Running the Intel T7600 on the Dell XPS M1710

Laptops around the world are getting a performance boost as systems based on Intel Centrino Duo mobile technology are now shipping with Intel Core 2 Duo mobile processors starting today. With the launch of a new core many would suspect that a new socket or some sort of platform change would be needed, but that is not the case with the Core 2 Duo family of mobile processors.  All that is needed is a BIOS update for the motherboard in the current Duo notebooks and all should be well.  In all honesty I was able to install an Intel Core 2 Duo processor in our Do-It-Yourself based Clevo M570U 17" gaming notebook (Read the Review) and on our personal Dell XPS M1710 Special Edition Formula Red gaming notebook with no BIOS updates at all.

The Dell XPS M1710 with Intel T7600 Processor Installed

The Dell XPS M1710 Special Edition Formula Red gaming notebook ran our Core 2 Duo (formerly codenamed 'Merom') just fine with BIOS version A00 although it should be noted that BIOS version A01 wouldn't install with a Core 2 Duo processor installed. When we tried to install BIOS A01 we got the following error message. 

Bios Install Error Window

With everything running fine with BIOS A00 we went ahead and used the Dell XPS M1710 Special Edition Formula Red gaming notebook for our benchmarking as it is the only notebook we have that features the 512MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GTX video card inside and we didn't want to be GPU limited during our testing. The other choice we had to go with was the Clevo M570U and while it ran the Core 2 Duo processor T7600 without any issues it only had a 256MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GTX, so we went with the Dell.

Correct BIOS Screen

Here is an image of the Clevo M570U posting and running the Core 2 Duo processor T7600 just fine with BIOS version 1.00.00 and upgraded to 1.00.02 with no issues at all. We also used Core 2 Duo on the ASUS Z97JS with pre-production BIOS V.080012 and the ASUS S96J with BIOS v0901. On the four notebooks we ran Merom on we had 100% success, but as you can tell it's hit or miss on the BIOS versions, so some research will need to be done before ALL updated and Core 2 Duo BIOS revisions are online. So to sum everything up if you've got a 945GM or 945PM Express chipset in your notebook, then the Core 2 Duo should be a drop in replacement for your Core Duo processor. If you don't have one of these chipsets then you'll need a whole new notebook to be able to run Core 2 duo processors!

Enough talk about BIOS revisions and let's take a look at Core 2 Duo!

Intel T7600 'Merom' Up Close and Naked

Over the past couple years the Intel family of mobile processors has undergone a lot of changes.  The last single core mobile processor was the Pentium M series with the Dothan core. The Dothan core was launched on May 10, 2004. Dothan Pentium M processors are among the first Intel processors to be identified using a "processor number" rather than a clockspeed rating, and they made up the 7xx series. Dothan processors retained the same basic design as the original Pentium M, but were manufactured using a 90nm process, with twice the secondary cache. The die size on a Dothan is 84mm2 containing ~140 million transistors, most of which make up the 2MB cache. Intel rated the TDP on Dothan as 21 Watts (down from 24.5W in Banias).

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Dothan lead the mobile industry for performance and power consumption for nearly two years and on January 5, 2006 Intel launched the first dual-core processor known as Yonah. Yonah was still based on the Banias/Dothan Pentium M microarchitecture that we have all grown accustomed to, but also included new features like SSE3 instructions, NX bit, LaGrande security technology, and a number of other small improvements. Yonah featured 667MHx front side bus (FSB), which was an improvement from the 533MHz FSB used by the previous Pentium M series. The cache remained at 2MB and was shared between both cores. As mentioned previously the Dothan die was a mere 84mm2 and Yonah only slightly increased the die size to 90mm2, which was good news for Intel as the TDP 'only' went up from 21W in the single core Dothan to 31W in the dual-core Yonah series. With the Launch of Yonah brought the need for a new chipset that supports Core Duo processors and for that reason Intel also changed the pins layout as seen below.

 

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With Yonah not even launched for a full eight months Intel is already releasing their next mobile processor and this time around it's going to be known as a Core 2 Duo processor based off the Merom core. Intel originally announced Merom on July 27, 2006, but is just now allowing performance numbers to be officially released. It seems as if Intel had the first mobile version of the Core 2 ready for some time , but just wanted to give the OEM's and ODM's enough time to get BIOS updates ready for the processor. The good news is that Merom is drop-in compatible with the current Core Duo platform, requiring at most a BIOS update (a few odd ball notebooks won't work, but we haven't seen one fail yet). Intel has claimed that Merom will provide 20% more performance yet maintain the same battery life as the Yonah-based Core Duo. Other than doubling the cache from 2MB to 4MB, Merom will be the first Intel mobile processor to finally feature EM64T 64-bit extensions. The TDP on Merom is 32W, which means it does consume 1W more than the Dothan rated at 31W. 

 

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Here are the two processors that were used in the review.  The Core Duo T2600 is one on the left and is one that Legit Reviews purchased on our own, so it is an retail boxed T2600 rated at 2.13GHz. The bad boy on the right it the brand new Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7600 and is rated at 2.33GHz.  Notice the larger die size as the cache has doubled from 2MB to 4MB greatly increasing the die size, which means fewer processors per wafer! The die size on the Core 2 Duo is approximately 143mm2 and contains roughly 291 million transistors.

Core 2 Duo Features and Pricing

Optimized Performance Technologies

Merom CPU-Z Screenshot

Dual-Core Architecture
Two mobile-optimized execution cores in a single processor designed to increase performance and save power.

Intel Wide Dynamic Execution
More efficiently processes multiple instructions at once for outstanding performance and responsiveness to run applications in the office, home, or on-the-go, with the ability to process 4 instructions per clock cycle.

Intel Advanced Smart Cache
With up to 4 MB L2 shared cache compared to 2MB L2 on the Core Duo processor, the Core 2 Duo processor offers even more efficient data sharing, providing enhanced performance, responsiveness and power savings.

Intel Advanced Digital Media Boost
Delivers enhanced performance for a broad range of applications including video, speech and image, photo processing, encryption, financial, engineering and scientific.  It provides two times the streaming media compute throughput compared to the Intel Core Duo processor.

Intel Smart Memory Access
Improves system performance by optimizing available bandwidth in the system bus and memory subsystems; it reduces memory latencies to provide data to the processor when and where it?s needed.

Intel 64
Enabling technology that can take advantage of 64-bit applications and the Microsoft Vista* OS as they become available.

Pricing

Intel is currently launching five mobile processors in the Core 2 Duo processor family ranging in speed from 1.66GHz to 2.33GHz in the T7XXX and T5XXX series.  The T7XXX sereies all feature 4MB of L2 cache while the T5XXX series has 2MB. The voltage is 1.0375 ? 1.3 V for all of the Intel Core 2 Duo mobile processors.

Processor
Frequency
Bus Speed
L2 Cache
Price
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7600
2.33 GHz
667MHz
4MB
$637
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7400
2.16 GHz
667MHz
4MB
$423
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7200
2.00 GHz
667MHz
4MB
$294
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T5600
1.83 GHz
667MHz
2MB
$241
Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T5500
1.66 GHz
667MHz
2MB
$209

The Test System

The test system consisted of the Dell XPS M1710 Special Edition Formula Red gaming notebook running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 running BIOS A00. The graphics were handled by the 512MB NVIDIA GeForce Go 7900 GTX video card running the latest NVIDIA drivers. The memory consisted of 2GB of Samsung DDR2 SDRAM running dual channel 667MHZ at CL5 timings and the hard drive was a SATA 100GB 7200rpm model.

To run the Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7600 we had to take apart the entire notebook to put it in.  Here are the steps cut down to a few pictures.  First you have to pop off the bezel and remove the two screws holding in the keyboard.

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Then you have to remove all the screws on the top and the bottom that hold the housing together as well as unplugging all the components to split the housing safely.

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With the housing cracked open the four screws on the processor heatsink can be removed and the new processor installed into the socket after unlocking the socket using a flat head screw driver.

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With Yonah removed we could then install Merom!

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With merom locked into the socket everything can be put back together and the benchmarking can begin! We ran both the Intel Core Duo processor T2600 and the Intel Core 2 Dup processor T7600 on the same exact Dell XPS M1710 notebook. Here are both processors running on the XPS M1710 as seen through CPU-Z version 1.36.

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POV-Ray 3.7 Beta 13a

Processor Performance on Pov-Ray 3.7 Beta 13a:

The Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer was developed from DKBTrace 2.12 (written by David K. Buck and Aaron A. Collins) by a bunch of people (called the POV-Team) in their spare time. It is an high-quality, totally free tool for creating stunning three-dimensional graphics. It is available in official versions for Windows, Mac OS/Mac OS X and i86 Linux. The POV-Ray package includes detailed instructions on using the ray-tracer and creating scenes. Many stunning scenes are included with POV-Ray so you can start creating images immediately when you get the package. These scenes can be modified so you do not have to start from scratch. In addition to the pre-defined scenes, a large library of pre-defined shapes and materials is provided. You can include these shapes and materials in your own scenes by just including the library file name at the top of your scene file, and by using the shape or material name in your scene. Since this is free software feel free to download this version and try it out on your own.

The most significant change from the end-user point of view between versions 3.6 and 3.7 is the addition of SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) support, which in a nutshell allows the renderer to run on as many CPU's as you have installed on your computer. This will be particularly useful for those users who intend purchasing a dual-core CPU or who already have a two (or more) processor machine. On a two-CPU system the rendering speed in some scenes almost doubles. For our benchmarking we used version 3.7 as all of the processors we are testing today are dual-core.

Once rendering on the object we selected was completed, we took the score from dialog box, which indicates the average PPS for the benchmark. A higher PPS indicates faster system performance.

Pov-Ray 3.7 Beta 13a

The pixel rate counter (PPS) in POV-Ray is based off of the number of pixels rendered in the current frame divided by the total amount of time spent on the whole animation. This gives the effect of dividing the true pixels per second by the current frame number. With POV-Ray 3.7 Beta 13a we are able to look at a recent SMP benchmark to judge the differences between Yonah and Merom. The benchmark shows that the Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7600 easily takes the win over The T2600 processor. If you want to compare the numbers from this article to desktop processors feel free to look at our desktop Core 2 article HERE.

Sisoft; Sandra 2007 SR1

Sisoft; Sandra 2007 SR1:

SiSoftware, founded in 1995, is one of the leading providers of computer analysis, diagnostic and benchmarking software. The flagship product, known as "SANDRA", was launched in 1997 and has become one of the most widely used products in its field. SANDRA is used by almost 400 world-wide IT publications, magazines, review sites to analyse the performance of today?s computers.

Multi-Core Support: As well as SMP (multi-processor) and SMT (multi-threading/Hyper-Threading) support we have added multi-core support for future AMD and Intel CPUs. The benchmarks have been optimised to schedule the optimum number of threads on the optimum (virtual) CPU on both multi-core and Hyper-Threaded computers.

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Running the Sandra multimedia benchmark we find that the T2600 has an Interger score of 33,598 it/s and a Float score of 45,727.  While this score is good the T7600 has an Interger score of 127,767 and a Float score of 69,285.

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CineBench 9.5 and Super PI

MAXON; CINEBENCH 9.5:

CINEBENCH 9.5 is the free benchmarking tool for Windows and Mac OS based on the powerful 3D software CINEMA 4D R8. The tool is set to deliver accurate benchmarks by testing not only a computer's raw processing speed but also all other areas that affect system performance such as OpenGL, multithreading, multiprocessors and Intel's new HT Technology. Again, higher Frames/Second and lower rendering time in seconds equal better performance.

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Our Cinebench 9.5 results show again how the T7600 just reigns supreme over the T2600, completing the benchmark at an 17% faster pace in single CPU benchmark and 18% in the SMP results.  The T7600 looks like it's doing well so far!

Super Pi Mod Version 1.5 XS:

Super Pi calculates the number Pi in this raw number crunching benchmark. The benchmark is fairly diverse and allows the user to change the number of digits of Pi that can be calculated. In this benchmark we ran Super Pi to 1 million places.

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When it came to Super Pi the T7600 was able to beat the T2600 by 6 seconds, which is a 21% improvement in time.  Not too shabby for all those for the lowest super pi scores.  Just imagaine a T7600 in a desktop board and overclocked!  

Futuremark 3DMark06

3DMark 2006 v1.2.0

3DMark06 includes an array of 3D graphics, CPU and 3D feature tests for overall performance measurement of current and future PC gaming systems. With this broader design approach, 3DMark06 has become the benchmark of choice for all PCs with top-of-the-line graphics hardware and CPUs. 3DMark06 is the first product from Futuremark using the AGEIA PhysX software physics library in two very complex, game-like threaded CPU tests conceived to measure properly performances of single processor, multi-core and multiple processor systems in next generation of games. In addition to using real-time physics, both CPU tests also employ multi-threaded artificial intelligence algorithms. By combining the results of the two CPU tests and four graphics tests, 3DMark06 enables users to get a 3DMark score which reflects the overall gaming performance of their PC

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It looks like the extra speed and cache don't do much for Merom in the graphics intensive 3DMark06 benchmark, but the overall socre did increase nearly 100 points and the CPU score jumped up 219 points, which is a 12% performance increase on the CPU.


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A closer look the two CPU tests in 3DMark06 show that the T7600 takes the lead by a hair, but that's good enough for the 12% gain seen in the overall CPU score. 

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

We ran Comanche 4 at four different resolutions and believe it or not at all resolutions we were CPU limited!  The Core Duo Processor T2600 scored 78 frames per second across the board, but that couldn't touch the 105 frames per seconds that the Core 2 Duo Processor T7600 hit home. This is a 27 frame per second difference, which is good for a 34.6% performance boost in this CPU restricted benchmark. Comance 4 is an old game,and doesn't support dual-core processors (SMP), but I still love it for reasons like this.

F.E.A.R.

F.E.A.R. Benchmark

Sierra; F.E.A.R w/ v1.0.7 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 thanks to the release of the free multiplayer version.  At lower resolutions of 640x480 with the quality set in the game to medium we found that Merom performed 32% better than our Yonah processor.  When we increased the resolution up to 1600x1200 that 32% difference was down to 3% as our 512MB GeForce 7900GTX video card was starting to get weighed down with the graphics load.

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 640x480 with the quality set to high we observed a 19% increase in performance with the T7600, but that was short lived once again as when we reached 1920x1200, the native resolution of the Dell XPS M1710, the difference between the two processors was down to just under 9%.

X3 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 T7600 walks all over the T2600 CPU thanks to a 22 frame per second lead. This is a huge 44% increase in performance, but can it hold onto it at high resolutions?  Yes it sure can!  At 1920x1200 the Core 2 Duo was still leading the Core Duo by 11 frames per second, which is still a 24% increase. It seems like X3: Reunion and Comanche 4 both love CPU usage and helps show the power of Merom in a CPU intensive benchmark.

Power Consumption and Final Thoughts

power consumption chart

When it came to power consumption of the entire notebook at idle and under load the results were actually shocking.  Still using the Dell XPS M1710 notebook we noted that the Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7600 idled around 41-42W, which was roughly 2W better than it's predecessor. To figure out the load power consumption levels we ran Prime 95 and 3DMark06 and recorded the highest Watt reading that flashed up on the Seasonic Power Angel meter.  Here we found the T7600 consumed more power, but only 3W more!

Nathan Kirsch's Thoughts:

For the short period of time that we have had Core 2 Duo processors on the test bench they have been a welcome addition to the Intel mobile processor family.  The Intel Core 2 Duo processor T7600 without a doubt performed better than our Core Duo processor T2600, but you have to keep in mind that it has a higher clock speed also.  While the 166MHz difference in core frequency might not seem like much it is something that needs to be noted.  It would have been nice to have the Core Duo processor T2700 to compare it to since it too runs at 2.33GHz , but unfortunately we don't have an unlimited budget and Intel didn't send us one to try out.

For gamers the Core 2 Duo processor family is a step in the right direction, but we only advise upgrading to a Merom processor if you have at least an NVIDIA GeForce 7900 Go or an ATI X1800 graphics solution in your laptop.  As you can see from our performance data at high resolutions the GPU is bottlenecking performance so playing WoW or Oblivion at 1920x1200 will put you at roughly the same frame per second count as before. 

For part time gamers and those who do general multimedia things like encoding then Core 2 Duo makes the most sense for you.  As seen in POV-Ray, Cinebench, and Super Pi the Core 2 Dup performs better than Core 2 across the board and will be able to crunch data faster, which means you can play more games after your work is done!

Overall Merom is just a speed bump in the mobile lineup for Intel, but does at 64 bit support and offers double the cache of the pervious generation.  I can't wait for the move to 45nm and the Santa Rosa platform that is coming up down the road.  Intel has always had a strong mobile processor and Merom does not dissapoint!

Legit Bottom Line: Intel Core 2 Duo (Merom) processors improve performance across the board and does so with nearly the same power consumption of their previous mobile processor.