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Low-Power CPUs: Specific Applications Only

Core i5-3570K, -3550, -3550S, And -3570T: Ivy Bridge Efficiency
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We’ve seen Intel’s approach to low-power processors evolve over the past few years.

Back in ’09, the company was selling 65 W Core 2 Quads that delivered just as much speed as its 95 W models. We covered two of those chips in Core 2 Quad Gets Efficient: Enter The Q8200S And Q9550S.

Then, in 2010, Intel tried to get tricky. When we published Intel Core i5-750S: Since When Does The S Mean Slow?, the company unhappily tried to justify the existence of a low-power Lynnfield-based model to us. But it was charging an extra $60 for a Core i5 that ran slower than the non-S version, and only cut 12 W from the original i5-750’s TDP. That’s the very definition of paying more for less.

This time around, we’re again asked to accept low-power Core i5s with –S and –T suffixes that underperform the non-appended chips. But at least we’re not being assailed by higher prices on those same SKUs. The Core i5-3750T (45 W) and -3550S (65 W) are both listed as $205 products. The Core i5-3550 costs $205, while the Core i5-3570K is a $225 part.

In general, though, it’s smarter to spend an extra $20 on the unlocked K-series part that runs at higher clock rates, includes the more capable HD Graphics 4000 engine (with its correspondingly-faster Quick Sync feature), and even achieves superior energy efficiency at its stock frequency.

Why on earth would you want one of those low-power parts then? Only one reason: to cram the performance you do get from them into a smaller form factor. In some environments, a 77 W chip simply doesn’t work. Even though our average power numbers show all of these CPUs to be fairly close to each other, our load consumption results demonstrate that it’s possible to push higher-end Ivy Bridge CPUs all the way up to their thermal ceilings. By trimming voltage and frequency, Intel prevents the –S and –T models from dissipating as much heat, ideally increasing their utility in all-in-ones, HTPCs, and embedded applications.

If you’re not looking at a strict thermal limit, skip those parts altogether in favor of Intel’s Core i5-3570K. It only costs $20 bucks more and does a number of things better. The days when you could buy a lower-TDP Core 2 Quad that didn’t compromise performance are over. Today, Intel’s –S and –T SKUs are all about dipping in under power limits at the expense of speed. This time around, at least, those parts don’t add the insult of a higher price tag, too.

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