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


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.

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.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Intel's Retail Nehalem/Westmere Lineup For Q1/2010
ModelCode NameClockMax. TurboHTCores/ThreadsPowerPrice
Core i7-975 ExtremeBloomfield3.33 GHz3.6 GHzYes4/8130W$999
Core i7-950Bloomfield3.06 GHz3.33 GHzYes4/8130W$562
Core i7-920Bloomfield2.66 GHz2.93 GHzYes4/8130W$284
Core i7-870Lynnfield2.93 GHz3.6 GHzYes4/895W$562
Core i7-860Lynnfield2.8 GHz3.46 GHzYes4/895W$284
Core i5-750Lynnfield2.66 GHz3.2 GHzNo4/495W$196
Core i5-670Clarkdale3.46 GHz3.73 GHzYes2/473W$284
Core i5-661Clarkdale3.33 GHz3.6 GHzYes2/487W$196
Core i5-660Clarkdale3.33 GHz3.6 GHzYes2/473W$196
Core i5-650Clarkdale3.2 GHz3.46 GHzYes2/473W$176
Core i3-540Clarkdale3.06 GHzN/AYes2/473W$133
Core i3-530Clarkdale2.93 GHzN/AYes2/473W$133
Pentium G6950Clarkdale2.8 GHzN/ANo2/273W-
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.
  • Zoonie
    Well... I think that takes care of the dreaded "But can it play Crysis?" question regarding its GMA :D :P :P
  • xc0mmiex
    Video on page 1 not working ... "This is a private video..."
  • eklipz330
    can i ask why you teased us at the end with the 4.5ghz OC but didn't include them in the benchmarks? =
  • cangelini
    xc0mmiexVideo on page 1 not working ... "This is a private video..."
    Fixed! Had to keep it private pre-launch :)
  • 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.
  • gkay09
    ^ 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...
  • dtemple
    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.
  • cangelini
    eklipz330can i ask why you teased us at the end with the 4.5ghz OC but didn't include them in the benchmarks? =
    We have another overclocking piece planned--I wanted to get a Core i3, at least, to include :)
  • 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.
  • maximus20895
    Great video once again! Thanks for this and the review itself. Very informative. I really liked the graph on the first page too :)