Friday, November 03, 2006

Brag: Kentsfield is now on the loose....

Ok, I'm late with the posting but all I can say is that, wohooo, it's a great day today. I didn't know, or I might have missed it, that embargo for releasing the performance results has been pulled in to November 2. I guess, I won't be posting my numbers anytime soon, I am leaving for IDF in China next week. In any case, busy yourselves with *some* of the reviews on the web. Expand for more...

Summing up I have to state that it will be very hard to draw a final line today. The thing is that Kentsfield processors have evidently got far ahead of their time. There are not that many applications yet that could use the potential of all four cores and load them to the full extent. In fact, these are only 3D rendering tools, video editing tools and a few codecs. These are the few applications where multi-core architecture can show its real best and prove adequate to its theoretical potential. Since there are not that many optimized applications, Kentsfield processors cannot yet become the ultimate leaders from the performance-per-watt prospective. Dual-core Conroe based CPUs still retain the leadership here.

However, despite this fact, Core 2 Extreme QX6700 launch is definitely a success. Firstly, Intel was brave enough to push the multi-core concept into the market. Intel was the one to give software developers to understand that the time has come to revise their algorithms dramatically. The upcoming year 2007 should become a turning point: we expect a lot of new applications that would benefit from systems on multi-core processors.

Moreover, smart pricing policy makes Core 2 Extreme QX6700 a very attractive purchase today already. Its frequency is only 10% lower than that of the top Conroe CPU, Core 2 Extreme X6800. So, Core 2 Extreme QX6700 will be just a little bit slower than the predecessor in applications that do not support multi-threading. However, the are priced equivalently, so that the users looking at the price-to-performance ratio in the first place will be able to consider Kentsfield as a possible good choice. Especially since it will be extremely efficient in case of several tasks running in parallel even if they are not optimized for multi-threading. And in optimized apps, Core 2 Extreme QX6700 is unattainably fast.

So, even if you do not yet see any tangible benefits from the quad-core Kentsfield processors for your particular case, the situation will undoubtedly change very soon. This new Intel solution has big future ahead.

The dust still hasn't settled from Intel's Core 2 Duo market shakeup, a technology that allowed Intel to definitively take back the performance crown it has spent so many years battling to grasp. The Core 2 Quadro adds heat to the fire by doubling its performance potential.

Doubling the number of simultaneously-executable threads by doubling the number of cores, however, is just as likely to double power consumption and heat output. This comes at a time when most users cannot yet even take full advantage of current dual-core capabilities; a time when most PC software is written for two cores at most; a time when Intel's reputation is still recovering from the heat nightmare that was the Pentium D; and a time when mass marketing is shifting towards tiny boxes. In other words, Core 2 Quadro is probably the last thing the mass market needs right now. Knowing this, Intel is releasing only enthusiast-level versions.

But Intel's timing is neither poor nor coincidental: AMD's first quad-core release is expected in approximately two weeks. While most technology analysts don't expect anything revolutionary in terms of performance gained, it remains to be seen whether AMD's new product is evolutionary enough to tighten the race. HyperTransport's bidirectional nature might play a key factor in making AMD's solution more competitive, while other planned updates may further enhance scaling and IPC.

Like any solution with four CPU cores, the Core 2 Extreme QX6700's effectiveness depends on what you feed it. Give it a nicely parallelizable task with four or more threads, and it will utterly embarrass former top dogs like the Core 2 Extreme X6800 and the Athlon 64 FX-62. For applications like video encoding, 3D rendering, image processing, and scientific computing, the QX6700 trumps all other desktop processors—and, I suspect, a great many dual-socket Opteron workstations. 3DMark06's multithreaded CPU test gives us a glimpse of how multithreaded gaming might look, and the QX6700 performs very well there, too.

Feed it a simple app with only one or two threads, though, and this quad-core monster begins to look an awful lot like a Core 2 Duo E6700 with higher power consumption and a much steeper price tag. Of course, even that isn't a horrible place to be. In single- and dual-threaded applications, the QX6700 still wallops the Athlon 64 FX-62 nearly across the board, with similar power requirements and heat output. That fact simply underscores how good the Core 2 lineup truly is.

Still, this is very much an Extreme processor in every sense. As I've said in various ways over the years, I happen to think forking over a grand for a CPU is sheer insanity. If you do write that check, though, be prepared to write another one for a good water cooling system. Most air coolers that could keep this thing cool would simply be too loud for my taste, and you won't want to attempt much overclocking with air cooling.

This quad-core CPU puts Intel in the same tricky position that the GPU guys have had to endure from time to time: the hardware is now well ahead of software development, particularly in mainstream consumer applications and games. Many owners of this beast may be stuck waiting for new applications to arrive that use it to its fullest ability. Like I said, though, I'm confident the applications will come, and when they do, the Core 2 Extreme QX6700 may well be the best option for running them.

Soon, the QX6700 should get some competition in the form of AMD's so-called 4x4 platform. Can AMD unseat the QX6700 using dual-socket motherboards? Interesting question. I have my doubts, but I suppose we'll soon find out.


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