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Part 2: How Many CPU Cores Do You Need?

Test System And Benchmarks

Here is our test system:

System Hardware
Processor #1AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition 3.2 GHz, FSB-200, 2000 MHz HT link, 6 MB Cache.
Processor #2AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition o/c to 3.2 GHz, FSB-200, 2000 MHz HT link, 6 MB Cache.
PlatformAsus M4A78T-E rev. 1.xx790GX chipset, SB750 southbridge, BIOS rev. 1001
RAMG.Skill F3-10666CL7-2GBPK (2 x 2 GB)DDR3-1333 @ DDR3-1338 CAS 9-9-9-24-33-1T
Hard DriveWestern Digital Caviar Black 640 GB 7,200 RPM, 32 MB Cache SATA 3.0 Gb/s
NetworkingOnboard Gigabit Ethernet
Graphics CardsGigabyte GV-N250ZL-1GI 1 GB DDR3 PCIe
Power SupplyUltra HE1000X, ATX 2.2, 1000W
Software and Drivers
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit 6.0.6001, SP1
DirectX VersionDirectX 10
Graphics DriverForceware 186.18
Benchmarks and Settings
3D Games
CrysisQuality settings set to lowest, Object Detail to High, Physics to Very High, version 1.2.1, 1024x768, Benchmark tool, 3-run average
Left 4 DeadQuality settings set to lowest, 1024x768, version 1.0.1.1, timed demo.
World in ConflictQuality settings set to lowest, 1024x768, Patch 1.009, Built-in benchmark.
Audio Encoding
iTunesVersion: 8.1.0.52, Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min., Default format AAC
Lame MP3Version: 3.98 (64-bit), Audio CD ""Terminator II" SE, 53 min, wave to MP3, 160 Kb/s
Video Encoding
TMPEG 4.6Version: 4.6.3.268, Import File: "Terminator II" SE DVD (5 Minutes), Resolution: 720x576 (PAL) 16:9
DivX 6.8.5Encoding mode: Insane Quality, Enhanced Multi-Threading, Enabled using SSE4, Quarter-pixel search
XviD 1.2.1Display encoding status=off
MainConcept Reference 1.6.1MPEG2 to MPEG2 (H.264), MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG2), Audio: MPEG2 (44.1 KHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Mode: PAL (25 FPS), Profile: Tom’s Hardware Settings for Qct-Core
Applications
Autodesk 3D Studio Max 2009 (64-bit)Version: 2009, Rendering Dragon Image at 1920x1080 (HDTV)
Grisoft AVG Antivirus 8Version: 8.0.134, Virus base : 270.4.5/1533, Benchmark: Scan 334 MB Folder of ZIP/RAR compressed files
WinRAR 3.80Version 3.80, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
WinZip 12Version 12, Compression=Best, Benchmark: THG-Workload (334 MB)
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
3DMark VantageVersion: 1.02, GPU and CPU scores
PCMark VantageVersion: 1.00, System, Memory, Hard Disk Drive benchmarks, Windows Media Player 10.00.00.3646
SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP3CPU Test=CPU Arithmetic/MultiMedia, Memory Test=Bandwidth Benchmark
  • erdinger
    Very intresting article,now I'm even happyery I bought a Phenom II 720 for my gaming rig!
    Reply
  • icepick314
    "In any case, there are two lessons to be learned here: first, try to avoid a virus scan during your gaming sessions."

    what kind of PC gamer does virus scanning while running a game?
    Reply
  • KyleSTL
    Why no power consumption testing? I was a little curious what disabling cores in the OS would do to power consumption under load. A little let down, but otherwise good article. It's good to see a scaling article at least yearly since people refer to the dual/quad debate so often and often the tests that were run within article that are referenced are out of date and irrelavent.
    Reply
  • Onus
    Good article, and very interesting.
    Now I really hope I can unlock the 4th core when my 720BE arrives (hopefully later this afternoon), but I won't sweat it.
    Did you happen to test if it made a difference what scan priority was set in AVG? I'd really like to see those numbers.
    Reply
  • So, how did you manage to get an Nvidia-based graphics card (Gigabyte GV-N250ZL-1GI 1 GB DDR3 PCIe) up and running with the ATI Catalyst 9.6 drivers?! ;-)

    Besides that bit of confusion, thanks for the benchmarks!
    Reply
  • 1word
    very happy with my 720 BE. I constantly check with the activity on the cores, and many many apps use all three cores, or multi- tasking uses all the 3 cores. some activities like defrag uses only 2 cores. image editing software, and general applications like browsers, office apps use all three cores, especially when multi tasking.

    i'm very happy with the AMD 720BE.
    Reply
  • jcknouse
    KyleSTLWhy no power consumption testing? I was a little curious what disabling cores in the OS would do to power consumption under load. A little let down, but otherwise good article. It's good to see a scaling article at least yearly since people refer to the dual/quad debate so often and often the tests that were run within article that are referenced are out of date and irrelavent.
    I liked the article well, but I was too finding myself asking "What was more power efficient? the PII x2 550 BE or the PII x2 955 BE?

    Would love to know, even if it was just that you guys just happened to glance at a P3 Kill-a-watt or some other meter you had inline during testing or something.

    Thanks for great work, guys :)
    Reply
  • erichlund
    It's true that an application like iTunes does not benefit from multiple cores, when run without any other apps. However, it also doesn't compete for more than one core when multiple apps are running, so single threaded apps also benefit from multiple cores when users are multi-tasking.

    What one really needs to know with iTunes and it's competing applications is: Which one competes most efficiently in a multi-processing environment? In other words, which uses the least resources while performing essential tasks, leaving the most resources for the other tasks being performed? To say it in perhaps the clearest way, what applications play well with other types while multi-tasking, and which hog resources, making it more difficult to multi-task?

    That's not really the point of this test, but it may lead to some interesting future evaluations.
    Reply
  • Onus
    ^Yes, that's why it would be interesting to see if (and how much) the impact varied if AVG was set to slow, normal, or fast for its scan priority.
    Reply
  • paranoidmage
    You shouldn't test the games at 1024x786 at low details. These benchmarks are supposed to simulate actual usage. No one will actually run games at that resolution and detail unless their computer is a dinosaur. If you want to remove bottlenecks, use a better GPU like a 4890.

    How do I know if multiple core will actually help me? I run games at 1920x1200 with med-high details.
    Reply