Tuesday, 30 October 2007
Posted by Dave
There's an increasing industry momentum behind quad core processors. Which is what you'd expect since Intel wants to drive up the average price of the processor they ship in PCs and PC manufacturers are happy to have some new feature which drives up average selling prices and margins too. The situation is such that I've recently read reviews of things like gaming PCs where the authors have complained that the PC doesn't have a quad core processor. Despite the fact that in reality, for games, a dual core processor is cheaper and faster because generally you get a higher clocked unit for less money.
The popular 'wisdom', if you can call it that, is that game developers will come to grips with multi-core processing and there's all these games around the corner. However this has been said for quite some time now, remember dual-core processors have been on the market for an absolute age now. Even the supposedly multi-core and extremely CPU intensive Supreme Commanded ended up being a pigs ear. They made the game highly threaded but then didn't balance the threads across processors.
Most games, eg outside of the RTS genre, simply don't have a lot of things going on which lend themselves to offloading to another thread. Physics is one of the biggest ones, which is one of the reasons add-in physics cards are stupid. PCs have spare CPUs doing nothing in them as it is. Now the Crysis demo is out and they couldn't even be bothered to make that use anything other than a single core.
There's a solid case for a dual core processor. For a start the second processor is on the actual die. With absolutely no game support at all, generally your game runs on one core and Windows balances its own internal OS threads out onto the other core. Video encoding too, this works brilliantly on dual core. And of course most people end up only doing one CPU computationally intensive thing at once. That loads up one core, leaving the other for making your desktop and other apps responsive.
Current Intel quad core processors are actually two dual core processors in the same package and the power consumption ends up shooting up to around about the last generation of processors anyway. I think it's quite nice to have a fairly cool and quiet PC and that's a solid benefit of Intel's dual core stuff.
The news today is the launch of the new ridiculous extreme edition 'Penryn' quad core QX9650. This is a cool chip, don't get me wrong. It's got some nice enhancements and fabricated with 45nm, it's cooler, has more space for loads of cache and sports a new SSE4 which is something which absolutely can be used in games (in video drivers particularly). It's burning up benchmarks. Yet what's inside is basically two 'wolfdale' CPUs. It's that which is what we really need but of course if Intel are going to wrangle PR out of launching the new architecture it's going to be on-message with quad core stuff.
On the power side people have pointed out that the QX9650 used about the same power under load as the previous generation, the E6750 in particular. I'd rather take a processor that's able to offer more performance and use half the power, rather than adding another two largely underutilised cores. And I'd rather not pay for them too, given this part will likely cost in the region of £600 upwards. While the E6750 costs a meagre £117 and can be overclocked, easily, to outperform the QX9650 comfortably in games.
The thing is, the industry momentum continues. People benchmark this processor in countless reviews and they largely go for benchmarks, or at least feature heavily, those which show a clear benefit of quad core processors. Yet that's nothing at all to do with what you will be doing with your actual real world PC.
Why can't we put a stop to this. Enough is enough. Quad core when the software has caught up to even dual core. Give us 45nm dual core processors now, that don't cost £600, that use less power than the chips we're using now. It's high time that the whole industry of enthusiast hardware editorial journalists stopped trying to sell up the latest and greatest and actually got back to what matters to people who actually use computers.