Clarkdale and Arrandale NDA’s end

Core i3 well received, Core i5 not so much

TODAY INTEL’S NDA for its Clarkdale and Arrandale CPUs finally ended and the web got plastered in reviews. Most of the reviews take a closer look at the Clarkdale, although a handful of Arrendale reviews have also made it, all of them based on a single Asus notebook model. What is a bit irksome is the fact that Intel has pretty much only seeded the Core i5 661 processor to reviewers and this is of course the model with the much faster IGP than the other Core i5 and Core i3 processors that are being launched later this week.

We fully understand that Intel wants to show off its fastest and most impressive products, it would be mad not to, but it would also have been nice to see the rest of the range of new CPU’s tested. However, it appears that bit-tech got its hands on a Core i3 530, but sadly neglected to test the IGP. Anandtech on the other hand underclocked a Core i5 661 to simulate the performance of the Core i3 540 and 530, albeit with the GPU running much faster, although again the GPU wasn’t tested.

Of the half a dozen or so reviews that we’ve ploughed through it looks like most reviewers are impressed by the overall performance of the new Clarkdale CPUs, yet both bit-tech and Anandtech are seeing the Core i3 processors as the model to buy. Why? Well, for starters the most basic model, the Core i3 530 has an Intel list price of a mere $113 and the faster 540 model will only cost you another $20. To put this in perspective, the Core i5 660 and 661 have a list price of $196, that’s the same as the Core i5 750 which is a quad core CPU without integrated graphics.

The Core i3 processors are also outperforming similarly clocked Core 2 Duo processors by a fair margin in a wide range of tests. This is partly due to the fact that Intel added HyperThreading support, something that the older Core 2 processors lack. This dual core CPU even outperforms both Intel’s and AMD’s quad core processors in some test, although this seems to mostly be in GHz sensitive benchmarks and poorly threaded (or single threaded) applications. Still, at the asking price it’s hard to knock the Core i3’s, but the same can’t be said about the Core i5 661.

Not only does the Core i5 661, along with the 660, cost way too much for what you get in terms of a performance advantage over the Core i3’s in most tests, but the fact that you can have a slower quad core for the same money that in general offers much better performance makes these processors look very unattractive. Overclockers might like the fact that you can easily hit 4.5GHz+ on air without the least bit of problem and Anandtech even managed to get their CPU up to a crazy 6.2GHz with the help of a cascade cooler.

However, there are some other underlying problems such as terrible memory latency and the fact that the IGP is too tightly integrated with the chipset so it doesn’t switch off entirely when you add a graphics card into the mix. Intel’s new graphics drivers might have a new fancy UI that makes it easier to set things up and the support for dual HDCP encrypted interfaces, such as HDMI and DisplayPort is great. Intel has also added support for bitsreaming of Dolby TureHD and DTS HD-MA over HDMI which should appeal to home cinema buffs that are interested in building an HTPC around one of the new Clarkdale CPUs.

But this doesn’t get away from the fact that the actual 3D performance is still abysmal and TechPowerUp has several pages of 3D benchmarks that’ll give you an idea of how poorly this new IGP performs. That’s when the DirectX 10 IGP actually works as intended, as some games end up looking very “retro” due to the poor capabilities of the new IGP. Anandtech has an amusing screenshot from Dragon Age Origins which makes it look like a five year old game. Now we didn’t expect great things here, but Intel really should have outsourced its IGPs to a third party a long time ago, as it’s obviously not very good at making GPUs and working drivers to go with them.

Intel has also added a range of new instructions to the Clarkdale processors called AES-NI – short for Advanced Encryption Standard New Instructions – which will help boost the performance of encryption specific tasks such as Windows 7’s Bitlocker. There’s a real performance improvement to be had here compared to processors that don’t offer AES-NI, but how much of a selling point this will be is questionable. We could see this appealing to corporate users, especially as the Arrandale mobile processors also support it.

The mobile Arrandale processor is a different kettle of fish, but we’re not going to into that right now. Suffice it to say that Intel has managed to produce a faster platform that gives you about the same if not slightly worse battery life than the previous generation of Core 2 mobile CPUs. Performance isn’t everything in the mobile market space, but Intel seems to have forgotten that most of us actually want longer battery life rather than more performance out of our notebooks.

Overall we haven’t seen anything unexpected from today’s reviews and to sum things up it seems like the Core i3’s are set to become a popular option for HTPC systems and of course for anyone who doesn’t require graphics solution that can play recent 3D games. Intel’s new IGP doesn’t impress much outside of its new video features, but then again, no-one expected it to. The more expensive Core i5 6xx models don’t really seem to be worth the extra cost and the Turbo feature is of limited use due to the fact that these are dual core CPUs. All in all the new Core i5’s are just too expensive for what you get and that’s a problem Intel is going to have to solve if it expects to sell any large quantities of these new chips.S|A

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