A return to form

If you’re a performance enthusiast, you’ve probably chosen AMD every time you’ve had the urge to upgrade or buy a new machine. Now though, it seems like Intel CPUs are worth a second look...

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By  Jason Saundalkar Published  July 31, 2006

|~||~||~|Though the scorching heat, insane humidity and unrest in the region has thrown a damper on things of late, as a PC enthusiast this past month, I couldn’t have been happier. This is because I got to try out Intel’s awesome new Core 2 Duo (codenamed Conroe). Based on the new ‘Core’ architecture, which is different in every way that matters from the older Pentium 4 (P4) ‘Netburst’ design, Conroe is a hot-rod on every level. Perhaps the best bit of news here is that though the 2.66GHz E6700 chip is insanely fast, it isn’t Intel’s flagship chip. Yes, there’ll be an even faster CPU out there in a few weeks known as the Core 2 Extreme! (For those with deep pockets). With Conroe, it seems Intel has got its act back together after remaining with the arguably lacklustre P4 design. Of course, I’m not happy that it has taken Intel some six years to realise that NetBurst was a bad idea, with its long pipelines that essentially meant less work per clock cycle, I am happy to see that the company has learned from its mistakes and recovered in style. Besides the fact that Conroe is stupendously fast, I’m also thrilled as an enthusiast to once again have a real choice of CPUs to pick from. Prior to Conroe's launch, whenever I was upgrading my machine or helping friends put together their own rigs, I ran screaming in the opposite direction every time a sales man tried to sell us a P4 chip, be it a single or dual-core model. There was no real choice - if we wanted the best performance, we went for AMD. To be fair, Intel’s P4 CPUs in the last few months have been price comparable and in some cases cheaper than AMD’s offerings so if you were out for a value deal, the Intel route had appeal. It’s worth noting that this difference isn’t only because Intel enforced price cuts on its CPUs but rather also because AMD did what any sensible company would do when it saw that its chips were the business, it made sure they weren’t selling them at unreasonably low margins. Of course now that Intel is so seriously back in the game, the renewed competition will almost certainly result in another CPU price war and, as always, that’s good news for consumers. It also means that AMD now has to work hard to produce an even better chip if it hopes to usurp Intel’s newest creation. It’s quite obvious to me with AMD’s AM2 that just adding a DDR2 memory controller to the Athlon 64 core isn’t going to put any sort of dent into Conroe's armour. If all this has wetted your upgrade appetite and you want to build a killer rig (or upgrade your existing one) soon, here are some points to consider before moving forward. From an AMD standpoint, if you’re already using an Athlon 64 system, you’ll need a new motherboard, RAM and of course, CPU. This is because AM2 works only with DDR2 memory whereas the older Athlon 64’s used standard DDR. I advise you to buy a board that uses nVidia’s new nForce 590 SLI as it is designed with enthusiasts in mind and is currently the highest-end chipset from nVidia. If you want to save some cash however, you can get away with the nForce 570 SLI or Ultra. The 570 Ultra lacks SLI support so you should decide in advance whether or not you plan to use multi-GPU technology. If you choose to go the Core 2 Duo route (and my suggestion is that you should), there’s a very slight chance you may not have to upgrade your motherboard. This is because certain 975X motherboards released in the last month support the Conroe CPU and if you happened to buy such a board in that time period you may be in luck. Hit your motherboard manufacturer’s website to verify this before whipping out your wallet. If you don’t plan to run a multi-GPU rig and want to squeeze more performance out of Conroe however, here’s a tip. Consider buying a motherboard with the 965-chipset instead of the 975X. I say this because bizarrely, the 965 supports DDR2 800 RAM, whereas the 975X does not. Intel CPUs are memory bandwidth hungry so slotting in some DDR2 800 and running the memory bus at that frequency will add to Conroe’s performance. I’ve also heard rumors that Intel will release an updated 975X to support DDR2 800 but for those of you that can’t wait, grab a 965 and get to work.||**||

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