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Intel cooks an Easter Egg

First INQpressions Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6800
Sun Apr 08 2007, 14:51
INTEL HAS CHOSEN Easter Sunday to launch its latest product known by the full name as Core 2 Extreme QX6800, displacing its predecessor's dual-core X6800 and quad-core QX6700. Most enthusiasts will however, just name this model Kentie at 2.93 GHz.

This CPU is not based on a new revision of Conroe or WoodCrest, but rather evidence that Intel worked on improving the packaging of the dies. Now, two X6800 dies have enough tolerance to run at their full clock speed, instead than one notch lower as it was the case with QX6700. We already wrote about how Intel created QX6700 here.

When it comes to the performance pedigree itself, Intel Core 2 series of processors took the world of enthusiasts by storm, which boosted Chipzilla's sales across the board, even with lower-end, NetBu(r)st CPUs such as Pentium 4 or Pentium D. While in the lower-end segment AMD has performance lead (Athlon 64/X2 will just slay P4/PD), mainstream and high-end is the domain of Conroe and Kentsfield (and Kentsfield is nothing else but two Conroes slapped on the same organic package). I have been working with Conroe and now Kentsfield for over half a year now and have to admit that performance leap that Conroe offered over anybody is just a brilliant demonstration of Chipzilla's engineers. If Athlon showed Pentium III the door and Athlon 64 wiped the floor with Pentium 4 and later Pentium D, Core 2 wiped the floor with Athlon 64 X2 and sent Pentium D into Oblivion.

However, CPU performance is not all. If you do not have appropriate platform to work on it, performance will be stifled - we have tested Conroes in several chipsets and found that for networking and moving massive amount of data, Nvidia's nForce chipset will give you better performance than an Intel one. Nevertheless, if we would have a choice between a good P965 motherboard and a Killer NIC card or an Asus Striker motherboard - there would not be much of a dilemma in our heads what choice is better for networking and gaming aspects.

Packaging
We have received the CPU earlier this week, and from our checking of the markings, it looks the same as any Intel LA Confidential processor. Dead ringer to our QX6700, for all that we can say.

alt='qx6800_mbo'
CPU lying comfortably on its new home

I like the fact that this processor is one of rare ones that did not require a delivery of new Intel D975XBX "Bad Axe" motherboard, which was the case with almost every Extreme Edition in the past year and a half (EE955, EE965, X6800, QX6700). Even though Intel has the same socket for the past couple of years, newer CPUs were usually incompatible with older motherboards. However, as of summer of 2006, new CPU should support older S775 motherboards.

alt='qx6800_cpuz'
As CPU-Z sees, this CPU does not show any improvements over QX6700

Installation of the processor was simple as always, but this time we even had no need to update the BIOS or anything similar. We just replaced old QX6700 with the new QX6800 and we were ready to go. Our water-cooling kit Corsair Nautilus 500 was in charge of cooling the monster, but almost any off-the-shelf cooler will do, just do not try to combine this baby with a stock cooler. We are not certain why Chipzilla is not putting a better cooler in the package and is continuing to scrounge on a few dollars difference, since margins on this CPU are fat enough. Company could and should have afford to bundle an aftermarket cooler - we have tried to cool the QX6800 with four year old CNPS7000Cu with a Socket 775 adapter, and found that ever 4yr old product can cool better than an Intel branded one from 2007. By close to 15degC (74degC stock vs. 61degC with Zalman), and our water-cooling kit kept this baby purring all the time at sub 40degC temperatures.

The test
With this review, we are introducing Modo 203 to the benchmark suite. Ever since I wrote a review of original Kentsfield, yours truly wanted to find software that would be a cross-platform, 32- and 64-bit test. With Modo, our wish has been granted. This 3D-modelling tool exists for Windows XP, Vista, and Mac OS X, and it proved quite handy in our initial evaluation. We have talked with Ben and crew from Luxology and we can say that development of Modo will continue, and the team will probably be able to manage utilizing GPUs in the future as well.
For the rest of the benchmark suite, we have combined latest Everest Ultimate Edition (4.00), PCMark05, Cinebench 4.5, Prime95, and Xmpeg 5.0.3. For games, we chose F.E.A.R. and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. - games with lot of dots in their respective names.

Our testing configuration went through a wintery refresh, and now INQtest#2 is based on following components:
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6700 or QX6800
Corsair Nautilus 500
EVGA nForce 680i
EVGA e-GeForce 8800GTX ACS3 in SLI mode
Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 250GB
Plextor PX-760A
beQuiet! 850W, tested with Corsair 620W and OCZ GameXstream 1000W

We are also currently updating other testing configurations, in order to be able to give you a more actual review service, starting from next week. INQtest #2 is now being designed around all-water-cooled setup from EVGA, and we will be bringing you a review of this extraordinary kit during the next week. INQtest #3 is the most interesting one, since it features an all-AMD setup with two R600 boards in Crossfire, and we will publish the benchmark results as soon as AMD finally delivers their final version of R600 Video/RealTek Audio multi-function board. We do not intend to post R600 results in 3DMark06 with drivers from January and woe you like those scores are important as the second coming.

Nevertheless, to get back on the subject: INQtest #2, the QX6800 test machine had Windows XP Professional SP2 with all of the updates installed until April 5th. Office 2007 Professional was also installed, as were ForceWare drivers 97.94 for the graphics cards and 6.53 for the motherboard. nTune was also installed, and with benchmarks, that was it - as far as software part is considered. Games and applications were patched to their latest versions, including S.T.A.L.K.E.R... This game had that luck to royally piss yours truly, after half a decade of delays, developers managed to get gamers in a situation that a hotfix patch was released 10 days after the game hit retail market. That patch killed off saved games, so if anyone is trying to figure the reason why PC gaming is going to a hot place, just ask Ukrainian gamedevs.

Test setup in question had only one change during the testing: CPUs. To compare improvements that QX6800 brings, we have compared that CPU against Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 (Conroe-4M, 2.66 GHz), Core 2 Extreme X6800 (Conroe-4M, 2.93 GHz) and QX6700 (Kentsfield 2.66 GHz). For Modo 203, we have placed a green bar, for comparisons sake. This green bar is an Opteron workstation based on two Opteron 280 processors (dual core, 2.4 GHz each), 8GB of Corsair Registered ECC DDR400 memory, Tyan Thunder K8WE motherboard, MSI GeForce 8800GTS 640MB card, Killer NIC Ethernet card, Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 400GB and Tagan 580W power supply. This was top-of-the-line machine from May 2006, just prior to introduction of Socket F systems and AMD Santa Rosa processors (not to be mixed with Intel's own Santa Rosa, a codename for next-gen Centrino).

Everest Ultimate Edition 4.00
alt='qx6800_everest'
Guess who is the fastest one in CPU intensive benchmarks...

Everest essentially showed us that the difference between QX6700 and QX6800 is less than those physical 266 MHz that divide them, but performance difference between these four could not be any greater. For a synthetic test such as this one, there really is no doubt about where these four processors are in the food chain.

PCMark05
alt='qx6800_pcmark051'

alt='qx6800_pcmark052'

This synthetic test only goes to show that Kentsfields rock the place. File compression and decompression is one especially impressive result.

Cinebench 4.5
alt='qx6800_cinebench1'

alt='qx6800_cinebench2'
Professional software eats all the cores you can give'em

Cinebench is a well-known customer here; a benchmark based on Cinema 4D software from Maxon. We can see from the results that quad-core fares well, especially given the fact that with four cores you get 3.22x speedup from a single-core one, and with dual-core you will get up to 1.84x. Yours truly really wonders what kind of performance and CPU speedup index will have upcoming quaddie from AMD, illusive Barcelona core.

Modo 203
alt='qx6800_modo'
A saying goes: "time is money". With quad-core CPU, you are double the fast as the dual-core one

Moreover, you can see how things changed, since both QX6700 and QX6800 just blew duallies and Opteron system out of the water. NetBurst was indeed NetBust, but this is something different. If you are a modeller or have to render a lot, this CPU could be your lifesaver. Then again, you could be considering new Clovertown powered Mac Pro - Fruity Company claims that system is great for Modo.

Xmpeg 5.0.3.
alt='qx6800_xvid'

For video encoding, we took the complete DVD with Lord of the Rings: Return of The King Special Edition and encoded it Divx format, using MP3 for sound format at 192kbps. This is probably most often used combination, and we wanted to see how the CPUs would fare with it.

You can see from the results that quad-core setup is not very superior to dual-core one. Sure, QX6800 just eats frames with an average of 189fps, but for that price, you could buy three E6700s that will encode the same segment at 144fps. Extreme Edition of yesteryear, X6800 encoded file with 155fps, while QX6700 stayed between the two with 176fps. Since every second counts for 29.9fps, you can imagine how much time it takes to encode an almost 5-hour movie. With 189fps, every second of processing time will count as 6.3 seconds of movie time, or six times faster than real-time, which is very different from only two years ago, when a similar feat would be, achieved 2-3x faster than the movie time itself. Still, 1000 dollars will give you a 5hr movie in less than 50 minutes, while E6700 will do the same job in 65 minutes. Not exactly a quantum leap ahead.

F.E.A.R.
alt='qx6800_fear'

With Fear, we saw that E6700 is beating QX6700 by a very small margin, while QX6800 had a miniature advantage over X6800, so the result is tied in this game. This is the game where you would see a greater jump in performance by buying an E6700 and overclocking it, and putting the second 8800GTX in the board rather than having an enthusiast CPU.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
alt='qx6800_stalker'

Second dot key-breaking game of this review is Stalker, and this game proved to be quite an interesting one. To much of our surprise, quad-core CPUs were slightly behind dual-core ones, and higher performance of E6700 vs. QX6700 was something we did not expect. We ran the tests several times and every time quaddies would have a slight disadvantage over dual-core parts. We considered a possibility that graphics cards are maxed out, but overclocking the QX6800 and X6800 to 3.19 GHz ended up with same difference. We can conclude that either Stalker is maxing out the front side bus or the FSB is saturated that other two cores cannot work, or this game is tightly threaded and does not care for number of cores on the Socket.

In short
With this latest Kentsfield hitting the streets sooner than most people think, Chipzilla continued its dominance in the enthusiast segment. The difference between 120W and 150W is not noticeable at all, since most of QX6700 owners keep their Kenties at QX6800 speeds. This first revision QX6800 shows the sheer power of Core marchitecture, but also warns users that not everything is great - two tested games were bottlenecked by quad-core and this is something that will not go away. Do not expect the same thing to happen with Crysis, Age of Conan, and Hellgate: London or Unreal Tournament 3. All of these games are multi-threaded and will squeeze every bit of juice left in your quad-core or dual-core CPU, so having extra-power ready is more than welcome.

Sadly, lack of any innovation sans 266 MHz clock bump tells us that this is product is a bean-counter introduction - Intel is lacking its own 1333 MHz FSB chipset and that will not change before Computex Taipei 2007 in June, where P35 will make an appearance. We have not been able to keep this Kentie stable at 1333 MHz on our air-cooled motherboard, so we will see what will happen when we put this baby on our new all-water-cooled setup by EVGA.

If Intel wanted to attack AMD's own QuadFX line, we would now be writing about QX6800, QX6700 and probably QX6600 (selling on a position of already existing Core 2 Quad Q6600), but Chipzilla is keeping its Extreme brand for only the fastest one. However, we can conclude that QX6800 is a continuation of Highlander-effect: there can be only one.

As a corporate entity, Intel also made one small mistake. We are not certain what was going on in Intel's head when they made the call to launch a product on Sunday, a non-working day in most parts of the world, but also on national holiday. Yours truly found himself talking with several hacks over Skype and MSN over challenges how to review a new product and balance family life at the same time. Read: Easter dinning does not go hand in hand with F.E.A.R.

If there are any Christians in Board of Directors or high executive managment, we did imagine a certain afterlife location for them: a hot place for launching a product on greatest Christian holiday. We know that Intel wanted to give some good news out before next week, but still - keeping hacks working day and night to make the article on time for launch on Sunday and Easter is just an irresponsible move.

The Good
- The fastest desktop CPU money can buy as of April 8th, 2007
- Drop-in socket upgrade with majority of S775 motherboards out there
- Nvidia's 680i chipset just got new best friend
- All-around product with good overclocking capabilities
- Brilliant in Modo 203

The Bad
- No 1333 MHz FSB because cherry-picked cores are still reserved for Clovertown
- 150W TDP may be a bit steep when performance/watt is compared to Clovertown at 3.0 GHz
- 1333FSB cannot be achieved even with overclocking or downclock to 2.66 (8x333)
- Time of the launch - brilliant move, guys!

The Ugly
- Intel is continuing to bundle useless stock cooler for $7.00 with a $1000 CPU - and that very same $7.00 cooler is not able to cool this baby down. 4-year old cooler will do a better job, it would not dent your margins to have something decent alongside this hot piece of silicon.

Bartender's Report
9/10

 

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