Intel Core 2 Duo E6600

30th Sep 2006 | 23:00

Intel Core 2 Duo E6600

Where is the sweet spot in this new chip?

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

A good middle of the road option for a decent price

Like:

<p>Good value</p>

Dislike:

<p>Limited overclocking potential</p>

Comfortably the quickest and most efficient PC processor ever. That will be Intel's impossibly impressive new dual-core desktop CPU, Core 2 Duo. If you've been following our coverage of this new wonderchip, you'll already be familiar with its huge range of talents.

It not only humiliates Intel's previous desktop offering - the hot and bothered Pentium D dual-core processor - but it also beats the AMD Athlon 64 X2 at its own game by combining cool running, mercilessly efficient clock-for-clock performance with colossal outright number crunching grunt.

Of course, you'll also have a handle on the full Core 2 Duo feature set, including that clever new four issue- wide execution core, the massively improved SSE and integer performance. There's also the shared cache memory pool that, along with some nifty instruction handling, does such an excellent job of masking the inherent inefficiencies of Intel's offchip memory controller and CPU bus.

We don't have to remind you that Core 2 Duo is 64-bit and also packs Intel's operating system virtualisation technology. It really is the all season, every reason desktop processor.

But if Core 2 Duo in general is a good thing, where exactly are the value and performance sweet spots in the new range of chips? For starters, it's worth noting the surprisingly reasonable launch pricing. Intel means to do serious damage to AMD and has positioned nearly every model at extremely competitive price points.

The fun kicks off at just £125 for the entry-level Core 2 Duo E6300. On paper, the E6300 is distinctly underwhelming thanks to a core clockspeed of 1.86GHz and just 2MB of cache memory. But don't be fooled. In practice, it's quicker in many applications than a dual-core Pentium D running at twice the clockspeed.

Crucially, it also has the measure of AMD's bargain basement dual-core offering, the X2 3800, typically by around 10 to 20 per cent. The E6400 is the other 2MB chip in the new Core 2 Duo family and ups the clock speed ante to 2.13GHz. It's otherwise identical to the E6300, but the £50 price premium doesn't make it look like enormously good value.

But if you're after serious performance, settle for nothing less than the 2.4GHz E6600, which can be bought for around £250. Along with the healthy clockspeed boost, it packs the full 4MB helping of L2 cache memory. In most current applications, Core 2 does just fine with 2MB.

However, for future applications and for the potentially greater data demands of a 64-bit operating system, that 4MB cache pool certainly provides peace of mind. And the E6600 is a chip that - more often than not - will match or exceed the performance of AMD's finest, the £600 Athlon 64 FX-62.

As for the final two chips in the Core 2 Duo range, it's a case of diminishing returns. Typically priced at just over £400, the 2.67GHz E6700 adds less than 300MHz to the mix. Granted, it's an enormously powerful processor, capable of such party tricks as smoothly decoding multiple high definition H.264 video streams and generally thrashing just about any application you throw at it. But it's certainly not good value, which goes doubly for the X6800 Extreme Edition model.

With a clockspeed of 2.93GHz it's a great showcase for just what the Core 2 architecture can achieve and delivers a tantalising glimpse of where mainstream PC performance will be less than 12 months from now. However, at £750 it's a chip only the ludicrously well-heeled or those with a laughably laid back attitude to lucre need worry about.

An impressive range of CPUs, then. But are there any weaknesses? Well, PC Plus conducted some informal investigations which indicated that AMD's Athlon 64 Hammer core closes the gap a whisker in a 64-bit environment.

Similarly, as the number of cores crammed into a single CPU increases in future, that creaky old Intel front side bus could prove a serious liability. In truth, however, both 64-bit and mainstream quad-core computing are a way off yet. Our only significant reservation, therefore, involves upgradability. Intel has a nasty habit of rendering even relatively recent desktop chipsets redundant.

Buy a Core 2 Duo based system today, and it's very possible you won't be able to upgrade to the latest Intel CPU 12 months from now without buying a new motherboard to match. Still, the overall situation is simple enough. Core 2 Duo is both surprisingly affordable and incredibly effective. Jeremy Laird

ComputingMotherboardUpgradesIntel
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