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Review: Intel Core 2 CPU refresh - QX6850 and E6750

by James Thorburn on 16 July 2007, 05:02

Tags: Core 2 Duo E6750, Core 2 Extreme QX6850, Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

Quick Link: HEXUS.net/qajdl

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Intel QX6850

A mere 368 days ago, Intel's desktop products were a shambles.

Although the company had been enjoying considerable success in the mobile arena with its Centrino, Pentium M and Core Duo processors, its desktop range was still based on the ageing NetBurst architecture.

Up until the end of Northwood's reign, the Pentium 4 had still been a viable contender in the enthusiast market, albeit for the most part beaten out by AMD Athlon 64 CPUs.

However, the Prescott core, with its longer pipeline aimed at pushing up clock speeds, fell foul of Intel's 90nm manufacturing process. Put simply, Prescott was designed to scale to, and compete with, the Athlon 64 at speeds of up to 5GHz. But it never even made it to 4GHz, topping out with the P4 670 at 3.8GHz.

Intel's market share had faltered and AMD had been reaping the rewards of its K8 architecture with a product line that was superior from top to bottom.

All that changed, though, 367 days ago.

As a for instance, according to Kelt Reeves, CEO of Falcon Northwest, "Orders went from 95 per cent non-Intel-based to 90 per cent Intel-based in one day".

The hype surrounding the Core 2 Duo had been building for months, with Intel releasing surprise performance figures showing a large advantage over AMD's finest. This was a massive departure from Intel's usual PR strategy of not even acknowledging its competitor.

Many were sceptical. After all, the results were from systems that Intel built itself and had running in its own office. However, come launch day and the reviews said it all.

Core 2 Duo was fastest in the majority of benchmarks, sometimes by a wide margin.

Initially, though, the new technology didn't trickle down to Intel's low-end CPUs. These were still based around NetBurst until the recent introduction of Celeron 400s and Pentium dual-core E21x0s that were based on Core microarchitecture. Mind you, the halo effect of having regained the high-end crown after a few years of AMD supremacy, certainly hadn't hurt in the interim.

No less shocking than the performance advantage that Intel suddenly enjoyed was the fact that the company pressed home its advantage with surprisingly keen pricing. After finally realising just how much things had swung around in Intel's favour, AMD responded in the only was it could - by slashing prices, then slashing them again and again.

Today, AMD's fastest single-socket Athlon X2, the 6000+, can be had for just £108. Yet, before the launch of the Core 2 Duo, the class-leading Athlon FX-62 would have cost you the thick end of £600!

AMD also tried to counter by increasing the clock speed of its X2 processors but such has been Intel's superiority that the company has felt little need to do anything similar in the upper echelons of its Core 2 Duo range. Okay, Quad-core Extreme Editions have been released - as have lower-end parts - but the E6700 which we've had since launch has remained the pinnacle for those who've wanted a CPU that isn't Extremely Expensive.

So a year on and Intel has finally decided to spice things up a bit. It's introducing CPUs that use a 1333FSB, as supported by the NVIDIA nForce 680i and Intel P35 chipsets we've looked at previously.

This move should give Conroe and Kentsfield an extra boost ahead of AMD's much-anticipated K10 architecture and Intel's own up-coming evolution of the Core microarchitecture, 45nm Penryn-based parts.

So, that's the background. Now, let's take a look at the new challengers - the dual-core Core 2 Duo E6750 and quad-core Core 2 Extreme QX6850.