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If there’s one thing that defines the Maximum PC ethos, it’s an obsession with Lab-testing. What better way to discern a product’s performance capabilities, or judge the value of an upgrade, or simply settle a heated office debate? This month, we focus our obsession on several of the major questions on the minds of enthusiasts. Is liquid cooling always more effective than air? Should serious gamers demand PCIe 3.0? When it comes to RAM, are higher clocks better? On the surface, the answers might seem obvious. But, as far as we’re concerned, nothing is for certain until it’s put to the test. We’re talking tests that isolate a subsystem and measure results using real-world workloads. Indeed, we not only want to know if a particular technology or piece of hardware is truly superior, but also by how much. After all, we’re spending our hard-earned skrilla on this gear, so we want our purchases to make real-world sense. Over the next several pages, we put some of the most pressing PC-related questions to the test. If you’re ready for the answers, read on.
People like to read about the $1,000 high-end parts, but the vast majority of enthusiasts don’t buy at that price range. In fact, they don’t even buy the $320 chips. No, the sweet spot for many budget enthusiasts is around $220. To find out which chip is the fastest midrange part, we ran Intel’s new Haswell Core i5-4670K against the current-champ Core i5-3570K as well as AMD’s Vishera FX-8350.
AMD’s FX-8350 has two cores up on the competition, but does that matter?
The Test: For our test, we socketed the Core i5-4670K into an Asus Z87 Deluxe with 16GB of DDR3/1600, an OCZ Vertex 3, a GeForce GTX 580 card, and Windows 8. For the Core i5-3570K, we used the same hardware in an Asus P8Z77-V Premium board, and the FX-8350 was tested in an Asus CrossHair V Formula board. We ran the same set of benchmarks that we used in our original review of the FX-8350 published in the Holiday 2012 issue.
The Results: First, the most important factor in the budget category is the price. As we wrote this, the street price of the Core i5-4670K was $240, the older Core i5-3570K was in the $220 range, and AMD’s FX-8350 went for $200. The 4670K is definitely on the outer edge of the budget sweet spot while the AMD is cheaper by a bit.
Intel’s Haswell Core i5-4670K slots right into the high end of the midrange.
One thing that’s not disputable is the performance edge the new Haswell i5 part has. It stepped away from its Ivy Bridge sibling in every test we ran by respectable double-digit margins. And while the FX-8350 actually pulled close enough to the Core i5-3570K in enough tests to go home with some multithreaded victories in its pocket, it was definitely kept humble by Haswell. The Core i5-4670K plain-and-simply trashed the FX-8350 in the vast majority of the tests that can’t push all eight cores of the FX-8350. Even worse, in the multithreaded tests where the FX-8350 squeezed past the Ivy Bridge Core i5-3570K, Haswell either handily beat or tied the chip with twice its cores.
The Core i5-3570K was great in its day, but it needs more than that to stay on top.
Even folks concerned with bang-for-the-buck will find the Core i5-4670K makes a compelling argument. Yes, it’s 20 percent more expensive than the FX-8350, but in some of our benchmarks, it was easily that much faster or more. In Stitch.Efx 2.0, for example, the Haswell was 80 percent faster than the Vishera. Ouch.
So where does this leave us? For first place, we’re proclaiming the Core i5-4570K the midrange king by a margin wider than Louie Anderson. Even the most ardent fanboys wearing green-tinted glasses or sporting an IVB4VR license plate can’t disagree.
For second place, however, we’re going to get all controversial and call it for the FX-8350, by a narrow margin. Here’s why: FX-8350 actually holds up against the Core i5-3570K in a lot of benchmarks, has an edge in mulitithreaded apps, and its AM3+ socket has a far longer roadmap than LGA1155, which is on the fast track to Palookaville.
Granted, Ivy Bridge and 1155 is still a great option, especially when bought on a discounted combo deal, but it’s a dead man walking, and our general guidance for those who like to upgrade is to stick to sockets that still have a pulse. Let’s not even mention that LGA1155 is the only one here with a pathetic two SATA 6Gb/s ports. Don’t agree? Great, because we have an LGA1156 motherboard and CPU to sell you.
|Core i5-4670K||Core i5-3570K||FX-8350|
|POV Ray 3.7 RC3 (sec)||168.53||
|Cinebench 10 Single-Core||8,500||6,866||4,483|
|Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)||2,849||3,422||5,220|
|HandBrake Blu-ray encode (sec)||9,042||9,539||8,400|
|x264 5.01 Pass 1 (fps)||66.3
|x264 5.01 Pass 2 (fps)||15.8||12.7||15|
|Stitch.Efx 2.0 (sec)||836||971||1,511|
|ProShow Producer 5 (sec)||1,275||1,463||1,695|
|STALKER: CoP low-res (fps)||173.5||167.3||132.1|
|3DMark 11 Physics||7,938||7,263||7,005|
|PC Mark 7 Overall||6,428||5,582||4,408|
|PC Mark 7 Storage||5,300||5,377||4,559|
|Valve Particle (fps)||180||155||119|
|Heaven 3.0 low-res (fps)||139.4||138.3||134.4|
Best scores are bolded. Test bed described in text
Hyper-Threading came out 13 years ago with the original 3.06GHz Pentium 4, and was mostly a dud. Few apps were multithreaded and even Windows’s own scheduler didn’t know how to deal with HT, making some apps actually slow down when the feature was enabled. But the tech overcame those early hurdles to grow into a worthwhile feature today. Still, builders are continually faced with choosing between procs with and without HT, so we wanted to know definitively how much it matters.
The Test: Since we haven’t actually run numbers on HT in some time, we broke out a Core i7-4770K and ran tests with HT turned on and off. We used a variety of benchmarks with differing degrees of threadedness to test the technology’s strengths and weaknesses.
The Results: One look at our results and you can tell HT is well worth it if your applications can use the available threads. We saw benefits of 10–30 percent from HT in some apps. But if your app can’t use the threads, you gain nothing. And in rare instances, it appears to hurt performance slightly—as in Hitman: Absolution when run to stress the CPU rather than the GPU. Our verdict is that you should pay for HT, but only if your chores include 3D modeling, video encoding or transcoding, or other thread-heavy tasks. Gamers who occasionally transcode videos, for example, would get more bang for their buck from a Core i5-4670K.
|HT Off||HT On|
|PCMark 7 Overall||6,308||
|Stitch.EFx 2.0 (sec)||772||772|
|ProShow Producer 5.0 (sec)||1,317||1,314|
|Premiere Pro CS6 (sec)||2,950||2,522|
|HandBrake 0.9.9 (sec)||1,200||1,068|
|3DMark 11 Overall||X2,210||X2,209|
|Valve Particle Test (fps)||191||226|
|Hitman: Absolution, low res (fps)||92||84|
|Total War 2: Shogun CPU Test (fps)||42.4||41|
Best scores are bolded. We used a Core i7-4770K on a Asus Z87 Deluxe, with a Neutron GTX 240 SSD, a GeForce GTX 580, and 16GB of DDR3/1600 64-bit, with Windows 8
Click the next page to read about air cooling vs water cooling