I have $300 to spend. E6600 Conroe or 5000+ AM2?

Last week Intel introduced their Core 2 Duo Processors and Legit Reviews covered the announcement by releasing our thoughts on the Intel Core 2 Extreme Processor X6800 and the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6700.  Both of the processors are at the top end of performance for desktop computers and come with top pricing as the X6800 running $999 and the E6700 coming in at $530. In case you missed our article here is a chart of Intel's upcoming processors and their pricing.

Processor
GHz
FSB
Cache
Package
July 23rd Price
X6800 2.93GHz 1066MHz 4M LGA775 $999
E6700 2.67GHz 1066MHz 4M LGA775 $530
E6600 2.4GHz 1066MHz 4M LGA775 $316
E6400 2.13GHz 1066MHz 2M LGA775 $224

With AMD being very open about their upcoming price cuts I figured that now would be a great time to look at the rumored prices that are all over the internet this week.

Processor
GHz
HT
Cache
Package
July 24th Price
FX-62 2.8GHz 2000MHz 2 x 1MB AM2 $799
5000+ 2.6GHz 2000MHz 2 x 512KB AM2 $299
4600+ 2.4GHz 2000MHz 2 x 512KB AM2 $224

According to rumors and leaked information on the internet we are able to see that AMD is going to be cutting prices next week and the price cuts are serious.  AMD does not want to give up the price versus  performance segment and if these prices turn out to be true we know AMD is serious! Most of today's gamers play on a budget and are finding themselves with their graphics card as the most expensive piece of hardware in their gaming system. Today we take a look at a processor that gamers can actually afford those that are in the $300 price range. That means the E6600 from Intel and the 5000+ by AMD have to fight to the death to see who's the stronger gaming processor.  Below the AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ AM2 and the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6600 meet for the first time and size each other up.

Intel E6600 and AMD 5000+ AM2

The Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6600 still features the larger 4MB cache size and comes priced just over $300 at $319. To compete with the Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6600 AMD is going to price down their AMD Athlon 64 X2 5000+ AM2 processor to just under $300. It's also interesting to note that the 5000+ is running at 2.6GHz, which is 200MHz faster than the clock speed on the 2.4GHz E6600 processor from Intel. It's been a long time since I've run gaming benchmarks where the AMD processor has a faster clock speed. It should also be noted that the AMD processor has 1MB of cache where the E6600 has 4MB.

Without going crazy on the technical details let's take a look at our test system and then see what processor deserves to be in our gaming PC. Since gamers use real resolutions like 1280x1024 and 1600x1200 with AA and AF enabled we ran our benchmarks with settings that you would use at home. 

Let's take a look at our test systems and then jump into the games!

Test Systems

All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows XP Professional build 2600 with Service Pack 2 and DirectX 9.0c. All benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. All of the modules were run in dual channel mode! The memory on the Intel and AMD test platforms with DDR2 memory was run with Corsair PC2-6400C3 memory running 4GB at 3-4-3-9 2T timings at 800MHz. The ATI X1900XTX video card used CATALYST 6.6 public drivers.

AMD Test Platform

Here is the AMD Socket AM2 Test platform:

AMD Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

AMD Athlon 64 5000+ AMD

Motherboard

Foxconn C51XEM2AA

Memory

4GB Corsair PC2-6400C3

Video Card

ATI X1900XTX

Hard Drive

Western Digital 250MB

Cooling

Corsair Nautilus 500

Power Supply

Thermaltake 750W

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

Intel Test Platform

Here is the Intel Test Platform:

Intel Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Duo E6600

Motherboard

Intel D975XBX v304

Memory

4GB Corsair PC2-6400C3

Video Card

ATI X1900XTX

Hard Drive

Western Digital 250MB

Cooling

Corsair Nautilus 500

Power Supply

Thermaltake 750W

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

Let's move on and take a look at the testing!

Comanche 4

Comanche 4 Benchmark

NovaLogic; Comanche 4:

The Comanche 4 benchmark demo is a unique benchmark as it represents a real-world gaming experience. It contains the single player Eagle's Talon mission from the game as well as a detailed cinematic. This DirectX 8.1 benchmark demo measures your system's performance in the standard frames per second format. This game is very old, but even today it is one of the best gaming benchmarks to show raw CPU performance.

Comanche 4 Benchmark Performance

At 1280x1024 with 4x Anti-Aliasing the 2.4GHz Conroe overtakes the 2.6GHz AM2 processor by nearly 12 frames per second.   

Comanche 4 Benchmark Performance

Moving along to a resolution of 1600x1200 with 4x Anti-Aliasing we see the Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6600 taking the win with another 12FPS lead over the AMD Athlon 64 5000+ AM2 processor. Since Comanche 4 is not GPU limited we can see what a difference the CPU makes at the two different resolutions.

DOOM 3

Doom 3 Benchmark

ID Software: Doom 3

Science has unlocked the gates to the unknown, and now only one man stands between Hell and Earth. A sci-fi horror masterpiece, DOOM 3 is like nothing you have experienced. Dramatic storyline, pulse-pounding action, incredible graphics, and revolutionary technology combine to draw you into the most frightening and gripping first person gaming experience ever created. The Doom 3 engine is a computer game engine developed by id Software and first used in the PC game Doom 3. The engine was designed by John Carmack, who also created previous engines such as those for Doom and Quake. The DOOM 3 engine added several new features absent in the Quake III engine that preceded it. New features for DOOM 3 included bump mapping, normal mapping, and specular highlighting.

DOOM 3 Benchmarking at 1280x1024

When gaming at a resolution of 1280x1024 and 4x Anti-aliasing and 16x Anisotropic filtering we found that the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6600 was roughly 3 frames per second faster than the AMD processor.

DOOM 3 Benchmarking at 1600x1200

With the resolution cranked up to 1600x1200 and 4x Anti-aliasing and 16x Anisotropic filtering turned on we found that the game was GPU limited with both processors returning consistent 70FPS benchmark results. For the first time we see no advantage between having either processor as the GPU is slowing down the performance.

Quake 4

Quake 4 Benchmark

ID Software; Quake 4 v1.2

ID Software?s QUAKE 4, developed by Raven Software, takes players into an epic invasion on a barbaric alien planet in one of the most anticipated first person shooters for 2005. Even today in 2006 Quake 4 is played by professional gamers around the world in the famed World Series of Video Games (WSVG) and still one of the most played first person shooters on the market today.

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Quake 4 runs on an updated version of the DOOM 3 graphics engine, so performance is expected to be on par with that of DOOM 3.  We ran Quake 4 with the version 1.2 patch, which adds dual-core processor support.  At 1280x1024 with 4xAA/16xAF Intel's latest and greatest processor takes the lead by nearly 4FPS.

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Since we had SMP enabled in the game we thought 1600x1200 performance might show a difference between the two processors, but no such luck.  At 1600x1200 with 4xAA/16xAF we were GPU bound as both processors ran 57FPS.

Far Cry

Farcry Benchmark

Ubisoft; Far Cry v1.33

Far Cry is another super popular FPS title that seriously taxes your systems graphics. Far Cry offers real-time editing, bump-mapping, static lights, network system, integrated physics system, shaders, shadows and a dynamic music system are just some of the state of-the-art features that the CryENGINE? offers. We used the HardwareOC Far Cry Benchmark v1.4.2 to benchmark the game and ran the demo three times and averaged the score to get the results for the chart below.

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At 1280x1024 and the eye candy turned on the Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6600 took the lead by 15 frames per second over the AMD Athlon 64 5000+ AM2 processor.

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After seeing DOOM 3 and Quake 4 being GPU limited at 1600x1200 it was nice to see that Far Cry was not GPU bound at 1600x1200 even with 4xAA and 16xAF. Here we have the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6600 coming in just over four frames per second (4.5% faster) in front of the AMD Athlon 64 5000+ AM2 processor.

F.E.A.R

F.E.A.R. Benchmark

Sierra; F.E.A.R w/ v1.0.5 patch:

F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault and Recon) is a first-person close-quarters combat game for the PC. The story begins when a paramilitary force infiltrates a multi-billion dollar aerospace compound, and the government responds by sending in Special Forces. The group loses contact with the government when an eerie signal interrupts radio communications--and when that interference subsides moments later, the team has been destroyed. That's where you come in. As part of a classified strike team created to deal with threats no one else can handle, your mission is simple: eliminate the intruders at any cost, determine the origin of the signal, and contain the potential crisis before it gets out of control.

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F.E.A.R. is a pretty recent game title that many people are still playing today.  The game runs at a native resolution of 1280x960 and that is why we ran this benchmark at this setting and not 1280x1024. At 1280x960 with 4xAA/16xAF we found a two frame per second difference with the AMD Athlon 64 5000+ processor taking it's first win out of our gaming benchmarks.

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At the higher resolution of 1600x1200 we were again GPU limited with both processors averaging 53 frames per second on the benchmark.

X 3 Reunion

X� Reunion Benchmark

Egosoft: X3 Reunion

The Sequel to the award winning X3: The Threat will introduce a new 3D engine as well as a new story, new ships and a new gameplay to greatly increase the variety in the X-universe. The economy of X3: Reunion will be more complex than anything seen in the X-universe before. Factories are being built by NPCs, wars can affect the global economy, NPCs can trade freely and pirates will behave far more realistically.

Extensive development has gone into the X3 engine, making full use of DirectX 9 technology, to create dramatic visual effects and stunningly realistic starships. Coupled with the massively enhanced A.L. (Artificial Life) system, X3: REUNION will present players with an ever changing, evolving universe; where a player actions really can shape the future of the universe.

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The X3 engine is really tough and we started off benchmarking at the default settings on both test systems.  With the quality settings both on high and no AA or AF we found that the Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6600 walks all over the AMD A64 5000+ AM2 CPU thanks to a 20 frame per second lead.

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We then increased the resolution to 1280x1024 and enabled the eye candy to run the system like many gamers today do. The lead was not as great, but the Intel Core 2 Duo processor again took the win with a 7FPS lead.

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With DOOM 3, Quake 4 and F.E.A.R. being GPU limited I was sure that X3: Reunion would be also, but that wasn't the case.  It seems like X3: Reunion and Comanche 4 both love CPU usage and this helps Intel take another win.

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

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Our testing showed that when gaming at high resolutions the limiting factor is not the processor, but is actually the graphics card. This was shown to be true in three out of the six games that we benchmarked. We used the ATI Radeon X1900XTX graphics card, which is the fastest single card GPU on the market (not counting the NVIDIA 7950GX2) and comes priced at a healthy $499 so it's not like we put in a weak video card by any means. The reason we didn't run X1900 CrossFire is because how many people can really afford it to start with? Most gamers we know still run a single GPU and no physics card! We tried to make our testing go along with what marketing data has shown in recent months.

The bulk majority of gamers run resolutions of 1280x1024 or lower and for this group of gamers the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6600 won five out of the six games when tested at this resolution.  In the benchmarks where the processor mattered like Comanche 4, Far Cry and X3 Reunion the Intel processor was able to show clear advantages versus the AMD competition.  

So after running these benchmarks it's clear that at 1600x1200 and the eye candy enabled the GPU is the limiting factor right now when it comes to gaming performance.  With the next generation ATI and NVIDIA graphics solutions already taped out and due for a launch later this year we should be seeing better gaming performance before Windows Vista starts shipping.

As for which processor wins the battle?  The answer really isn't that easy to answer.  The AMD Athlon 64 X2 AM2 processors have a ton of support in the market right now. You can find AMD AM2 motherboards running chipsets from ATI, VIA and NVIDIA all over the place. An example of this is Newegg and the fact that they carry 36 AMD AM2 motherboards with the prices starting as low as $63 for one of these boards. If you look at the Intel side of the market it's still just starting out with very few Intel 965 Express based motherboards on the market.  This morning Newegg only lists five Intel 965 Express Core 2 Duo ready motherboards with pricing starting out at $148 and two of the five are sold out. With the Intel 965 Express chipset being out for nearly six weeks I expected more than five motherboards to available today. Like I pointed out in my launch article the limiting factor for Intel will be their chipsets.

AMD has said for weeks they want to be the price versus performance leader and when the prices drop on AMD processors next week I have no doubt that AMD's platform will be cheaper to build for the time being.  With that said and done most people use their computers for more than just playing games, so be sure to take a look at the bigger picture before your next purchase.

Feel free to look here for some non-gaming performance numbers between Conroe and AM2.