AMD, you've had a good run, but Intel has now launched its line of Core 2 Duo desktop CPUs -- if you're buying a new computer or building one of your own, you'd be wise to see that it has one of these chips in it. The Core 2 Duo chips are not only the fastest desktop processors on the market, but they're also the most cost effective and among the most power efficient. AMD can no longer claim the desktop CPU crown.
While the $999 (£540) Extreme X6800 chip might be the fastest in the new lineup, we find the $530 (£287) 2.67GHz Core 2 Duo E6700 the most compelling for its price-performance ratio. For just about half the cost of AMD's flagship, the $1,031 (£558) Athlon 64 FX-62, the Core 2 Duo E6700 gives you a nearly identical, if not faster performance, depending on the application.
The Core 2 Duo represents a new era for Intel. It's the first desktop chip family that doesn't use the NetBurst architecture, which has been the template for every design since the Pentium 4. Instead, the Core 2 Duo uses what's called the Core architecture (not to be confused with Intel's Core Duo and Core Solo laptop chips, released last January). The advances in the Core architecture explain why even though the Core 2 Duo chips have lower clock speeds, they're faster than the older dual-core Pentium D 900 series chips. The Core 2 Extreme X6800 chip, the Core 2 Duo E6700 and the $316 Core 2 E6600, represent the top tier of Intel's new line, and in addition to the broader Core architecture similarities, they all have 4MB of unified L2 cache. Chips in the lower end of the Core 2 Duo line, composed of the $224 E6400 and the $183 E6300, have a 2MB unified L2 cache.
We won't belabour each point here -- for a detailed look at the new line, see the preview on our sister site, ZDNET.co.uk. The key is that it's not simply one feature that gives the Core 2 Duo chips their strength, but rather it's a host of design improvements across the chip and the way it transports data that improves performance. And our test results bear this out.
On our gaming, Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop tests, the E6700 was second only to the Extreme X6800 chip. Compared to the 2.6GHz Athlon 64 FX-62, the E6700 was a full 60fps faster on Half Life 2, it finished our Microsoft Office test 20 seconds ahead and it won on the Photoshop test by 39 seconds. On our iTunes and multitasking tests, the E6700 trailed the FX-62 by only 2 and 3 seconds, respectively. In other words, with the Core 2 Duo E6700 in your system, you'll play games more smoothly, get work done faster and in general enjoy a better computing experience than with the best from AMD -- and for less money.
But there's even more to the Core 2 Duo story than performance. One of the key elements of the new chips is their power efficiency. We base our findings on a number called the Thermal Design Power (TDP), which is the number that AMD and Intel each provide to system vendors and various PC hardware makers for determining how much power each chip will require, and thus the amount of heat they'll need to dissipate. In Intel's last generation of dual-core desktop chips, the Pentium D 900s, the TDP rating fell between 95W and 130W. But because the Core 2 Duo design incorporates power management techniques from Intel's laptop chips, its power requirements are much more forgiving. All but the Core 2 Extreme X6800 have a TDP of 65W, while the Extreme chip itself is only 75W.