Who Says You Need Four Cores?

Conclusion: You Can Keep Your Quad-Core

As my 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 rides off into the sunset, it’ll be replaced by a younger, lither dual-core Athlon X2 4850e. The decision doesn’t have anything to do with performance—after all, the 4850e gets completely outclassed by Intel’s Core 2 Duo E7200. Rather, I run a four-monitor configuration and need a Radeon HD 3450 in SurroundView—though I should also point out that I went with a 780G-based motherboard. AMD is positioning the 740G as its most cost-effective solution, but you can buy 780G platforms for $10-$15 more, so why not step up to a DX10 component with Blu-ray playback? With 780G being as good as it is, there’s really no reason to consider 740G at this point.

AMD’s 780G is also a more fair comparison to the new G45 from Intel. As the foundation for a business box or home theater PC, G45 (paired to a dual-core processor) is actually respectable. Its most glaring weakness remains lackluster graphics performance, a fact not likely to change as a result of simple driver updates. At least the inclusion of hardware-accelerated video decoding—even if it doesn’t seem to be as thorough as what AMD enables in 780G—goes a long way to make Blu-ray playback a very smooth experience. Finally, there’s the raw performance of Intel’s Core 2 processors helping make G45 even more attractive. When a dual-core offering can outperform its competitor’s pricier quad-core solution, you have to take notice.

Here’s where the ultimate buying decision gets tricky. Already we see examples of encoding applications and games that realize significant gains from four cores. Is it worth spending the extra money today in the hope that more software is updated to better utilize threading? That all depends on your situation.

If you’re running a couple of PCs—one for work and one for play—than a dual-core setup is still more than enough for any business desktop. In the comparison between Intel’s Core 2 Duo and AMD’s Phenom X4, the Core 2 costs less, uses fewer watts at idle, saves even more energy under load, and delivers better performance in a majority of desktop applications. The parallelism of a quad-core CPU gets more important on your gaming/entertainment machine. That’s the segment you’ll see get the most attention from software developers. And as you saw from some of our tests, an app optimized for threading can throw up some significantly better numbers, making the extra cores worthwhile.

At the end of the day, I’ll keep my dual-core setup. The price difference between the E7200 and Q9300—as apples to apples as you can get in comparing two- and four-core processors—is more than $140. I’d rather save that chunk of change and snag a Radeon HD 4850 graphics card instead.

Editor’s Note: In this piece, we’ve centered on frequency as the point of comparison. Keep an eye out for a follow-up by Patrick Schmid that factors price and power consumption into the equation as well.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • Well. It seem like virtualisation was left out as consider multi-core is critical for running virtualise application.
  • apache_lives
    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
  • The_Trutherizer
    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!
  • genored
    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....
  • rtfm
    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
  • curryj02
    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
  • addiktion
    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.
  • fepple
    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"
  • monsta
    What a bunch of whiney old ladies you are! LOL
  • jitpublisher
    Nothing surprising, interesting, or useful about this. Am I missing something, was the article incomplete and posted early? Just don't get it.