Let’s summarize our performance testing, and try to pinpoint how these various chips stack up to one another. Of course, what matters more than the averages is how they perform in the apps most important to you.
Was anyone surprised by the potency of the little Celeron G1610? It beat out the Core 2 Duo E8400 by 8% in both games and applications, placing it directly between the Core 2 Duo E8500 and E8600! Our in-store purchase was a real bargain, but this helps explain why the street price is often inflated.
Equally impressive is how well the Pentium G2020 performs, outpacing the E8400 by 21%, despite a 100 MHz-lower clock rate. That’s a solid showing for a $50-65 chip, even if the lack of overclocking support means you'll never get anything extra out of it.
On the other hand, overclocking is why we came to know and love Intel's Wolfdale design. Pushed to 4.0 GHz, our Core 2 Duo E8400 out-gamed the Pentium G2020 by 1.9% in average FPS, and by 4.0% in absolute minimum FPS. Its lead in applications was slightly higher still. Had we instead tested a Pentium G2120, with a 6.9% speed bump, gaming would likely have swung back in favor of Ivy Bridge.
Core 2 Quad Q9550 out-gamed the Pentium G2020 by only 3.3% in both average and minimum frames per second. More than likely, a Pentium G2120 would match the Q9550, while the G2020 we tested could hang in there with a Core 2 Quad Q9400. Of course, things are rarely this simple, and the outcome will almost always depend on the specific game in question. The most well-threaded titles we tested favored the Core 2 Quad architecture.
So what happens if we pull out Skyrim and StarCraft 2, the Pentium processor's strongest showings, since those two titles gain little to no benefit from more than two cores? Looking at only the highest playable settings for our (overpowered) Radeon HD 7970 paired with either chip, the Core 2 Quad Q9550 only held a 9% lead, which is far less than we expected. And in older titles, the Pentium would likely come out on top. Of course, everything changes once we overclock, but with such a small advantage favoring the stock Q9550, I’m left wondering how my overclocked Kentsfield-based Q6600 at 3.0 GHz compares to the affordable and power-friendly Pentium G2020.
Thankfully, applications continue to be better-optimized for multiple cores, and not one of our dual-core chips gets an advantage in productivity-oriented titles. Older quad-core processors like the Core 2 Quad Q9550 still pack a decent punch, even besting the new Ivy Bridge-based Core i3-3225 in a few of our benchmarked applications. Once we factor in overclocking, the locked-down Core i3 falls behind in every threaded title.
But gaming introduces other platform demands, and doesn't always benefit from threading the same way as content creation titles do. The Core i3-3225 simply dominates in this discipline. Once we overclock to 3.7 GHz, though, our E0-stepping Core 2 Quad is able to compete against the Ivy Bridge-based Core i3, and it even wins in three out of eight gaming titles. In short, if you already have a high-clocked Core 2 Quad, then Core i3 is not worth upgrading to based on performance alone.