In the computing and gaming industry there has been a constant struggle
between the hardware and software. Software companies develop new
applications that tax the best hardware and then the hardware companies
respond by creating new chips that can handle the software with
ease. Lately the hardware side has started to get far out ahead
of the software side.
On the CPU side of the game used to be purely CPU speed, but with the
speed of the chips starting to reach a peak the CPU makers were forced
to create new ways to increase performance. First it was the move
to 64 bit processing and now it’s on to adding a second processing core
to the chip. The new dual core chips should not be confused with
Intel’s Hyperthreading technology which offered a second software like
The dual core processors from Intel are named the Pentium D. The one we
have here today is the Pentium D 820. The Smithfield core is built on a
90nm process. Hyper-Threading is not in the Pentium D line but is
featured in the Pentium Extreme Edition. CPU throttling is also
non-existent on this chip as well. While I can understand the omission
of the throttling, I wonder why Intel decided to not include
Hyper-Threading on all their Pentium D lines.
Each 2.8GHz core on our Pentium D features 1MB of L2 cache and supports
an 800MHz FSB. The two cores lay side by side on the single chip. The
Socket LGA775 chip also features Intel’s EM64T, which allows for 64-bit
computing and access of more than 4GB of both virtual and physical
Power per watt’s going to be a big thing for Intel. They are going to
try to get as much power out of their processor while using less and
generating less heat to boot. With the 820, the dual core processor is
using less power than some of the top of the line single core
processors. The thermal design power of the Pentium D 820 is 115W.
Price wise, the Pentium D 820 is the lowest pricing dual processor chip
from Intel. As of this writing, you can pick on up for $245 from
NewEgg.com, which is second cheapest when searching with Pricewatch.
For comparison, the least expensive dual core Athlon is the X2 3800
running at 2.0GHz coming in at $322.
To see how the dual core 820P compares to normal processor I benched it against my old Pentium IV 630. The 630 is a single core processor that comes with Intel’s HyperThread technology. All components were run at the default speeds (no overclocking).
The test configuration was as follows:
- ECS PF5-Extreme motherboard
- 2 512MB sticks of Patriot DDR2 memory
- XFX 7800 GT OC
The first test I ran was PC Mark 2005 which includes some
multi-threading elements. Looking at the
results of the benchmarks it’s easy to see that even with a lower clock speed, the
multi-threaded 820 scored almost 700 PC Marks higher than the single core 630. This really shows off what a second core can
do in terms of performance.
Gaming performance is another matter. Looking at the numbers
it’s easy to tell that most games are not written to take advantage of dual
core CPU’s. I thought there was an
outside chance the F.E.A.R might but it looks like that’s not the case. It’s pretty easy to tell that most games are
more GPU bound than CPU bound right now.
The good news is that there are already developers who are looking to
take advantage of this new tech (such as Epic putting support for dual cores in
Unreal Tournament 2007).
While I was working on the review of the chip Nvidia
released the 81.85 version of the drivers which included added support for dual
core CPU’s. They didn’t release a lot
of information about the specifics of this support but since it was relevant to
the review I re-ran all of the benchmarks to see what kind of performance boost
the new drivers actually provided.
For the most part the new drivers provided little to no
boost in framerate (or a slight decrease).
The exception was Doom 3 which saw a fairly significant boost in framerate
with the new drivers. Again as this
technology is refined the more likely you are to see increased in frame rate.
A nice side benefit of using a dual core processor is that
multi-tasking is a lot faster and easier.
When I’m working on items for the site it’s not unusual for me to have
four or five different applications open and with the dual core processor,
performing multiple tasks was a lot faster and more reliable than usual the
single core processor.
If you are building a strictly gaming rig and are just
focused on performance for the next year you may want to pass on the dual core
processors for now. However if you plan
on keeping the processor for a while then the dual core line from Intel is certainly
worth looking as they are priced competitively with single core
processors. They also represent one of
the few hardware purchases that might actually provide faster performance in
the next year or so as software developers learn to program for the new
More On:Pentium 820P
If youâ€™re going to be building an Intel rig thereâ€™s no reason to not get a dual core chip. The 820 is a solid entry point into the dual core world.