Pentium 4s.

Multimedia-wise, Intel’s Pentium 4 has always given AMD a sound thrashing when it’s come to dealing with video and sound editing, encoding and even decoding. This hasn’t changed with Core 2 Duo, in fact the new CPU is even better. We were particularly impressed with the Intel E6700’s MPEG to DivX and WAV to MP3 encode times. The former showed the Intel offering to be 26 seconds faster than the AMD 5000+, while the latter saw AMD trailing by 48.

If you’re building a PC to be used as a PVR (personal video recorder) or a full-on entertainment machine that has to frequently encode or decode sound and video, Conroe will offer the best performance.

Games were also typically an AMD specialty but this didn’t hold true here. Core 2 Duo walked away with superior numbers across the board. Building a hot rod gaming rig with multi-GPU technology? Conroe is the way to go.


This round cleanly goes to Intel as its new Conroe processor simply outguns AMD’s new offering at every turn. Compared to its older Pentium 4 brethren, which offered strong a media performance but lacked application and game punch, Conroe is super fast at everything.

It also produces much less heat than its predecessor so you won’t hear your heatsink’s fan scream when the CPU is running under 100% load when playing games or decoding a video for example.

AMD’s AM2 processor is far from slow, but compared to the new ‘Core’ architecture it looks like AMD will have to go back to drawing board because DDR2 doesn’t bring much to the Athlon’s performance plate. To sum up, if we had to put together a performance machine now, we’d buy Conroe, no questions asked.

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