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Who Says You Need Four Cores?

Who Says You Need Four Cores?
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I have a confession to make. Although I work in a lab filled with the latest hardware, my workstation still consists of a 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 processor. Sure, it features Hyper-Threading, but the chip is six years old. Why am I still using it? Because it runs on a platform that has given me nary a problem. It’s stable, fast enough in Vista to drive four monitors with 15 different windows open at any given time, and remarkably quiet in its little Shuttle box.

But everyone has their limits, and after six years, it’s definitely time to move on. As I considered the pieces for my next PC, I first contemplated an affordable quad-core box based on Intel’s Q9300 or AMD’s Phenom X4 9850 BE. No—I’d rather see how low I could go on the system’s thermal footprint while still achieving reasonable performance.

And then it hit me. Do I really need a quad-core processor? Is the software I run really benefiting from the extra complexity? Could I not get more horsepower from dual-core chip? After all, it’d still be a tremendous upgrade from that 2.8 GHz Pentium 4.

In the interest of full disclosure, my workstation doesn’t touch gaming—nor could it, sporting Nvidia’s Quadro NVS 440. For entertainment I turn to a dual-processor Xeon-based machine that can’t be run after 10:00PM for fear of a noise complaint from the neighbors. Nevertheless, I have to imagine that there are plenty of enthusiasts out there with a solid little desktop sputtering along doing menial productivity-type tasks. So let’s take a look at what it means to upgrade to an affordable configuration with modern components as I build my next six-year system.

The Contenders

There are actually several strong platforms available right now that’d be perfect foundations for a basic workstation upgrade. From AMD, the 780G and 790GX both help save money through capable integrated graphics cores. Nvidia’s GeForce 8200 does the same thing. Intel’s P45 chipset looks to be a strong contender if you don’t mind spending some money on an add-in video card.

However, we’re focusing on two specific chipsets here: AMD’s 740G and Intel’s G45. They aren’t meant to go head-to-head—if they were, we could tell you the performance outcome right now. Rather, the former gives us an ultra-affordable entry point for exploring platform performance, while the latter kicks things up a notch with more current technology. Is the 740G enough? Where are our bottlenecks when we make price the priority? Is Intel’s G45 finally up to snuff with regard to graphics? Most important, do you really need a quad-core CPU or will one of today’s dual-core chips serve up enough muscle to stand the test of time?

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  • 21 Hide
    curryj02 , August 19, 2008 10:11 AM
    so quad isn't worth it now... what about in six years. just as Hyper Threading has kept his P4 going so long, going quad will have the same effect. Quad doesn't scale now, but in six years? dual core will seem like single core is now - quad core = new dual core. Just my two cents
  • 18 Hide
    genored , August 19, 2008 8:30 AM
    If you haven't bought a new computer in 6 years don't do a review about your epic fail of picking computer parts. I mean your just embarrassing....
  • 17 Hide
    iocedmyself , August 19, 2008 12:51 PM
    Seriously, i want an answer to this question Mr.Guilty editor..

    HOW OUT OF TOUCH CAN ALL OF YOU AT THG POSSIBLY GET?!?

    How can you possibly expect anyone to put any stock in your advice, your findings or even you basic hardware knowledge after starting the "article" out by admiting that you, someone that tests and reviews hardware for a living, is not only using a 6 year old CPU, but an Intel pentium 4...at 2.8ghz. Your cpu of choice is not only based on arguably the worst cpu arch produced in the last 15 years (possibly second only to the original itanium) but not even the best performing PoS out of the entire craptastic line. Performance is marginally better than a P3 at 1.8ghz, if at all, memory performance is laughable even by intel standards and the cpu can easily double as a hot-plate when you get a late night craving for scrambled eggs... and a nice thick steak. The fact that you have a workstation gpu paired with such a horrid cpu further baffles what kind of broken logic has been used over the years to justify continued use.

    Given the massive shift in the quality of THG content, it's not a suprising confession, but still depressing in light of the fact that so many ill-informed readers trust the findings of THG articles at face value. There is really no exscuse. For ssssshhhhhhaaaaaammmmme.

    Aside from the fact that you compare one of the older based AMD boards tech's against the newest considerably more expensive intel IGP board, the exscuse of "it being the cheapest of the low power/low price option is either a very thinly vieled means of manipulation, or is just "one of the cheap-er" options. The use of a 9850 phenom on a 740G board is just stupid. Aside from the painfully obvious performance issues created by sticking a $200 cpu on a $60 board (something that i can only picture being done by the most unknowledgable of people capable of building their own computer) a 780G is actually only $6 more expensive at...$66. Which gets you an IGP with DX10 capability from DX9.0b.

    I can only assume that the idiotic trend of using 32bit vista as test system was continued here, though i didn't see my assumption confirmed or denied, it should be noted that 64bit Vista ultimate can actually be run on a 780G board using a single core 1.8ghz semperon and still be capable of smooth B-Ray/HD video playback. 32bit Vista only actually taking advantage of 2 gigs of ram, regardless of the 3.56 gigs that may be acknowledged by task manager makes for a much cheaper base componet cost.

    Foxconn A7GM-S AM2+/AM2 AMD 780G ---------------------------------$ 66
    AMD Sempron LE-1100 Sparta 1.9GHz Socket AM2 45W Single-Core------$ 25
    PNY OPTIMA 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)-----------$ 39
    SAMSUNG Spinpoint F1 HD502lJ 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb------------$ 69
    Total Base hardware cost------------------------------------------$199

    That would be the cheapest Vista capable AMD system loosely following the system guidelines. However if you have any interest in an equally priced comparison yagainst the intel system.


    G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)-----$ 89
    GIGABYTE GA-MA790GP-DS4H AM2+/AM2 AMD 790GX ----------------------$135
    AMD Phenom 9150E 1.8GHz Socket AM2+ 65W Quad-Core ----------------$170
    SAMSUNG Spinpoint F1 HD502lJ 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb------------$ 69
    Total base componet cost------------------------------------------$463

    I list the 9150E as it's low power and aimed at bussiness systems, as this is what the build is supposed to reflect....an office desktop, i think it's fitting. Granted you could go with a regular old phenom for around the same price, could drop down to a 780g board and save $70 or so, chances are the average actual upgrade, and not new build will not require the cost of a hard-disk.

    All the damaged evidence considered, is made even more pointless by your choice to go with the 780G board which you chose not to use in the review. Nor did you choose to do any virtualization benches....probably because that is yet another on the long list of things intel can't do well,,,,

    I'm continually amazed, every other day i read an article on THG and actually say aloud to myself "they can't possibly do anything worse then what i just read" but you guys seem to prove me wrong at every turn.

    You seem to always be able to become increasingly misinformed.
Other Comments
  • 12 Hide
    Anonymous , August 19, 2008 8:07 AM
    Well. It seem like virtualisation was left out as consider multi-core is critical for running virtualise application.
  • 5 Hide
    apache_lives , August 19, 2008 8:12 AM
    waste of time to read, its been known for years that you dont compare clock speeds (in this case, 2.53ghz) - you compare price points! Wheres an Intel Quad? or a lower end Intel like a E4600 etc? and after all that BS, why the cheap AMD board thats "$10 - $15 less" against that expensive ass intel board? pffftttt
  • 11 Hide
    The_Trutherizer , August 19, 2008 8:14 AM
    I completely don't get the point of the phenom 9850 in this review. Isn't this supposed to be a comparison of budget, workstation systems with dual core CPUs? Why put it in there? If you put a current Intel quad core in for consideration then it's power consumption would be high as well.

    What exactly are you trying to prove here? In any case. Any idiot knows that currently Intel's Dual core is the ideal processor. Currently of course.

    And what the hell were you thinking with the motherboard? A 740G? You even state in your conclusion that the 780G is a more fair comparison to the G45? Of course it is! Why did you even review the 740G then?

    I mean what a conflicting hodge podge of an article!
  • 18 Hide
    genored , August 19, 2008 8:30 AM
    If you haven't bought a new computer in 6 years don't do a review about your epic fail of picking computer parts. I mean your just embarrassing....
  • 15 Hide
    rtfm , August 19, 2008 9:00 AM
    If you give a million monkeys a typwriter, one of them will write a T.H article... Seriously, most of the readers of this site are well informed, this king of waffle is no good
  • 21 Hide
    curryj02 , August 19, 2008 10:11 AM
    so quad isn't worth it now... what about in six years. just as Hyper Threading has kept his P4 going so long, going quad will have the same effect. Quad doesn't scale now, but in six years? dual core will seem like single core is now - quad core = new dual core. Just my two cents
  • 5 Hide
    addiktion , August 19, 2008 10:28 AM
    I currently run a Q6600 (3GZ OC) and it has done wonders for me. Take it I do a lot of Adobe Photoshop, gaming, coding, and generally have about 20-30+ windows open at one time which I would consider my "business" & "entertainment" use.

    If you add virtualization into the mix the quad core definitely has saved me. I don't experience any hiccups and now that I've migrated to 64 bit I've noticed a subtle gain in overall computing too.

    I think the highest I've hit on all my cores with extensive testing is 60-70%. This was running a few browser windows + 4 scanning programs at the same time and I did get some slow down due to my hard drive read/write speeds maxing out but nothing from the CPU. Which to me leaves plenty of room for what I actually do.

    Eventually when more software actually catches up to using 4 cores it'll be better utilized I suppose but for the most part I'm happy with it and I think you'll be happy with a dual or quad core.
  • 12 Hide
    fepple , August 19, 2008 11:41 AM
    Running HL2:EP2 as a benchmark is pretty silly when its only single threaded

    "shocking news! new super car max speed only 30mph in residential areas"
  • 10 Hide
    jitpublisher , August 19, 2008 12:30 PM
    Nothing surprising, interesting, or useful about this. Am I missing something, was the article incomplete and posted early? Just don't get it.
  • 16 Hide
    KT_WASP , August 19, 2008 12:40 PM
    Wow...

    So, six years ago..in 2002.. you purchased the second fastest CPU on the market (first being a P4 Northwood 3.02GHz). And this is he main reason it was able to last so long.. becuase you bought a CPU that was at the top of the performance "food chain" at that time.

    Now your looking at upgrading to a PC that you hope to last another six years, but your looking at Hardware that is at the lower end of the same "food chain". How on earth do you think that will work ?

    This article is useless dribble written by a person that has no buisness writing on a PC tech website....

  • 17 Hide
    iocedmyself , August 19, 2008 12:51 PM
    Seriously, i want an answer to this question Mr.Guilty editor..

    HOW OUT OF TOUCH CAN ALL OF YOU AT THG POSSIBLY GET?!?

    How can you possibly expect anyone to put any stock in your advice, your findings or even you basic hardware knowledge after starting the "article" out by admiting that you, someone that tests and reviews hardware for a living, is not only using a 6 year old CPU, but an Intel pentium 4...at 2.8ghz. Your cpu of choice is not only based on arguably the worst cpu arch produced in the last 15 years (possibly second only to the original itanium) but not even the best performing PoS out of the entire craptastic line. Performance is marginally better than a P3 at 1.8ghz, if at all, memory performance is laughable even by intel standards and the cpu can easily double as a hot-plate when you get a late night craving for scrambled eggs... and a nice thick steak. The fact that you have a workstation gpu paired with such a horrid cpu further baffles what kind of broken logic has been used over the years to justify continued use.

    Given the massive shift in the quality of THG content, it's not a suprising confession, but still depressing in light of the fact that so many ill-informed readers trust the findings of THG articles at face value. There is really no exscuse. For ssssshhhhhhaaaaaammmmme.

    Aside from the fact that you compare one of the older based AMD boards tech's against the newest considerably more expensive intel IGP board, the exscuse of "it being the cheapest of the low power/low price option is either a very thinly vieled means of manipulation, or is just "one of the cheap-er" options. The use of a 9850 phenom on a 740G board is just stupid. Aside from the painfully obvious performance issues created by sticking a $200 cpu on a $60 board (something that i can only picture being done by the most unknowledgable of people capable of building their own computer) a 780G is actually only $6 more expensive at...$66. Which gets you an IGP with DX10 capability from DX9.0b.

    I can only assume that the idiotic trend of using 32bit vista as test system was continued here, though i didn't see my assumption confirmed or denied, it should be noted that 64bit Vista ultimate can actually be run on a 780G board using a single core 1.8ghz semperon and still be capable of smooth B-Ray/HD video playback. 32bit Vista only actually taking advantage of 2 gigs of ram, regardless of the 3.56 gigs that may be acknowledged by task manager makes for a much cheaper base componet cost.

    Foxconn A7GM-S AM2+/AM2 AMD 780G ---------------------------------$ 66
    AMD Sempron LE-1100 Sparta 1.9GHz Socket AM2 45W Single-Core------$ 25
    PNY OPTIMA 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400)-----------$ 39
    SAMSUNG Spinpoint F1 HD502lJ 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb------------$ 69
    Total Base hardware cost------------------------------------------$199

    That would be the cheapest Vista capable AMD system loosely following the system guidelines. However if you have any interest in an equally priced comparison yagainst the intel system.


    G.SKILL 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500)-----$ 89
    GIGABYTE GA-MA790GP-DS4H AM2+/AM2 AMD 790GX ----------------------$135
    AMD Phenom 9150E 1.8GHz Socket AM2+ 65W Quad-Core ----------------$170
    SAMSUNG Spinpoint F1 HD502lJ 500GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb------------$ 69
    Total base componet cost------------------------------------------$463

    I list the 9150E as it's low power and aimed at bussiness systems, as this is what the build is supposed to reflect....an office desktop, i think it's fitting. Granted you could go with a regular old phenom for around the same price, could drop down to a 780g board and save $70 or so, chances are the average actual upgrade, and not new build will not require the cost of a hard-disk.

    All the damaged evidence considered, is made even more pointless by your choice to go with the 780G board which you chose not to use in the review. Nor did you choose to do any virtualization benches....probably because that is yet another on the long list of things intel can't do well,,,,

    I'm continually amazed, every other day i read an article on THG and actually say aloud to myself "they can't possibly do anything worse then what i just read" but you guys seem to prove me wrong at every turn.

    You seem to always be able to become increasingly misinformed.
  • -6 Hide
    cangelini , August 19, 2008 12:55 PM
    anekyWell. It seem like virtualisation was left out as consider multi-core is critical for running virtualise application.


    While virtualization is indeed an important feature, it wasn't a factor in a business desktop build. Thank you for the feedback, though.
  • 11 Hide
    JPForums , August 19, 2008 12:55 PM
    Chris Angelini,
    It has already been mentioned (even by you), but I feel it needs to be reiterated.
    A 780G based board would have been much better for this comparison.
    (It would be even better to have both the 740G and the 780G)

    You can't really get a feel for the benefits of quad core if your hardware, admittedly, is bottlenecking it, but not the dual core.
    Then there is the issue of the graphics performance.
    If the graphics and/or video decode performance is important to you, then the ~$15 difference for the upgrade that will do it should be assumed. (Especially when comparing to a platform that you claim costs ~$110 more)

    If you really wanted to answer the question of whether or not you should go with a quad core processor you should've done two things.
    1) Use an AMD board that doesn't bottleneck one or the other processor.
    2) Add a low end Intel quad core to the mix.

    You'll likely still come to the same conclusion that the extra money for a quad core in a cheaper system like this is currently better spent on the graphics card, but you'll have data to back it up. You'll also have a better idea of what quad cores really bring to the table.

    You constantly comment on how a 780G/790GX would show much better results. You also mention that a 780G only cost ~$15 more. Finally, after all of the testing, you conclude that you should disregard the article completely and you get a board based on a chipset that you mentioned, but didn't bother to test. I have to conclude that you know what you should be doing, but for some reason (Upper management, agenda, lack of time, laziness, money or lack there of, etc.) you don't do it. I encourage readers to do the same as you did. Disregard this article in its entirety and use previous knowledge to make your decisions.

    If you don't find an article useful, why should we? Consider this the next time you decide to print an article that gives little or no relevant information to the reader. A few simple changes and/or additions would have made this article worth reading. I realize it takes more time, but I'm much more satisfied with an article that is late, but well thought out, than one that even the author doesn't feel is pertinent to his buying decisions.
  • -5 Hide
    cangelini , August 19, 2008 12:58 PM
    apache_liveswaste of time to read, its been known for years that you dont compare clock speeds (in this case, 2.53ghz) - you compare price points! Wheres an Intel Quad? or a lower end Intel like a E4600 etc? and after all that BS, why the cheap AMD board thats "$10 - $15 less" against that expensive ass intel board? pffftttt


    As stated at the very beginning of the piece, the platforms weren't chosen to go head-to-head. Rather, I wanted to talk about an AMD platform that isn't getting much attention yet in contrast to a newer platform.

    As for processor performance, the other interesting comparison would have indeed been a quad-core Intel chip--though the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 I'd normally use as a Q6600 wouldn't boot in this board =)
  • 7 Hide
    masterwhitman , August 19, 2008 1:01 PM
    apache_liveswaste of time to read, its been known for years that you dont compare clock speeds (in this case, 2.53ghz) - you compare price points! Wheres an Intel Quad http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QUaD ? or a lower end Intel like a E4600 etc? and after all that BS, why the cheap AMD board thats "$10 - $15 less" against that expensive ass intel board? pffftttt


    I have to completely agree. A 780G board can be had for as little as $54 online. Why on earth would someone choose a lesser solution at the same price point? Unless, of course, it could have something to do w/cross-promotion of IDF or something...
  • -5 Hide
    cangelini , August 19, 2008 1:02 PM
    The_TrutherizerI completely don't get the point of the phenom 9850 in this review. Isn't this supposed to be a comparison of budget, workstation systems with dual core CPUs? Why put it in there? If you put a current Intel quad core in for consideration then it's power consumption would be high as well. What exactly are you trying to prove here? In any case. Any idiot knows that currently Intel's Dual core is the ideal processor. Currently of course.And what the hell were you thinking with the motherboard? A 740G? You even state in your conclusion that the 780G is a more fair comparison to the G45? Of course it is! Why did you even review the 740G then?I mean what a conflicting hodge podge of an article!


    The 740G is in there because it represents AMD's most entry-level platform--and it, along with the Athlon X2 4850e, represents a price point well below the Intel configuration. The Phenom was included as comparison data. And as the conclusion reads, we'll have a follow-up shortly to add price and power to the frequency comparison--stay tuned!
  • 1 Hide
    cangelini , August 19, 2008 1:08 PM
    curryj02so quad isn't worth it now... what about in six years. just as Hyper Threading has kept his P4 going so long, going quad will have the same effect. Quad doesn't scale now, but in six years? dual core will seem like single core is now - quad core = new dual core. Just my two cents


    Thanks for the feedback Curry--and you bring up a good point. For those who are buying for the long-term, when the software industry is likely to have caught up, quad-core might be more worth the investment today. Cheers!
  • 1 Hide
    jimmysmitty , August 19, 2008 1:12 PM
    feppleRunning HL2:EP2 as a benchmark is pretty silly when its only single threaded"shocking news! new super car max speed only 30mph in residential areas"


    Actually its a great test of CPU performance since Source is very CPU limited. If you take a older Pentium D vs a Core 2 in TF2 or HL2 you will see that the Core 2 will do better.
  • -4 Hide
    cangelini , August 19, 2008 1:13 PM
    feppleRunning HL2:EP2 as a benchmark is pretty silly when its only single threaded"shocking news! new super car max speed only 30mph in residential areas"


    Ah ha, but given Valve's stated commitment to optimizing for multi-core processors, is it not interesting that EP2 still does not incorporate those enhancements?
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