Intel's Barcelona Killer?


How do to you keep the hype boat going in your direction instead of suddenly tacking over to your competitor? You constantly beat the drum with tidbits of information to tease the public.

That’s what Intel is probably doing when it invited the media into its lair to preview two next-generation CPUs months more than half a year before they’re supposed to ship. Intel setup three machines with nearly identical hardware, drivers and benchmarks to give the public a glimpse of how fast Yorkdale and Wolfdale are.

Inside Intel: To the left is Kentsfield, in the middle is Yorkfield and on the right is the dual-core Wolfdale in a controlled shootout at Intel HQ.

Yorkdale is the desktop quad-core version of Penryn and Wolfdale is the dual-core version. Like Conroe and Kentsfield, the new 45nm chip is a native dual-core design with the quad configuration coming from joining two dual-cores at the front-side bus inside the heat spreader. Besides the obvious smaller 45nm process, the Penryn procs also sport a 50 percent larger L2 cache and 1,333MHz front-side bus. There’s also a raft of new features that we covered here .

For this preview, Intel used three machines, each with Asus GeForce 8800GTX cards, Intel D975XBX2 boards, 320GB Seagate Barracuda drives and 2GB of Corsair DDR2/800 running at 5-5-5-15. The only difference, according to Intel, was a preproduction BIOS in the D975XBX2 board and a voltage modification to allow the board to run Penryn procs.

The Core 2 Quad QX6800 was running at 2.93GHz on a 1,066MHz FSB while the pair of Penryns were running at 3.33GHz on a 1,333MHz FSB. Intel hasn’t said exactly what clock speeds Penryn will ship at, only a nebulous “3GHz+.”

All of the machines were running the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate. We were allowed to poke around the machines all we wanted but we were not allowed to install our own benchmarks. Obviously, these types of “previews” should be taken with a bucket of salt, but Intel’s selection of benchmarks and the fact that a similar test with Conroe last summer was justified by shipping chips gives it more credibility.

Several of the benchmarks Intel used aren’t new: 3DMark06, Cinebench 9.5, Half-Life 2 Lost Coast and the Mainconcept H.264 encoder. Others were alpha or beta builds of newer benchmarks including a beta version of Cinebench 10 and an alpha build of Divx 6.6 using VirtualDub 1.71. Intel says Cinebench 10 scales better with multi-core and Divx 6.6 was singled out for its early adoption of SSE4. SSE4 is exclusive to the new Penryn cores but Intel said the Divx demonstration helps illustrate that SSE4 is no mere instruction set. Designed to increase encoding, it can reduce half page of code into a single line of code.

Speeds and Feeds

Core 2 Extreme QX6800

Penryn Quad

Penryn Duo

Codename Kentsfield Yorkfield
Clock Speed 2.93GHz 3.33GHz
Process 65nm
4 4
Total L2 Cache 8MB
Front Side Bus 1,066MHz
3DMark06 CPU 4,047 4,944
3DMark06 Overall
11,252 11,969 11,020
Mainconcept H.264 (sec) 89.05 72.75 119.22
Cinebench 10 10,551 12,900 7,061
Cinebench 9.5
1,541 1,917 1,125
Half-Life 2 Lost Coast (fps)
153.14 213.03 206.06

Divx 6.6 (sec)


Fastest scores are bolded. All three systems used an Asus GeForce 8800GTX card, the 32-bit version of Windows Vista Ultimate, Intel D975XBXC2 boards, Seagate 320GB Barracuda drives and 2GB of Corsair DDR2/800.

The Upshot

The upshot is that Penryn is shaping up to be the fastest desktop chip in town. It’s easily 20 percent to 111 percent faster than the current fastest chip: the 2.93GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6800 and Intel says it has months to tune it still.

AMD says that its quad-core chip, codenamed Barcelona for Opterons and Agena FX for QuadFX, is still on the roadmap for later this summer. The company has previously said that Barcelona is 40 percent faster than the fastest available Xeon but Intel counters that its 3GHz Xeon X5365 wasn’t available when AMD made the announcement. (To date, the Xeon X5365 has only been adopted by Apple. That’s led to speculation by Apple fanboys that Intel is giving the vendor an exclusive. When asked by Maximum PC whether there was an exclusive, Intel officials told the magazine that was not true. The only reason Apple is the first to announce support for the faster Xeon is that Apple is the only vendor to adopt it thus far.)

Officially, Penryn chips are scheduled to go into volume production at the end of this year with retail availability set for the first of the year but it's clear from Intel's posturing that it can turn the knob to "on" much, much sooner if it wanted to.

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