Is This Even Fair? Budget Ivy Bridge Takes On Core 2 Duo And Quad

How Do Five-Year-Old CPUs Hold Up Against Ivy Bridge?

Having tested and analyzed data for processors launched five years apart, what exactly did we learn?

In the little-league battle for dual-core supremacy, the entry-level Ivy Bridge-based Celeron G1610 stands toe-to-toe with the infamous Core 2 Duo E8500 and E8600, in both games and applications. The Pentium G2020 is a solid step up from either, making it a rough equivalent (in games, at least) to a 3.8 or even 3.9 GHz Wolfdale-based chip. If you are using an older Conroe-based Core 2 Duo, which didn’t overclock as well and couldn't match the Wolfdale design on a per-clock basis, then you’ll be lucky to squeeze out the performance of an entry-level Celeron G1610. At the top of Intel’s current Pentium line-up, the G2130 should game almost as well as any Wolfdale-based processor on air cooling. We suspect our 4.5 GHz E8400 may have a slight edge, but it might not matter in the long run. All of these dual-core chips share the same weakness: they're limited to two threads at a time.

Can we still recommend dual-core processors for gaming? At the most, we'd do so with reservations, and only after considering the prominence of gaming in your life, build goals, and the availability of other options. Locked ratio multipliers and the ability to execute two threads concurrently are both major strikes against Ivy Bridge-based Pentiums. For this story, I purposely picked a brutal batch of games to expose any weaknesses these budget-oriented chips might have, today and moving forward. Games are increasingly optimized for quad-core processors, and the trend is towards needing more than two cores. However, it’s rare that an Ivy Bridge-based Pentium falls short of playability. Plus, they have low prices, little heat, and modest power consumption in their favor, not to mention solid per-clock performance and a respectable upgrade path.

Given the right purpose and budget, I could argue that there is no better gaming CPU than a G1610 or G2020. Perhaps your funds are limited, and a dual-core CPU can tide you over until you can afford a Core i5 or i7. Maybe you're building a mini-ITX HTPC for gaming, where power consumption and cooling are equally important. A dual-core Ivy Bridge-based CPU is also smart in a pure gaming machine, though mostly if your combined CPU and GPU budget is in the $130-$230 range. Below that, a Trinity-based APU might be a better choice. Above, and you start leaving too much performance on the table, risking unplayable performance in some titles, no matter how much money you sink into graphics.

The final hurdle for dual-core Ivy Bridge-based processors to overcome is competition from AMD’s aging architectures. Athlon II X4 and Phenom II X4 offerings are available at or below $100, pack four physical cores and can be overclocked to overcome limitations at stock clock rates. At 3 GHz, is an Athlon II X4 640 better suited to gaming than a lower-priced Pentium? Or would it fall short in exactly the same areas as a stock Core 2 Quad Q9550? We plan to put quad-core Athlon II, Phenom II, and FX processors, stock and overclocked, against this crop of Intel processors soon.

In the end, we're impressed by the staying power of Intel's Core 2 architecture, especially the 45 nm CPUs tested today. But we’re also saddened that Intel no longer sells budget-friendly processors to enthusiasts, like so many Celerons and Pentiums from the past. While the company clearly made big improvements to threaded performance, memory bandwidth, efficiency, and value-added features, it's a little disappointing that an overclocked Core 2 Duo from four or five years ago can match or beat today's best dual-core offerings. Of course, we're keeping in mind that the E8400 original sold for almost three times as much. But still, it would be fun to disable two of Core i5-3570K's cores and see how a K-series Pentium might have performed.

Finally, we found that an overclocked Core 2 Quad (Yorkfield) easily outmaneuvers the latest Core i3 in many video encoding and productivity applications. Once it's clocked high enough, it even matches the i3 in threaded games.

The real winner today has to be Intel's Core i5-3570K control processor. Out of the box, it's pretty much unrivaled by any of these lower-priced chips. And, sporting the unlocked multiplier enthusiasts covet, it'd let us tap into even greater levels of performance, if that were the point of this story.

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  • ASHISH65
    Wow! this is the review i am waiting from long time.Really good one for budget gamers.
  • amoralman
    God dammit! Now I feel like I need to change my C2D E8400. >:(
  • DarkSable
    Now this is cool stuff.

    Also, amoralman, did you read this? It's basically assuring you that your C2D is still awesome as a budget processor.
  • Steelwing
    Very nice review! I've got a C2D E6600 (2.4 GHz) and had been considering the Core i5-3570K (or possibly wait for a Haswell i5) and was wondering about the performance differences. My CPU is still good for a lot of apps, but I can definitely see a reason to upgrade.
  • AMD Radeon
    pentium dual core G2020 is the minimum i can recommend to budget gamers. i often listed it in sub 450 gaming PC
  • lpedraja2002
    Excellent article, I'm glad I have a more accurate idea on where I stand based on CPU performance, I'm still using my trusty Q6600, G0 @ 3.2ghz. Its good that Tom's still hasn't forgotten that a lot of enthusiast still are rocking Core 2 architecture lol. I think I can manage until Intel releases their next revolutionary CPU.
  • assasin32
    I been wanting to see one of these for a long time but never thought I get to see it. I just wish they had the good ol e2160, and q6600 thrown into the mix. I have the e2180 OC to 3ghz. It's still chugging along surprisingly enough, I just realized how old the thing was last night after thinking about how long I've had this build and looking up when the main components were produced. Safe to say I got my use out of that $70 cpu, did a 50% OC to it :) and it still had room to go but I wanted to keep the voltage very low.
  • jrharbort
    I've always been curious about how well my own Core 2 Duo P8800 (45nm & 2.66GHz) would stand up against modern ivy bridge offerings. And even though I'm talking about he mobile space, I'm guessing the gains would be comparable to those seen by their desktop counterparts. Each day I'm reminded more and more that I seriously need to move on to a newer system, especially since I work with a lot of media production software. Thanks for the article, it provided some interesting and useful insight.
  • smeezekitty
    Kind of interesting that the old Core 2s beat the I5 in tombrader with TressFX on.
    Also holy crap on 1.45 vcore on the C2D
  • Proximon
    I would not have predicted this. Not to this extent. I hope we can make these broader comparisons across years more frequently after this. I predict this will be a very popular article.
  • Matsushima
    Remember the Pentium Dual-Core E6500K... They should have included that and overclocked it.
  • timaishu
    Wow. This article could have popped up at a better time. Was considering upgrading my ageing E6600 for a higher end supported processor. Was thinking of getting a core 2 extreme QX6800 off ebay for around 130ish. I looked on cpu benchmark and it really isn't that much faster than the Pentium in this article. That is insance considering that cpu cost aroun 1k on release. I am now reconsidering and just holding off on extending my lga775's lifespan and just replacing it with a new platform in the near future.

    I find it shocking that my E6600(which I still hold in high regard, is far far worse than a 50 dollar Celeron. My mind is blown.
  • killabanks
    Great article thanks!
  • sarinaide
    Old processors still have some kick in them. Q9000, Q6600, E8600, Athlon II X4, Phenom II's all still have enough grunt in them to game a little while yet, the quads should be fine for another year or two.
  • CaptainTom
    Tom's, this is the kind of articles we want to see! Not some BS car article, but real comparisons no other website has made...
  • Matsushima
    If you're happy with the performance level that your 5-year-old dualcore gives, there's no need to upgrade or build a new system. I'm happy with this 4-year-old dualcore right now and my Pentium 4 Northwood SINGLE CORE was more than enough for web browsing and some YouTube videos but all that's left now of it is the processor. I miss that boring beige case.

    That said, today's quads have a more efficient and better architecture than those of yesteryear, and the 3570K is a popular choice for enthusiasts.
  • Matsushima
    The 3570K is the new E8400. Less headroom, but the usage and reception are similar.
  • loops
    what no 2500K?

  • ingtar33
    basically, this is saying that the P4m architecture which lead to the core2duo and by extension then the core i series was the pinnacle of cpu innovation.

    intel made all their leaps forward with this architecture, and killed AMD in the process. And has never really moved past it... 6 years on and it still stands toe to toe with the latest and greatest.

    I'm not that surprised really.
  • SteelwingVery nice review! I've got a C2D E6600 (2.4 GHz) and had been considering the Core i5-3570K (or possibly wait for a Haswell i5) and was wondering about the performance differences. My CPU is still good for a lot of apps, but I can definitely see a reason to upgrade.

    i have both and the 3570k is significantly faster than an e6600, i always had problems with the e6600 not being fast enough for my taste, its a night and day difference between the 2
  • Cataclysm_ZA
    Average frame rate data and frame rate over time, but no analysis of frame time variance? Its a good article and my rig probably falls in line with the E8400 at stock, but come on Tom's, you have all the data from FRAPS right there. You can do better than this.
  • Achoo22
    Neat article. I enjoyed reading it, and I'm sure there are a lot of folks thinking about upgrading that valued the information even more than I do.
  • JJ1217
    My old E8400 is still standing strong in my fathers rig. Never hiccuped, although he always complains about how slow his computer is because he still uses an IDE drive..
  • fteoOpty646
    lpedraja2002Excellent article, I'm glad I have a more accurate idea on where I stand based on CPU performance, I'm still using my trusty Q6600, G0 @ 3.2ghz.

    My Q6600 is down clocked to 1.5Ghz to save power and noise/temperature running Ubuntu 12.10. It feels as fast as any modern PC running web stuff and playing videos. In the old Windows days, it was clocked to 3Ghz to get some kick. Still kicking nicely after all these years in a Fatality board with GigE blown off by lightning spike, so using a Wifi module to a home NAS. The board has survived 3 power-supply failures!.