Q8200, Q8300: which will take over from the Q6600? - BeHardware
>> Processors

Written by Marc Prieur

Published on November 18, 2008

URL: http://www.behardware.com/art/lire/739/

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Launched in January 2007, the Core 2 Quad Q6600 has been Intel’s affordable quad core alternative for almost two years. The term affordable is of course relative as Intel first priced the Q660 at $851, as against $999 for the QX6700. This quickly dropped to $530 in April however and it has been on sale for $266 since July.

Intel has also been constantly repositioning the Q6600, dropping it to $224 in April 2008 and $193 in July. The last and presumably final price cut dates from mid October when it was reduced to $183. At a time when Intel is slowly consigning these 65 nm processors to the scrapheap, does it have a successor to this best-seller?

A quad? What for?
First of all, it should be remembered that it’s not really in everyone’s interest to invest in a quad core type processor. To be able to use all the power such a processor gives, you must either be using applications that can really put 3 or 4 cores to work, or be intensively multitasking with apps that don’t.

Today, any creation heavy application, whether graphics, computer assisted maintenance or video encoding software, are able to get the most out of a quad core and if you use these then a quad is clearly advantageous. Among so called “heavy” applications, video games are unfortunately lagging behind. Although the use of dual core has now become usual, very few actually get much out of a quad.

Among those that do are Supreme Commander, for which 3 cores make quite a difference during major battles. But remember, your adversaries must also be using one, otherwise you’ll be tagged to the slowest of them. Although Flight Simulator X only uses one thread for its rendering engine – which explains its asthmatic framerate performance when it comes to any demanding options even on the latest CPUs – it does gain from the other cores in terms of loading of textures, which can be an advantage in some scenes to eliminate tiny jerks or improve scene clarity. More generally, we note that Direct X 10 allows you to multithread the load from D3D or the driver (25 to 40% of the overall load!). Drivers must however be set up for this, which is not always the case with AMD. With NVIDIA, going from 2 to 4 cores gives a performance gain of 20% in Direct X 10!

When budgets are limited, given that the quad will set you back twice as much as the dual core while giving an equal spec in terms of cache and clock, you need to know exactly what you’re going to do with your processor. Of course, having a quad will mean you’ve got something in reserve.

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The 45nm quads

The 45nm quads
With the Phenoms not competitive with the Intel range from the point of view of performance, Intel didn’t really need to replace the Q6600. At the time of the launch of the 45nm Quad Core, then, Intel merely launched versions on which it cranked up the clock, and what’s worse is that we had to wait for the Q8x00 series to see any other quad at less than $200.

The L2 cache size of these processors was however significantly reduced. So, though the 65nm Q6x00s had 2x4 MB of L2, this has been reduced to only 2x2 MB on the Q8x00s. In contrast, the Q9x50s have 2x6 MB of L2 and the Q9x00 2x3 MB. We’ll look later at the impact cache size can have on performance.
Quad cores at more and more affordable prices
DollarsWhen Intel cut the price of the Q6600 to $266 in July 2007, it wasn’t in the interests of the company to sell too many of them. As you know, each quad core in the Core 2 range is made up of two “dual core” dies which are then packaged together. To make a quad core processor then, you have to use two dual cores. When you know that a 65nm dual core with a 4 MB cache costs at least $163, you just have to do the sums!

Intel seems to have done them anyway before positioning its 45nm quad core processors and it has been able to get away with it given the weakness of the competition from AMD. To make a Q8200 for example, which is sold at $193, Intel assembles 2 45nm Penryn dies with 2MB caches, or 2 … E5200s, which are sold at $74 each. Here, the quad is much more profitable than the dual core.

The same goes for the Q9300 which is sold at $266 for example, as against $113 for the E7200/E7300 dies that it uses. When you buy a 45nm quad, Intel’s margins are much more comfortable!
The Q8x00
There are currently two processors in the Q8x00 range:

- The Q8200, clocked at 2.33 GHz
- The Q8300, clocked at 2.50 GHz

In both cases Intel uses a FSB1333, with x7 and x7.5 multipliers.

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Power consumption and Overclocking

Power consumption
Moving to an engraving of 45nm has greatly reduced the power consumption of Intel processors, whether they be dual or quad core. Here’s the data obtained using hook-on ammeter at the ATX12V. Rememeber, in AMD processors, the memory controller is integrated in the processor, counting for about ten watts.

In comparison to the Q6600, the advantage of the Q8300 and the Q9300 here is obvious, with a saving of up to 27.6 watts in load! In addition to any ecological considerations, the reduced thermic output will be appreciated in terms of creating a both powerful and quiet machine.
Although this may not be a priority for everyone, overclocking is a parameter that isn’t to be ignored. It is difficult to turn your nose up at the gain in performance you can obtain free of charge by modifying a few parameters within the bios!

The Q6600 became the master of the art, it’s initial spec already a great help. To reach its frequency of 2400 MHz it applied a 9x multiplier with a bus clock of 266 MHz (with a QDR signal, FSB1066). This high multiplier gives a clock frequency of 3.6 GHz, even with the reasonable bus speed of 400 MHz (FSB1600). This clock doesn’t work with all processors of course but with the Q6600 you can reasonably expect to reach 3.4-3.6 GHz at a reasonable CPU voltage.

With the Q8200 and Q8300, it’s another story. They have a bus frequency of 333 MHz (FSB 1333) to which a 7 or 7.5 multiplier is applied. So, with an FSB of 450 MHz, you “only” get 3150 MHz on a Q8200 and 3375 MHz on a Q8300. If it were easy to increase the FSB quite a bit higher, this wouldn’t be a problem, but unfortunately this requires both processor and motherboard support.

On a P5QC ASUSTeK board based on a P45, our test Q8300 couldn’t get beyond an FSB of 470, even when we reduced its multiplier. This is what is known as the FSB Wall. Keeping the multiplier at 7.5, we were able to stabilise it at 3.4 GHz with the FSB at 453 MHz without increasing the base voltage of 1.2125v. This isn’t bad at all and at the same level as what is possible with the Q9x00, but with a Q9x50 you can easily get 3.6-3.8 GHz.

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Here we use the new processor test protocol that we set up for our test for Intel’s Core i7. You can check out that article for detail on each of the tests and configurations. We start by comparing performance at 2.5 GHz on different Intel 45 nm quad cores equipped with 2x2 MB, 2x3 MB and 2x6 MB of L2 cache, the 2x2 MB version serving as the 100% performance index.

Surprise! If there is an impact, it is much lower than expected. Performance is far from bad even with a cache that is three times as small. Going from 2x2 to 2x6 MB, we only really gain in WinRAR 3.8, Crysis and World In Conflict, with gains of 12%, 7% and 8% respectively. And between a cache of 2x2 and 2x3 MB, although notable, the difference remains small, so much so that the intermediary version hardly seems worthwhile at all.

Lets have a look now at the performance of the Q8200, Q8300 and Q300 and also the Phenom X4 9950 compared to a Q6600, which here serves as the 100% performance index.

Overall, the Q8200 is 2.1% faster than the Q6600, the DiVX encoding gains and in After Effects making up for the slight shortfall on the other applications. Q8300, which has a superior clock frequency to the Q6600, is 8.4% faster and only on the compression in WinRAR 3.8 does the good old Q6600 have the advantage. The Q9300 is the only chip that is in front in all cases. AMD lags with the Phenom X4 9950 which only obtains a performance level at 94.3% of the Q6600 (96.5% for games).

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In spite of its age, the Core 2 Quad Q6600 still has some life in it. Intel is having trouble replacing it with anything really convincing, so much so that it is still in the Intel range, unlike many 65nm CPUs. Obviously constraints are more commercial than technical here:« although the Q8200/Q8300s aren’t much better, they are significantly more profitable!

But does the consumer really gain as much as Intel? In terms of efficiency, whether in load or at rest, these top drawer processors do have the advantage. Performance is also at a good level: the impact of the reduction in L2 cache is less significant than we might have thought and the Penryn (Core 2 45nm) brings several improvements on the Conroe (Core 2 65nm), sometimes making all the difference.

Across our test protocol as a whole, the Q8200 is slightly faster than the Q6600, but this is more a result of significant gains on 2 applications that compensate for slight shortfalls on the 7 others. The Q8300 gives a more constant performance compared to the Q6600.

Beyond their official clock speed, the overclocking performance gains obtained are not insignificant. With its high multiplier coupled with Core architecture, the Q6600 was perfectly adapted for overclocking but the Q8300 and especially the Q8200 are less so. In fact any adept overclockers should avoid the Q8200. With the Q8300, you can get an honourable clock, even if it is still a bit frustrating to be limited by the FSB more than by the processor itself.

In the end, as you can see, in spite of various consecutive launches, there is no really suitable successor to the Q6600. For the moment then, while it is still available, it remains the best choice, although the Q8300, even if a bit more expensive, does have advantages over it in terms of performance and power consumption. Let’s hope then that the arrival of AMD’s Phenom II will provide a solution to the stalement that we’ve had for over a year now!

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