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[B]While we are waiting for the Intel Core i7 bestsellers to come out, we decided to take a closer look at inexpensive quad-core processors that get more and more popular these days. In our today’s test session we will compare Core 2 Quad Q9400, Core 2 Quad Q9300, Core 2 Quad Q8200, Core 2 Quad Q6600 and
We have already mentioned multiple times that the launch of the new Intel Core i7 family will inevitably affect the entire processor market. And it is true not only for the upper price segment, where CPUs on new Nehalem micro-architecture will soon be running the show. Intel prepared a few pleasant surprises for those users who are not going to switch to the new platform right away because of its high price, for instance. Before the launch of the new Core i7 Intel decided to make quad-core more affordable and dropped the official prices of its junior Core 2 Quad models. Starting from October 19 the cheapest Intel quad-core CPU – Core 2 Quad Q6600 – costs $183, and the youngest quad-core processor manufactured using 45nm process is priced at $193. So, now that Core 2 Quad processors are available for less than $200 they have every chance to settle down well in the mainstream price segment.

In fact, this price correction allows us to expect the share of quad-core processors among Intel supply to reach 30% by the end of this year. In other words, we have every reason to say that Core 2 Quad is becoming a mainstream solution. Therefore, following the article devoted to high-end and budget dual-core solutions we decided to write about affordable quad-core processors. Especially since there have been a few new models introduced in this segment recently.

Namely, there appeared a very interesting inexpensive processor - Core 2 Quad Q8200 that on the one hand became the youngest Yorkfield instead of Core 2 Quad Q9300, but on the other hand acquired not only the advantages of 45nm cores, but also limited characteristics. Core 2 Quad Q9300, however, has been transferred into outdated pool. Now you can get a new faster Core 2 Quad Q9400 for the same price. Only the good old long-lived Core 2 Quad Q6600 manufactured with 65nm process doesn’t change. Strange as it might seem, but it is not only current, but also very popular among users.

AMD also don’t keep their hands in pockets. Although their quad-core processors offer lower performance than Intel solutions and are not so widely spread, Phenom X4 series also keeps growing. They have recently launched Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition that can finally compete successfully against the least expensive Core 2 Quad models.

Actually, our today’s article is going to be devoted to all of the above mentioned CPUs. In this review we are going to compare the most interesting affordable desktop processors with four cores. However, before we get down to the actual benchmark results, let’s take a closer look at those processors that we see for the first time.


Core 2 Quad Q9400 is actually the first alternative to the well-known Core 2 Quad Q9300 with higher clock frequency. Its predecessors worked with 7.5x multiplier that combined with 333MHz system bus provided 2.5GHz frequency. Core 2 Quad Q9400 uses 8x multiplier, so its nominal frequency equals 2.66GHz.

Other features of both processors are the same. And it means that Core 2 Quad Q9400 is a typical Yorkfield processor based on two dual-core 45nm dies placed into a single processor package. However, just like Q9300, the new model has the same peculiarity that distinguishes it from the top quad-core solutions: smaller L2 cache. Instead of 6MB per core, Core 2 Quad Q9400 has 6MB L2 cache total. In other words, each of the two dual-core dies has L2 cache of half the size: 3MB.

Diagnostic utilities detect this peculiarity easily. Take, for instance, CPU-Z:

Note that this CPU has new R0 processor stepping that is currently used only in Q9400 or Q8200, i.e. the recently launched quad-core Intel solutions. It means that these processors are based on smaller semiconductor dies that are not the production scrapping but have 3MB L2 cache from the very beginning. In other words, Q9400 has almost the same dies as the latest dual-core Core 2 Duo E7400 processors.

R0 stepping belongs to the latest die modifications that we have seen only in the top dual- or quad-core processors so far. The interesting thing about it, is that it supports C3E and C4E power modes, just like E0 processor stepping, that allow saving more power in idle state.

So, if we disregard smaller cache-memory than that of senior processor models, Q9400 seems to be a pretty fully-fledged CPU. It supports the fastest 1333MHz processor bus and the complete set of technologies, including virtualization technology and the accompanying Trusted Execution Technology. However, this is why this processor belongs to the top Q9000 series.


At the same time Intel created a junior quad-core series that currently has only one model in it: Core 2 Quad Q8200. Of course, Q8000 processor family that should welcome new members in November already will eventually replace the outdated quad-core CPUs with 65nm cores. However, we are not going to talk about it today. Today Core 2 Quad Q8200 is positioned as an intermediate solution between Q6600 and Q9400, because the price difference between them is still too big.

Like all the upcoming Q8000 processors, Core 2 Quad Q8200 uses 45nm cores with even more limited functionality. The main loss here is even smaller L2 cache than the one on Q9400. The L2 cache of Core 2 Quad Q8200 is 4Mb total, 2Mb per each dual-core die. In other words, Core 2 Quad Q8200 looks like a CPU made of two processors from Pentium Dual-Core E5000 budget family. In fact, it is not quite correct to compare them, because Q8200 supports 1333MHz bus. The clock frequency, however, was lowered to the minimal level for a quad-core CPU: 2.33GHz.

You can see all this clearly from CPU-Z report:

Note that this processor supports SSE4.1 instructions, the feature that has been disabled in Pentium DC E5000. However, it did lose some of the high-end technologies available in more expensive models. For example, Core 2 Quad Q8200 doesn’t support virtualization technology. It is the first quad-core processor without this feature.

Q8200 uses the same R0 processor stepping as Q9400: both these processors use the same physical dies. In other words, Intel uses Q8200 not only to fill in the gap on the price-list, but also not to let the valuable scrapping go to waste. By disabling some of the L2 cache memory, the company is able to give a second chance to some of the semiconductor chips that may not be used for more expensive CPUs.

Phenom X4 9950 Black Edition is the new top CPU in AMD’s quad-core lineup. And it was included into our today’s comparison together with the junior Intel’s quad-core solutions for a reason. Thanks to relatively low performance of CPUs on K10 microarchitecture and not very high clock frequencies AMD have to sell their best processors at the same price as the junior Intel Core 2 Quad. As a result, we selected Phenom X4 9950 to participate in our “all-Intel” shootout of inexpensive quad-core processors.

The new Phenom X4 continues the family on new B3 stepping known for solving the “TLB-bug”. Phenom X4 9950 has 100MHz higher clock frequency than its predecessor, Phenom X4 9850. They did it by simply increasing the clock frequency multiplier. Other than that, there are no formal differences between these two processors, which you can clearly see from a CPU-Z screenshot


Just like by the previous model, the North Bridge in Phenom X4 9950 works at 2GHz frequency – maximum AMD can do today. The “Black Edition” tag indicates that this Phenom X4 9950 has an unlocked multiplier that allows easy overclocking. However, “Black Edition” tag is no longer something exclusive these days. AMD has quite a few Black Edition solutions already.

Note that higher clock frequency affected the heat dissipation of Phenom X4 9950 processor. By launching this new processor AMD have evidently squeezed the last drop from their Agena core manufactured with 65nm process, which resulted into horrific typical heat dissipation of 140W. So, Phenom X4 9950 may have limited compatibility with certain mainboards and cooling solutions. However, to be fair we have to say that AMD has also been offering a power-efficient modification of this processor with a typical heat dissipation of 125W.

Now that we have briefly introduced to you a few newcomers, let’s compare side by side the technical specifications of our today’s quad-core participants. Among them are three above mentioned processors, and the good old Intel fellows with lowered pricing: Core 2 Quad Q6600 and Core 2 Quad Q9300.


Testbed and Methods

Having tested all inexpensive quad-core offerings, we decided to see how the top dual-core solutions falling into similar price range would compare against them. Therefore, besides the above listed CPUs, we will also include into our diagrams the results for Core 2 Duo E8600 – the fastest dual-core processor from Intel. As you know, its official price is set at $266.

So, our testbeds turned out configured using the following hardware:
AMD Phenom X4 9950 (Socket AM2+, 2.6 GHz, 4 x 512KB L2, 2MB L3, Agena);
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 (LGA775, 3.33 GHz, 1333 MHz FSB, 6MB L2, Wolfdale);
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 (LGA775, 2.66 GHz, 1333 MHz FSB, 3+3MB L2, Yorkfield);
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300 (LGA775, 2.5 GHz, 1333 MHz FSB, 3+3MB L2, Yorkfield);
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 (LGA775, 2.33 GHz, 1333 MHz FSB, 2+2MB L2, Yorkfield);
Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (LGA775, 2.4 GHz, 1067 MHz FSB, 4+4MB L2, Kentsfield).
ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe (Socket AM2+, AMD 790FX).
Memory: 2GB DDR2-800 SDRAM with 4-4-4-12 timings (Corsair TWIN2X2048-6400C4).
Graphics card: OCZ GeForce 8800GTX (PCI-E x16).
HDD: Western Digital WD1500AHFD (SATA150).
OS: Microsoft Windows Vista x86.

General Performance

To estimate the general CPU performance we used a popular PCMark Vantage benchmark that emulates multi-threaded workload typical for home desktop systems.



First of all we have to say that the junior quad-core processors cannot outperform the fastest dual-core CPU in most tests. In fact, the only two patterns where you can benefit from having more cores are Memories and TV and Movies emulating work with digital media content and videos in particular. It is absolutely natural, because we all know that video codecs have one of the best multi-core optimizations of all contemporary applications.

Despite smaller L2 cache and low clock frequency, the new Core 2 Quad Q8200 processor shows pretty good results. Due to new 45nm dies with a number of microarchitectural optimizations, in some benchmarks it turns out even faster than Core 2 Quad Q6600 that has higher clock frequency and larger L2 cache but uses old 65nm core.

Higher-end processors, Core 2 Quad Q9300 and Q9400, run faster leaving behind their low-cost counterparts. However, the maximum advantage is only 8%, which is not high enough to justify the price of Q9300 and Q9400 CPUs.

However, the AMD processor looks very good in PCMark Vantage tests. Its performance is comparable with that of the junior Core 2 Quad, although it costs a little less.

Quad-core processors do not do very well in games. However, we have long known about it: multi-threaded optimizations in games leave much to be desired and very few games can really use the potential of quad-core processors. One of these games is Unreal Tournament 3. As for the quad-core processors tested today, we would like to point out Core 2 Quad Q6600. Thanks to 8MB L2 cache this processor outperforms the more expensive Core 2 Quad Q8200 with the cache memory of half the size.

New iTunes version remained optimized only for processors with two cores. However, during video encoding quad-core processors show their true potential. Their performance corresponds to their price except the results from x264 codec when Phenom X4 9950 performs very well.

Note that low clock frequency of the Core 2 Quad Q8200 doesn’t prevent this CPU from outperforming Core 2 Quad Q6600. Due to newer dies with microarchitectural improvements and SSE4.1 support, Yorkfield processors are in most cases faster than their predecessors from the Kentsfield generation.

Everything we have just said about codecs is also true in 3D rendering applications. It is quite logical, as multi-core optimizations here are also pretty strong. By the way, look at the high score of Phenom X4 in 3ds max: despite all drawbacks of the K10 microarchitecture, AMD processors still boast fast floating-point arithmetic.

Dual-core Core 2 Duo E8600 is the leader in Photoshop CS3. Quad-core processors line up in pretty logical order.

Looks like AMD processors should stay away from Adobe applications. Phenom X4 9950 is the slowest of all in After Effects, just like in Photoshop.

Despite lower frequency and smaller L2 cache, the new Q8200 outperforms good old Core 2 Quad Q6600 in WinRAR, like in many other applications. In this case it must be faster bus of the new processor that helps speed up the work with the memory subsystem.

The chess test again puts Q6600 on the winner’s pedestal over Q8200. It once again proves that you should take into account the usage model when making the choice between these two processors.

To provide you with a complete picture, we measured the power consumption of the systems (without a monitor) based on the tested CPUs. The CPUs worked in their nominal modes. The system configurations were the same as in the performance tests. We enabled Enhanced Intel SpeedStep and Cool’n’Quiet 2.0 technologies. The CPUs were loaded with Prime95 utility.

The results were quite predictable and logical. The tendencies are evident. First, CPUs manufactured with 45nm process consume considerably less power than their 65nm competitors. Second, power consumption depends directly on the clock frequency. That is why the new Core 2 Quad Q8200 may be considered the most power-efficient quad-core desktop processor.

The results of the Phenom X4 9950 processor stand out on the diagrams. K10 microarchitecture of this CPU doesn’t allow it to compete in power consumption even against the 65nm Core 2 Quad Q6600. So, the top quad-core AMD processor loses to junior Intel quad-core solutions not only in performance but also from the power efficiency standpoint. Just think about it: a faster system built with Core 2 Quad Q8200 consumes 1.5 times less power than a system on AMD Phenom X4 9950!

Here I would only like to add that despite relatively low power consumption of the junior quad-cores, they still need more power than the today’s top dual-core CPU - Core 2 Duo E8600.

Our test session produced very interesting results that made us think about today’s most optimal choice among inexpensive quad-core processors. However, these results were not enough to give a definite answer to this question. We can’t disregard different overclocking potential of these processors, because most users will likely overclock their processors to improve their systems performance. And the interesting thing is that despite the seeming similarity of the above discussed Core 2 Quad processors they would overclock absolutely differently.

It is in fact fairly easy to understand why it is so, if you recall all the problems you can face during quad-core processor overclocking in general. The problem is that when you overclock Core 2 Quad processors you increase their frequency by setting higher FSB speeds. Moreover, by junior models of Intel’s quad-core processors these frequencies may be significantly higher than the default 266 or 333MHz, because they are initially designed to work at comparatively low clock speeds and hence use low multipliers. However, since quad-core processors consist of two semiconductor dies, they load the system bus twice as heavily. Therefore, overclocking may often be limited not by the processor potential but by the mainboards and chipsets that can’t ensure stable functioning of the Core 2 Quad processor at high FSB speeds.

Namely, as you know from our mainboard reviews, the problems appear as soon as we pass 450MHz FSB. Some especially successful mainboards can raise the FSB frequency up to 490MHz without losing stability, however, 500MHz is hardly ever operational with quad-core processors. We are going to find out from our practical experiments, how critical these restrictions are.

Since a system built on an inexpensive quad-core CPU will hardly use a premium mainboard, we decided to run our overclocking tests on DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS.

This is a relatively affordable mainboard based on Intel P45 Express. It is priced in retail stores at around $150. Nevertheless, it has every right to be called an overclocker solution. DFI has long been known as a maker of platforms for computer enthusiasts. Moreover, a lot of overclocking records have been already set on DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS. For example, 693MHz FSB frequency has been reached during a dual-core processor overclocking experiment.

Moreover, DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS has a few other remarkable features. Besides vivid colors, it also boasts very smart layout designed without anything excessive. The developers didn’t use any additional SATA and Firewire controllers and offered 10 USB 2.0 ports, 6 chipset SATA-300 ports with RAID support, one network port and one PATA-133 channel. The board features two PCI Express x16 2.0 slots working in x8 mode, when employed simultaneously, and supports DDR2 SDRAM.

DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS has an onboard POST controller, Power On and Reset buttons and a Clear CMOS jumper on the rear panel.

The mainboard uses a four-phase processor voltage regulator circuitry that is powerful enough even for top quad-core processors manufactured with 65nm process. The voltage regulator as well as the rest of the board is built using only solid state capacitors with polymeric electrolyte.

The chipset North Bridge and the processor voltage regulator are cooled with three heatsinks connected with one another with heatpipes. These heatsinks are pretty compact, so there is enough free room around the processor socket to accommodate large processor coolers easily. However, installing some large coolers may still be a little tricky. But you can be certain that the chipset North Bridge will be cooled perfectly fine, especially since the corresponding heatsink is fastened against the chip with metal screws and not some weak plastic clips.

Like the mainboard design, the BIOS of DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS is very simple, but contains all necessary options. All overclocking related parameters are gathered together in the section called Genue BIOS Settings, with processor technologies, timings and voltages singled out on separate pages.

Besides the common parameters, CPU Feature section allows disabling all processor cores except the first one.

The list of adjustable timings is not as long as in some other mainboards, however, there is everything necessary for system fine tuning. The only upsetting thing here is that we can’t change one of the most important chipset North Bridge parameter: Performance Level.

BIOS of DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS mainboard allows changing all key voltages. The supported adjustment range for these voltages is more than sufficient: processor Vcore can be increased by more than 0.7V, and Vmem – up to 3.28V. The adjustment increments are also sufficient. It is good to have efficient tools for fixing Vdroop (processor core voltage drop in case of current increase).

In reality we managed to get DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS to work stably with a quad-core CPU at 475MHz FSB without increasing the CPU VTT to extreme and dangerous heights. It is a very good result that will suit not only for some short-term benching, but also for continuous everyday work 24/7. We managed to succeed having fine-tuned GTL Reference Voltage appropriately. The full set of voltages for 475MHz FSB is given on the screenshot below:

Actually, it was the maximum FSB frequency that determined how far we could overclock our Yorkfield processors. As we know from the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 tests, quad-core processors manufactured with 45nm process can work stably at over 4GHz frequencies. However, low frequency multipliers of the junior models wouldn’t let us go that far.

The maximum frequency for Core 2 Quad Q9300 was 3.57GHz obtained as 7.5 x 475MHz.

Our processor requires only minimal voltage increase to work stably at this frequency and further voltage increase doesn’t help overclocking it any higher. In other words, the CPU itself doesn’t limit the overclocking.

Core 2 Quad Q9400 uses 8x multiplier, so we can overclock it 237MHz higher:

The maximum frequency in this case reached 3.8GHz at 475MHz bus speed.

However, during Core 2 Quad Q8200 overclocking, things didn’t follow the standard routine. This CPU turned out capable of pushing back the overclocking maximum for quad-core processors. Looks like smaller L2 cache lowers the FSB utilization because of lower traffic for saving cache coherence of the processor dies. As a result, Core 2 Quad Q8200 could work on DFI LANPARTY DK P45-T2RS mainboard with exact same settings, but at a slightly higher frequency of 485MHz FSB.

So, Core 2 Quad Q8200 overclocked to 3.4GHz. Just like with Core 2 Quad Q9300, the system remained perfectly stable even with moderately increased Vcore and a standard boxed CPU cooler.

Core 2 Quad Q6600 overclocking is a completely different story. This CPU is designed for 266MHz FSB that is why it sues a pretty high 9x clock multiplier. Moreover, it belongs to the Kentsfield family and uses old 65nm cores. So, on the one hand, it doesn’t have a lot of overclocking potential, but on the other it can be achieved at relatively low bus frequency. The main problem during Core 2 Quad Q6600 overclocking is not the search for optimal mainboard BIOS settings, but proper processor cooling. For example, with a powerful Scythe Mugen cooler we managed to get this CPU to work stably at 3.6GHz. The processor Vcore in this case was raised to 1.425V.

You can see from the screenshot that FSB frequency was increased only to 400MHz, so any contemporary mainboard can do this. However, the CPU temperature increased to 90°C in burn mode. So, Core 2 Quad Q6600 overclocking is only possible with an efficient cooler.

As you know, AMD Phenom X4 processor doesn’t overclock that well. Only CPUs on Intel Core microarchitecture can boast overclocking by 1.5 times. As for the Phenom X4 9950 that participated in our today’s tests session, we managed to overclock it only to 3.2GHz. We had to increase the core voltage to 1.45V to ensure the system stability in this case.

We have also taken advantages of its “Black Edition” origin and simply increased the multiplier beyond its nominal value. Note that overclocked Phenom X4 9950 heated up a lot, just like Core 2 Quad Q6600, so we used Scythe Mugen cooler on it, too.

Performance during Overclocking

Now that we have found out how far all today’s quad-core testing participants can overclock, we have to check out their performance at these speeds. Therefore, we ran a few additional tests at the frequencies discussed in the previous part of our article.

Overclocking changes the situation dramatically. So, if you are going to use a low-cost quad-core processor in an overclocked system, you have to take different approach to picking the right one for your needs.

For example, you will have to eliminate AMD processor from your list of options. It will not be able to perform as well as the competitor’s solutions.

Good old Core 2 Quad Q6600 turns out a pretty good choice. It does indisputably better than the new Q8200 and performs equally fast with an overclocked Q9300. Moreover, it is easier to overclock than the junior Yorkfield models. That is why Q6600 should remain pretty popular even after Q8200 is launched. There is only one possibility when the new Q8200 may be of interest to an overclocker: if the temperature and heat dissipation of an overclocked processor matter more than its performance.

As for a few more expensive solutions, the junior models in the Q9000 series, you should definitely go for Core 2 Quad Q9400. It is just a little more expensive than Q9300 but 0.5 higher multiplier delivers much better results during overclocking. Although even Q9400 will not let you reveal the full frequency potential of a Yorkfield core. It is practically impossible to overclock it to 4GHz.


Looks like the low-cost quad-core processors market has changed significantly. Prices went down, new models came out. However, as we have just seen from our new article, there is hardly anything new we could advise you at this point.

One of the best choices among low-cost quad-core processors is still the old 65nm Core 2 Quad Q6600. Intel has dropped its price so significantly lately that is remains in the spotlight despite its age and relatively high power consumption. Especially since in some applications such as 3D games, for instance, it manages to perform as fast as a more expensive Core 2 Quad Q9300 thanks to large L2 cache. Its overclocking potential is also pretty encouraging. It doesn’t require a specific mainboard: you can almost always push its frequency 1.5 times up with just an efficient cooler.

In fact, the only drawback of Core 2 Quad Q6600 is its relatively high heat dissipation and power consumption, which makes it unfit for quiet and low-power systems. The new Core 2 Quad Q8200 will suit much better for them. Despite much smaller L2 cache, this CPU is pretty fast and outperforms the fastest processor of Intel’s competitor – AMD Phenom X4 9950. As a result, Phenom X4 family may be of interest only to those users who want to get a quad-core processor real cheap, but are ready to put up with low overclocking potential, low performance and high power consumption.

Unfortunately, we are not ready yet to offer our verdict to a more expensive Core 2 Quad Q9300 and Core 2 Quad Q9400. Yes, they are fast and have relatively low heat dissipation. But both of them are priced at $266 in the official price-list, while the junior Core i7-920 processor coming into retail after November 16 will be priced at $284. Therefore, we will only be able to say if Q9300 and Q9400 could be a good buy, only when we compare them to the upcoming solutions. So, we are not ready to comment on them at this point and would strongly recommend you to wait for the performance tests of upcoming solutions that should be revealed shortly.

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