AMD Versus Intel at the $185 Price Point

The price war between AMD and Intel is raging more so now than it ever has and while that is bad news for them it happens to be great news for the consumer.  Desktop processors prices have been slashed and the latest processors from AMD and Intel are now running on matured platforms with chipsets that have finally been debugged.  With lower prices and solid platforms consumers will find that building a new gaming rig on a tight budget has never been easier than now.

With AMD's most recent price cuts they reduced prices on all of their series, but the sharpest cuts came on processors for AMD's desktop lineup. The most powerful processor in the X2 lineup, the X2 6000+, now costs $241, down 48 percent from $464 last month. The next most powerful chip, the X2 5600+, is now 42 percent cheaper at just $188. The prices of other desktop chips were cut between 20 and 40 percent. With these drastic price cuts the consumer is the winner as AMD revenues will continue to decrease as the price war continues.

AMD A64 X2 Processor 5600+

Since many can't afford the highest price processors on the market we have focused on the sub $200 processors from AMD and Intel for an article that shows gaming performance between the two processors.  To keep under the $200 budget we went with the $185 Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6300 and the $184 AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor 5600+.  Both of these processors are under $200 and are within just a dollar of each other, so when it comes to pricing alone it's an apple to apple comparison. Price is the only reason that these processors are being compared to each other, so please remember that this article is about the bang for your buck.

Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 Processor Box

To keep the comparison as fair as possible each processor needs to be tested on a similiar platform.  We loaded up each test system with the same 4GB of Corsair DOMINATOR PC2-10000C5 memory modulesXFX GeForce 8800GTX video card, 250GB Western Digital hard drives, Corsair 620HX power supply and Windows XP Professional. Since we are comparing gaming performance six popular game titles were loaded onto each system and 3DMark06 was included for good measure.

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 PC2-10000C5 memory running 4GB at 4-4-4-12 2T timings at 800MHz. The XFX GeForce 8800GTX video card used 97.94 public drivers.

The actual AMD test system:

AMD Test Platform

The AMD Socket AM2 Test Platform Specifics:

AMD Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ AM2

Motherboard

DFI NF590 SLI-M2R/G

Memory

4GB Corsair PC2-10000C5

Video Card

XFX GeForce 8800GTX

Hard Drive

Western Digital 250MB

Cooling

Zalman

Power Supply

Corsair 620W

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

The AMD Socket AM2 Test Platform CPU-Z Screen Shots:

AMD Test Platform

The actual Intel test system:

Intel Test Platform

The Intel LGA775 Test Platform Specifics:

Intel Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor

Intel Core 2 Duo E6300

Motherboard

eVGA nForce 680i LT SLI

Memory

4GB Corsair PC2-10000C5

Video Card

XFX GeForce 8800 GTX

Hard Drive

Western Digital 250MB

Cooling

Intel Reference Fan

Power Supply

Corsair 620HX

Operating System

Windows XP Professional

The Intel LGA775 Test Platform CPU-Z Screen Shots:

Intel Test Platform

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

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl uses the 'X-ray Engine' to power the graphics. It is a DirectX 8/9 Shader Model 3.0 graphics engine. Up to a million polygons can be on-screen at any one time, which makes it one of the more impressive engines on the market today. The engine features HDR rendering, parallax and normal mapping, soft shadows, widescreen support, weather effects and day/night cycles. As with other engines that utilize deferred shading (such as Unreal Engine 3 and CryENGINE2), the X-ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled. However, a "fake" form of anti-aliasing can be enabled with the static lighting option; this format utilizes a technique to blur the image to give the false impression of anti-aliasing. The game takes place in a thirty square kilometer area, and both the outside and inside of this area is rendered to the same amount of detail.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

At the default 1024x768 game resolution we found that S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl was more than playable on both processors, but the 2.8GHz 5600+ AM2 processor led by nearly 18 frames per second. The Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 was able to keep the frame rates well above 30fps, but offered 25% less frames per second.   

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Benchmark Performance

Moving along to a resolution of 1600x1200 we see both processors taking a slight performance hit, but it all honesty it's not as big as we expected.  The Intel Core 2 Duo processor E6300 and AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ both took more than a 2FPS performance hit, which leads us to believe that the frame rate is limited more by the processor than the video card in this situation.

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 1024x768

When gaming at a resolution of 1024x768 and 8x Anti-aliasing and 16x Anisotropic filtering we found that the AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ was roughly 15 frames per second faster than the  Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6300.

DOOM 3 Benchmarking at 1600x1200

With the resolution cranked up to 1600x1200 and 8x Anti-aliasing and 16x Anisotropic filtering turned on we found that the frame rate was much closer with less than one frame per second between the two. 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 v1.41 beta 

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.

Quake 4 Benchmark

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 1.4.1 beta patch, which adds dual-core processor support and a ton of other features that have been added over the years.  At 1920x1200 with 4xAA/8xAF and the graphics set to ultra quality Intel's latest and greatest processor takes the lead by 1FPS.  

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2

Serious Sam 2 v2.070

Serious Engine 2, the game engine for Serious Sam II was developed alongside the development of the game itself, and was a brand new revision of Croteam's prior Serious Engine that was used for their previous games, such as Serious Sam: The First Encounter. The more advanced features of the engine include detailed refraction effects, high-resolution textures, high-dynamic range lighting, and light bloom effects

Serious Sam 2 Benchmarking

Running Serious Sam 2 v2.070 at 1600x1200 makes for impressive game play thanks to high-dynamic range and a graphics engine that still looks good today.  At 1600x1200 the AMD Athlon 64 5600+ takes the lead, but we know from testing this game for a number of years that each map hammers system performance differently.  On the map Branchester the AMD 5600+ has a 50 frame per second lead over the Intel E6300.

Serious Sam 2 Benchmarking

Keeping the settings the same and moving over to the map Greendale (which is the screenshot posted above) we can see how a bigger out door scene runs on both processors.  The scores are much lower with just 22 frames per second between the two procesors. 

F.E.A.R

F.E.A.R. Benchmark

Sierra; F.E.A.R w/ v1.0.8 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.

Image Description

F.E.A.R. is a pretty recent game title that many people are still playing today. At 1024x768 with 4xAA/16xAF we found a 22 frame per second difference (21%) with the AMD Athlon 64 5600+ processor leading the Intel Core 2 Duo E6300.

Image Description

At the higher resolution of 1600x1200 there was only a 2 frame per second difference shown on the benchmark.

Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2

Call of Duty 2 delivers the most realistic battle experience ever, putting you in the center of World War II's most climatic battles as British, American, and Russian infantrymen. Call of Duty 2 is a first-person shooter video game and sequel to the critically acclaimed game, Call of Duty, also developed by Infinity Ward. Call of Duty 2 was published by Activision on October 25, 2005 for Windows. Call of Duty 2 takes place during World War II and features three campaigns where the player can be a soldier for the Red Army, the British Army, or the United States Army.

Call of Duty 2 Benchmarking

Even though Call of Duty 2 is now over a year old it still pushes systems pretty hard as both prcessors were stuck at ~66 frames per second at 1600x1200 with 4xAA and 16xAF.

Call of Duty 2 Benchmarking

At 1920x1200 with 4xAA/16xAF we were being bound as both processors ran ~59FPS. Both processors will perform roughly the same as it's shown with the Call of Duty 2 benchmarks.

3DMark06

3DMark 2006

3DMark 2006

3DMark 06 is the worldwide standard in advanced 3D game performance benchmarking and the latest version in the popular 3DMark series! 3DMark06 tests include all new HDR/SM3.0 graphics tests, advanced SM2.0 graphics tests, AI and physics driven single and multiple cores or processor CPU tests and a collection of comprehensive feature tests to reliably measure next generation gaming performance today.

3D Mark 2006

We almost didn't run 3DMark06 as this is a 'gaming' article, but since so many gamers run 3DMark06 tossing the results in couldn't hurt! In 3D Mark 2006 the test runs default at 1280x1024 and that is what we stuck with since most people don't change the settings. With both systems running the same Corsair memory modules and XFX 8800GTX video card it was shocking to see a 1600 point difference in the overall 3DMark06 score that was shown betwen the two $200 processors.

3D Mark 2006

Taking a closer look at the benchmark results we found that the CPU score shows why the overall score is the way it ended up.  The AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ processor has more horsepower to get the job done over the Intel E6300. 

Final Thoughts and Conclusions

It's obvious from our real-world game testing that when anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering are enabled at normal resolutions that both the AMD and the Intel test systems performed too close to call a clear winner. In games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl that use deferred shading since it can't support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled we can notice some performance differences between AMD and Intel. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl it was clear that the AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ processor was able to play the game with a higher frame rate.

AMD A64 X2 5600+ Processor

When it comes to pricing the $183.99 AMD 5600+ processor and $168.99 DFI LanParty UT NF590 SLI-M2R/G motherboard brought the price of the pair to $352.98. On the other hand the $185 Intel C2D E6300 and $169.99 After Rebate EVGA 122-CK-NF67-A1 nForce 680i LT SLI motherboard totaled $354.99  Both the processors and motherboard used in this article were just a dollar apart from the competition, which made for a really great article based on price points.

As for which $185 Intel or AMD processor is better for desktop gaming rig it's a close call, but AMD pulled off more victories than Intel on the games that we benchmarked.  Thanks to the huge price cut that AMD recently set in motion consumers get a ton for their money and the AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ processor is a heck of a bargain for those looking to build a gaming rig. 

AMD Test Platform

Rumors are going around that Intel is also going to be cutting prices and launching several new processors in the near future, which will then place the Intel Core 2 Duo E6420 Processor in the sub $200 price range.  Once this happens we will see if we can pick one up and bring you updated benchmarks to make sure you are getting the best bang for your buck!

With the price war no matter which processor you choose one can really go wrong, as the performance from either of them is amazing for the price they are selling these at.  When Intel counters the AMD price drop it will only get that much better! This article didn't cover overclocking, which would be in Intel's favor as the 1.86GHz E6300 is an overclocking monster than can easily reach over 3.0GHz with the right components.  The 2.8GHz AMD 5600+ can easily overclock to 3.1GHz, which will give it better performance, but not the same increase as the Intel processor. This is good information for overclockers, but since many people don't overclock it shouldn't impact which one you buy.

Update (4-22-2007 6am Central): An update will be published once Intel officially lowers desktop processor pricing as the Core 2 Duo 6420 will be the new sub $200 processor that will compete with the 5600+. It wasn't tested as it wasn't released when this article was published!

Legit Bottom Line: AMD has reduced the AMD A64 X2 5600+ price by 42%, which makes it a heck of a bargain. The 5600+ out performs the Intel Core 2 Duo E6300 Processor in price performance, thanks to its new lower price.