Review: Intel's Conroe Vs. AMD's Dual-Core Athlon

In a head-to-head comparison, the CRN Test Center pits Intel's soon-to-be-released Conroe, the Core 2 Extreme processor, against AMD's top-of-the-line Athlon FX62 dual-core processor. See which one comes out on top.

July 13, 2006

5 Min Read

The sleeping giant of Intel has now arisen.

After years, the chip giant is set to reclaim the desktop performance crown from crosstown rival Advanced Micro Devices with the launch of Conroe, its much-anticipated next-generation processor.

In a head-to-head comparison, the CRN Test Center put Intel's soon-to-be-released Core 2 Extreme Processor and AMD's top-of-the-line Athlon FX62 Dual Core processor through the paces. Initial test results show that Intel's latest processor lives up to the hype and outpaces AMD's best by almost 28 percent.

Intel's advances on AMD's territory doesn't end with just performance, but also includes lower power requirements and reduced costs, a combination that could prove fatal to AMD's growth in the desktop processor market. What's more, AMD is several months away from anything new in the desktop processor market, leaving the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company's current Athlon product line very vulnerable to the mammoth marketing machine of Intel, Santa Clara, Calif.

There are three critical technical elements that a chip manufacturer needs to succeed in today's competitive environment: performance, power consumption and price, all of which can be readily measured. Beyond the technical end of the spectrum are other elements, including product availability, vendor support and marketing acumen. Test Center engineers set out to look at all of those elements to determine how Conroe will impact the channel and help to generate system sales and upgrades. On the technical front, two test systems were assembled to compare Conroe to Athlon on as level of a playing field as possible.

For the Intel test system, the Test Center selected a Core 2 Extreme Processor X6800 ($999 MSRP) along with an Intel Desktop Board, the D975XBX ($230 street), which is built around the 975X express chipset. For the AMD test system, the Test Center chose an Athlon FX62 Dual Core processor ($1,031 street) and an Asus M2N32SLI-DLX motherboard ($240 street), which is based on the Nvidia nForce 590 SLI chipset. Each system was fitted with an appropriate CPU cooler from Spire.

The rest of the components used in this comparison were selected to keep things as equal as possible. The same Antec 550-watt Neo HE power supply was used on both test boards as was the same pair of Corsiar CM2X512-8500 RAM modules and EVGA GeoForce 7800GT PCI-X video cards. Both systems were equipped with a Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 750-Gbyte Serial ATA hard drive. Windows XP Service Pack 2 was installed on both test systems, and the latest drivers were downloaded from the company's respective Web sites.

Test Center engineers wanted to pursue a course where channel players could easily replicate these tests. With that in mind, Test Center engineers selected Performance Test 6.0 and BurnInTest 5.1 from Passmark Software (, both of which can be downloaded as trial versions from the company. For power consumption tests, a Kill A Watt power monitor from P3 International was used.

NEXT: Performance and Power Scores Basic power consumption tests were performed by powering only the motherboard, CPU, CPU cooling fan, video card, keyboard and a single RAM model. The system power supply was connected to the Kill A Watt device. The system was booted and the BIOS setup screen was loaded. Under those conditions, the AMD FX62-based test system drew an average of 152 watts, while the Intel X6800 system drew 138 watts. Of course, power requirements will change with the load placed upon the processor and the peripherals connected, but initial indications show that the X6800 sips power more efficiently than the AMD FX62.

Performance was a different story altogether. With a level playing field, using much of the same components, the Intel X6800 pulled ahead of the AMD FX62. Some of the performance advantage can be attributed to the fact that the X6800 runs at 2.93GHz, while the FX62 runs at 2.8GHz. Also, the FX62 is based upon a 90-nanometer design, while the X6800 uses a 65-nanometer design. The AMD FX62 earned an overall Passmark score of 670.5, while the Intel X6800 scored 925.2 overall. The overall score is based on all components in the system, including hard-drive speed and 3-D graphics performance.

With the systems configured as close to equal as possible, Intel outpaced AMD by almost 28 percent. To narrow down where the CPU's strengths and weaknesses are, Test Center engineers dove a little further into the tests to look at individual benchmarks. For example, the X6800 scored a 261.5 for integer math, while the FX62 scored a 172.6.

Another test showed that the Intel X6800 scored a 1,351.6 for CPU image rotation, while the AMD FX62 scored 765.3. As Test Center engineers delved even further, it was clear that Intel had taken a lead in performance, but that lead varied based on the individual tests.

While Intel has nailed the performance and power consumption benchmarks, surpassing AMD, there is still much more to a CPU that just plain performance. With that in mind, Intel has continued its commitment to virtualization with the inclusion of on-chip support. The company also has added on-chip virus protection with an execute bit disable function. Other enhancements include on-chip management capabilities and speed control technologies. All of the elements that Intel has included should help solution providers derive additional service revenue from Intel's platform, once the software becomes available to leverage those features. AMD has been no slouch in those areas either. The chip maker's new AM2-based processors also include antivirus and hardware virtualization support.

With all of the chips on the table, so to speak, Intel has pulled ahead in the desktop market by providing a faster, cheaper CPU than the competition. But that victory may be shortlived. AMD can quickly rebalance the scales by increasing clock speeds and lowering prices.

What's more, several system builders have turned to overclocking to boost the speed of AMD's processors, which very well could bring performance on a par with Intel.

One thing is certain, however: Intel's re-emergence as a performance leader will fuel a new performance war on the desktop, with pricing and availability being the primary weapons used.

The real challenge ahead for both vendors and for the channel alike is generating the need for these advanced technologies on today's corporate desktops.

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