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Review: Intel's Conroe spanks AMD FX-62's botty - for real!!

by Tarinder Sandhu on 23 May 2006, 05:01


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Today is intended to be a joyous day for AMD. A day when it successfully launches a range of K8-class processors that adopt a new form-factor, AM2, and sport new DDR2 memory controllers.

Please remember to read our AMD Socket AM2: Athlon 64 FX-62 and nForce5 590 SLI review. We also have reviews of the SCAN 3XS Athlon 64 FX-62 AM2 system and the Evesham Technology FX-62 System.

The crowning glory is set to be the new AMD Athlon 64 FX-62 CPU. It will replace the S939 FX-60 as the standard-bearer and flagship processor for the green team. This dual-core CPU raises the frequency to 2.8GHz and adds in a new controller that makes it compatible with high-speed DDR2 memory. In addition, AMD has taken this opportunity to change to an S940 form factor that you'll probably know as AM2.

We've taken a detailed look here at the Athlon 64 FX-62's performance. As you will see, it is just about the fastest consumer-level CPU on sale today. Better still, we have little doubt that AMD can scale it to 3.2GHz by the end of 2006.

That might look to leave Intel in a precarious situation. Its direct competitor to the FX-62, the Pentium Extreme Edition 965, is a decent CPU and an 'upgrade' from Prescott in its own right. But, other than a couple of wins in our multimedia tests, it's unable to wrestle away the overall performance crown that's been passed from the S939 FX-60 to the new FX.

Indeed, looking at our gaming benchmarks, our unambiguous advice for a well-heeled customer who must have a system today has to be - opt for an FX-62 AM2 system. We've been preaching this AMD mantra for a while now, and it's as true today as it was a year ago.

Intel's Presler will soon be pensioned off; a stark reminder of how ineffectual the NetBurst architecture has been when faced with AMD's K8 design. So how can the company respond to AMD's latest onslaught - from AM2?

Well, Intel decided to look to its mobile CPUs as a source of inspiration. The current dual-core incarnation, codenamed Yonah, performs so well that motherboard makers are eager to release desktop boards that can take advantage of its performance-per-MHz power. The upshot, as far as future desktop performance is concerned, is the engineering of a new core that takes the best bits of Yonah and then adds some more grunt. It's known to the enthusiast community as Conroe, and much like the loud-mouthed Chris Moyles, it may well turn out to be a saviour.

Conroe - we got two!

We first learned of Conroe's alleged performance when our Editor-In-Chief, David Ross, managed to gain access to a set of benchmarks that showed a 2.66GHz model soundly beating an overclocked AMD Athlon FX-60 in every test. But some of us took the staggeringly impressive results with a substantial pinch of salt. After all, they were produced in strict Intel-controlled conditions with who-knows-what optimisations present. If you've not done so already, you might want to take a peek here at those numbers.

What may also surprise you is that Intel already lists the unreleased Conroe on its web site, under the official branding of Core 2 Duo. The formal release is at least a month off but we, being an inquisitive and resourceful bunch of hacks, have managed to procure a couple of Conroe samples to test in our own (unbiased) lab.

They feature a dual-core architecture that's vaguely similar to Yonah's, with each core having access to a shared 4MB L2 cache. Pesky NDAs stop us from spilling the beans on just what makes the Conroe tick internally. What we can tell you is that the processors were clocked-in significantly below the 2.8GHz-rated Athlon 64 FX-62.

We can also confirm that the E6700 will ship with a 65W TDP (half that of Presler 965 and practically half FX-62's) and run on an Intel 975X motherboard with a Conroe-supporting BIOS and a couple of hardware changes - meaning that the 65nm CPUs will be released in LGA775 packaging. Sources indicate that the majority of 975X motherboards manufactured post-April 2006 have the necessary hardware modifications in place (a couple of resistors, supposedly). Intel is keen for Conroe to be a drop-in upgrade for its partners.

We've managed to run a complete set of benchmarks for both Conroe CPUs in our own lab environment guaranteed free of bias and we've compared their performance to the Presler Extreme Edition 965 and, uniquely, also to today's newcomer from AMD, the Athlon 64 FX-62 AM2.

So can Conroe really rain on AMD's parade? Or is it a damp squib?

Read on.