Several months ago, I wrote about my little experiment with Clarkdale, where I built a small form factor system, based around a Core i5 661 CPU, an Asus H55 motherboard and a Radeon HD 5850 graphics card. That system also used a pricey, 250GB SSD, which was a little over the top for an otherwise modest system, but the idea was to make it small, quiet and low power.

Quite a few people critiqued the article, and most of the critiques revolved around the lack of performance data. After all, the general feeling went, how do we know this is really a good system? It’s pricey, to be sure, but we also have no way of judging performance.

As it happens, I have another small form factor system in the basement lab, which happens to be running a Core i5 750. Ignoring hard drive performance for the moment, all I really needed to do was swap out the graphics card, since the Lynnfield system was running an older Radon HD 4870. So I dropped in a Radeon HD 5850 and took both systems for a spin.

Price versus Performance

There’s a time and place for integrated graphics – but not for PC gaming. Dropping in a Radeon HD 5850 likely means the system will be used for PC gaming – which was my intent all along. The Core i5 661 is priced nearly identically with the Core i5 750. Beyond price, the differences are pretty substantial:

·         Clock speed: 3.33GHz (Clarkdale) versus 2.66GHz (Lynnfield)

·         Maximum Turbo Frequency:     3.6GHz (Clarkdale) versus 3.2GHz (Lynnfield)

·         Dual core with hyper-threading (Clarkdale) versus quad core without hyper-threading (Lynnfield)

·         4MB shared L3 cache (Clarkdale) versus 8MB shared L3 cache (Lynnfield)

·         TDP:   87W versus 95W (Lynnfield)

So Clarkdale has a 25% raw clock speed advantage and a 12.5% maximum turbo boost performance. Lynnfield has the edge in cache – while both have a shared L3 cache, the sheer cache size gives Lynnfield an edge over Clarkdale in cache sensitive apps. Lynnfield also has four actual, physical cores, rather than two physical plus two SMT (virtual) cores. Interestingly, Clardale only has a modest TDP advantage over Lynnfield.

With these thoughts in mind, I ran a number of game benchmarks, plus a few other performance tests. Given the clock speed disparity versus cache size and number of cores, I didn’t expect big performance disparities. As it turns out, I was in for a few surprises.

System Configuration

These systems weren’t identically configured, but were similar.

Component

Clarkdale System

Lynnfield System

CPU

Core i5 661 @ 3.33GHZ base

Core i7 750 @ 2.67GHz base

Motherboard

Asus P7H55-M EVO

Gigabyte GA-P55M-UD4

Memory

2 x 2GB OCZ DDR3-1600 @ 1333

2 x 2GB OCZ DDR3-1600 @ 1333

GPU

XFX Radeon HD 5850

XFX Radeon HD 5850

Hard Drive

OCZ 250GB SSD

WD Caviar Blue 640GB

Optical Drive

Asus BD-ROM / DVD+/-RW

Lite-On DVD+/-RW

PSU

Cooler Master 500W

Cooler Master 500W

The key differences in components were motherboards (Asus H55 versus Gigabyte P55) and hard drive (an SSD versus a standard rotating media drive.) None of the tests I ran were particularly storage intensive, and any power advantage due to drive differences were pretty minimal.

Non-Game Performance
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  • kani - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    I think Lynnfield wins in some bandwidth intensive games because of the on chip pci-e bridge. The newer Clarksdale units lack this (at least to my knowledge) and so loose. I also recall this sort of advantage when the i5 750 came out and was tested vs the older i7 models. Some games like this extra bandwidth, others do not. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, May 05, 2010 - link

    I'll be honest. I read this just like any other review (rarely do I look at the author unless I'm going to post a response), and was left shocked at the poor quality.

    I'm not a grammar/spelling/etc. police so I could care less if punctuation is not perfect (probably my post is riddled with errors, sue me). I also don't particularly mind flipping back to previous pages because the descriptions of products are constantly being changed from one sentence to the next (but this is somewhat annoying). I'm also a pretty data oriented person so bland writing doesn't turn me off either. Let's say I'm pretty easy to please.

    It's been beaten to death; we all know that in most modern games everything is GPU limited within reason (celeron to i7 is not within reason). Yes FarCry2 is the exception to the rule and it will be important to see if this trend becomes more common in the future, but for the most part the same article has been hashed out for the last 5 years (probably longer).

    There is virtually nothing beneficial that can be gleaned from the tests run. By having so many variables from the HD, to the mobo, to the CPU, any data generated has no way of being understood. So for the 0.01% of people that have these 2 identical systems in their house congratulations, they can use this article to decide which to game on....
    Reply
  • hob196 - Thursday, May 06, 2010 - link

    Why do you use 'Lynnfield' and 'Clarkdale' in the article and 'i5' and 'i7' in the graphs, this is really confusing to the casual observer who doesn't know their chip code-names off by heart. Reply
  • ReaM - Tuesday, May 11, 2010 - link

    If you want to keep one of these systems until 2012, then i5 Dual Core will be a waste of money.

    When games will finally use all 4 cores - and most of the upcoming games certainly will, you people will regret buying a Dual Core.

    Clarkdale is a no no no.
    Reply
  • xrror - Tuesday, June 01, 2010 - link

    In the last paragraph: "If I were gulding an HTPC, I’d drop down to a lower priced CPU,"

    Although I must admit, "gilding" would be WAY more entertaining =D
    Reply

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