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Intel Core i5-661: Clarkdale Rings The Death Knell Of Core 2

Intel Core i5-661: Clarkdale Rings The Death Knell Of Core 2
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Four months ago, I called Intel’s Lynnfield design the company’s mainstream magnum opus. The Core i5-750, specifically, rose to the top of our test lab’s pile of processors as a solid performer, overclocker, and overall value at less than $200.

But is $200 really a mainstream price point? Aren’t there plenty of models (especially in AMD’s own lineup) that touch the $150 and $100 levels, yet still serve up a solid computing experience? I’ll simultaneously stick by my Core i5-750 recommendation while recognizing that yes, there is a lot to like about cheaper Core 2 Quads, Phenom II X3/X4s, and $100 Athlon II X4s.

This is the segment Intel is targeting with its first 32nm desktop CPUs, members of the Westmere generation and code-named Clarkdale. Totaling six new desktop models initially, the first Clarkdale-based processors will span price points from $113 to $284.

And, believe it or not, it lunges into this aggressive segment with exclusively dual-core models. Hard to imagine, right? In an era when $99 buys you a quad-core Athlon II X4 620 running at 2.6 GHz, Intel is looking to peddle a family of dual-core chips.

The story isn’t that simple, though. With AMD, what you see is what you get. Its flagship, the Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition, runs at 3.4 GHz all of the time. It uses up to 125W. And its four cores are arranged in a monolithic manner, each with 512KB of L2 cache, and all four sharing 6MB of L3. Intel’s new Clarkdale chips are dual-core, yes. But they also feature Hyper-Threading, Turbo Boost, a shared 4MB L3 cache, and a separate 45nm component on the same package, complicating the performance picture for a number of reasons that we’ll soon explain. ¡Ay, caramba!

Intel’s Naming: What Does It Even Mean?

Before we break into the specifics of Clarkdale, let’s talk about the models Intel is launching. The six desktop processors include four Core i5s and two Core i3s. There’s also a seventh CPU, the Pentium G6950, which Intel’s press deck doesn’t discuss, but we know is an option for the resellers.

Introduction to Intel's 32nm Clarkdale


Now, just to summarize/boggle your enthusiast minds:

There’s the Core i7 for LGA 1366. There’s the Core i7 for LGA 1156. There’s Core i5 for LGA 1156, based on Lynnfield. There’s Core i5 for LGA 1156 based on Clarkdale. There’s Core i3 based on Clarkdale. There’s Pentium based on Clarkdale. And there’s Pentium based on Wolfdale. Damn. What a mess.

Somewhere, on someone’s whiteboard, this naming convention looked like a great way to simplify purchasing decisions for end-users who can’t tell a Pentium from a podium, and simply want to buy a pre-configured system from a tier-one. But the power users building their own boxes are presented with a mess of names and numbers that mean absolutely nothing on their own. The best we can do is give you a nice big reference chart to check back on any time you want a little insight on the madness that is Intel’s Core ix lineup.

Intel's Retail Nehalem/Westmere Lineup For Q1/2010
Model
Code Name
Clock
Max. Turbo
HT
Cores/Threads
Power
Price
Core i7-975 Extreme
Bloomfield
3.33 GHz
3.6 GHz
Yes
4/8
130W
$999
Core i7-950
Bloomfield
3.06 GHz
3.33 GHz
Yes
4/8
130W
$562
Core i7-920
Bloomfield
2.66 GHz
2.93 GHz
Yes
4/8
130W
$284
Core i7-870
Lynnfield
2.93 GHz
3.6 GHz
Yes
4/8
95W
$562
Core i7-860
Lynnfield
2.8 GHz
3.46 GHz
Yes
4/8
95W
$284
Core i5-750
Lynnfield
2.66 GHz
3.2 GHz
No
4/4
95W
$196
Core i5-670
Clarkdale
3.46 GHz
3.73 GHz
Yes
2/4
73W
$284
Core i5-661
Clarkdale3.33 GHz
3.6 GHz
Yes
2/4
87W
$196
Core i5-660
Clarkdale3.33 GHz
3.6 GHz
Yes
2/4
73W
$196
Core i5-650
Clarkdale3.2 GHz
3.46 GHz
Yes
2/4
73W
$176
Core i3-540
Clarkdale3.06 GHz
N/A
Yes
2/4
73W
$133
Core i3-530
Clarkdale2.93 GHz
N/A
Yes
2/4
73W
$133
Pentium G6950
Clarkdale2.8 GHz
N/A
No
2/2
73W
-
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Top Comments
  • 14 Hide
    gkay09 , January 4, 2010 3:27 AM
    ^ Many more reasons to buy AMD Phenoms II X4 in the mid-range segment...
    Only drawback with the AMD CPUs is the power consumption, that I feel can be brought down with slight undervolting...
  • 11 Hide
    dtemple , January 4, 2010 3:27 AM
    I'm looking to upgrade from my Athlon X2 @ 2.7GHz because I do more with the computer now than I did before - sometimes I'll play a game while my TV tuner is recording from my cable signal, and having more cores would help these multiple tasks run more smoothly.
    I was waiting until the Clarkdale-based i5 launched, thinking it would be a quad-core that was more competitively priced against the Phenom II X4, but it looks like a Phenom II X4 is my only option to get more cores for less money.
    The only good news coming out of this launch is that LGA1156 is not changing for the Clarkdale chips, so it looks to be the most future-proof platform to upgrade to, if one was so inclined. I'm personally going with a Phenom II since I can get one without changing motherboards. This is one of the more disappointing launches in the last year or so.
  • 10 Hide
    Zoonie , January 4, 2010 3:15 AM
    Well... I think that takes care of the dreaded "But can it play Crysis?" question regarding its GMA :D  :p  :p 
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    Zoonie , January 4, 2010 3:15 AM
    Well... I think that takes care of the dreaded "But can it play Crysis?" question regarding its GMA :D  :p  :p 
  • -1 Hide
    xc0mmiex , January 4, 2010 3:20 AM
    Video on page 1 not working ... "This is a private video..."
  • 0 Hide
    eklipz330 , January 4, 2010 3:20 AM
    can i ask why you teased us at the end with the 4.5ghz OC but didn't include them in the benchmarks? =[ i'm guessing most of use at tom's like to OC... it could be the difference that gets us to buy the i5 661 over the phenom II
  • 1 Hide
    cangelini , January 4, 2010 3:21 AM
    xc0mmiexVideo on page 1 not working ... "This is a private video..."


    Fixed! Had to keep it private pre-launch :) 
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , January 4, 2010 3:26 AM
    I really like the improvements Larrabee brought about....not! I do like the fact they are making progress but they really need to skip ahead a few generations or buy out some other company to design a GPU for themselves.
  • 14 Hide
    gkay09 , January 4, 2010 3:27 AM
    ^ Many more reasons to buy AMD Phenoms II X4 in the mid-range segment...
    Only drawback with the AMD CPUs is the power consumption, that I feel can be brought down with slight undervolting...
  • 11 Hide
    dtemple , January 4, 2010 3:27 AM
    I'm looking to upgrade from my Athlon X2 @ 2.7GHz because I do more with the computer now than I did before - sometimes I'll play a game while my TV tuner is recording from my cable signal, and having more cores would help these multiple tasks run more smoothly.
    I was waiting until the Clarkdale-based i5 launched, thinking it would be a quad-core that was more competitively priced against the Phenom II X4, but it looks like a Phenom II X4 is my only option to get more cores for less money.
    The only good news coming out of this launch is that LGA1156 is not changing for the Clarkdale chips, so it looks to be the most future-proof platform to upgrade to, if one was so inclined. I'm personally going with a Phenom II since I can get one without changing motherboards. This is one of the more disappointing launches in the last year or so.
  • 4 Hide
    cangelini , January 4, 2010 3:27 AM
    eklipz330can i ask why you teased us at the end with the 4.5ghz OC but didn't include them in the benchmarks? =[ i'm guessing most of use at tom's like to OC... it could be the difference that gets us to buy the i5 661 over the phenom II


    We have another overclocking piece planned--I wanted to get a Core i3, at least, to include :) 
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , January 4, 2010 3:30 AM
    I would love to see what GTA IV would do do the dual cores in gaming! I do know that its a bear of a game on the CPU and it would truly show off if hyperthreading could actually make a major difference.
  • 0 Hide
    maximus20895 , January 4, 2010 4:26 AM
    Great video once again! Thanks for this and the review itself. Very informative. I really liked the graph on the first page too :) 
  • 0 Hide
    WINTERLORD , January 4, 2010 5:03 AM
    good touch on the world of warcraft fraps. although not very playable on high settings is good to know what speeds it actualy gets
  • 2 Hide
    noob2222 , January 4, 2010 5:11 AM
    Would be nice to know if this thing can handle blue ray playback, as some of these would probably be sold as a HTPC. Ya, they put features for it, but does it play or not?

    Last preview I read showed it doing fine in windowed mode, but blowing chunks at full screen playback, dropping to 15fps and lower.
  • 3 Hide
    dupaman , January 4, 2010 5:25 AM
    Idle power in the 70s for an IGP-based system is a huge failure not a win, though using an 1100W PSU probably deserves a lot of the blame. Systems built on the 780G, 730i, G4x, etc. (similar to this test platform, but use a more appropriate PSU) idle in the 40s.
  • 1 Hide
    shubham1401 , January 4, 2010 6:22 AM
    Nice dual....
    E8500 was beaten badly...

    Wud really like to see what these chips can do once overclocked.
  • 6 Hide
    thejerk , January 4, 2010 7:08 AM
    Where are the H55 and H57 motherboards priced? So what if the processor is $200 if the motherboard is going to be another $200 on top of it, like P55. I'm not an AMD fanboi, but for less than $300, you can get excellent computing power. Platform cost is where AMD rules, currently.
  • 0 Hide
    Stardude82 , January 4, 2010 7:17 AM
    Very meh at their price points with disappointing idle consumption. Intel is just biding time until AMD's 32 nm process is ready. No reason why they couldn't have a 4 GHz stock chip, load power proves it.

    If you use a E8600 with integrated G45 graphics, I bet you that power consumption will be lower that the 661 (integrated). This GPU-on-package is all just a marketing ploy.

    I really wish you had benchmarks for the low end chips though I doubt IT managers will be running out to replace their fleets of E7500's.
  • -6 Hide
    liquidsnake718 , January 4, 2010 7:22 AM
    same as the p55 but less room for Gpu's.... and newer h55,h57 onboard gpu.... well I guess if you really want to get over all the unneeded jargon and you dont really have a budget just skip this and go X58..... regardless.... even if you have a little extra money to spare and you ARE on a budget, save on the 2nd GPU,monitor, or RAM and get an X58 now!

  • 1 Hide
    mau1wurf1977 , January 4, 2010 8:12 AM
    I think there is a big mistake in the gaming benchmarks...

    Wolfdale is a awesome gaming chip. Its a first to me that the Core 2 Quad is faster in Crysis and all the other games vs. Wolfdale...

    Are you sure it was running at full speed?
  • -6 Hide
    mau1wurf1977 , January 4, 2010 8:12 AM
    I think there is a big mistake in the gaming benchmarks...

    Wolfdale is a awesome gaming chip. Its a first to me that the Core 2 Quad is faster in Crysis and all the other games vs. Wolfdale...

    Are you sure it was running at full speed?
  • -6 Hide
    mau1wurf1977 , January 4, 2010 8:20 AM
    That Yorkfield is 2.66 GHz! No chance in hell it beats the E8500 in gaming...

    I hope this is just a mistake...

    E.g. in Crysis 1920 x 1200 with (breace yourself) 8x AA! No way in hell are these scores correct.

    Did you test the E8500 with a slower video card?
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