Dual core shoot-out: Intel versus AMD

AMD's Athlon 64 X2 3800+ is an affordable entry-level dual core processor. But how does it match up to Intel's equivalent Pentium D? We have the benchmarks.

Dual core processors work best when software can run in parallel on them. So-called 'multithreaded applications' benefit from an additional CPU core because subroutines can be allocated to different arithmetic and logic units. Administering the threads carries an overhead, though, which means that dual core processors are never exactly twice as fast as their single core counterparts.

Chip-makers AMD and Intel have released dual core processors aimed at users who need high arithmetic performance and use mainly multithreaded applications. Programs such as CAD/CAM and audio or video processing benefit particularly from a second processor core. However, AMD and Intel's dual core chips for this market cost between $500 and $1,000, and are therefore much too expensive for the mass market. .

Dual core and the office
Relatively little multithreaded software is used on standard office and home computers, so the purchase of a high-end dual core processor is rarely justified. Having said that, mainstream users can benefit from dual core technology. If several applications are active at the same time and certain tasks are stalled, then a dual core chip is worth having. For example, a hard disk defragmenter may be running in the background, leaving insufficient resources for a foreground application like a presentation. Similar effects can occur when antivirus or anti-spyware scans are active in the background. In these circumstances, a dual core chip can be very helpful even on a standard office PC.

When you consider what's going on beneath the surface of a typical office PC in a larger enterprise, it's arguable that a dual core processor can be justified here, too. Applications installed by the IT department can create a multitude of processes -- these may not always be active, but it's almost inevitable that at some point a crucial productivity task (finishing a presentation, for example) will be held up by a lack of computing resources.

Now that both Intel and AMD have affordable dual core processors available (the $241 Pentium D 820 and the $328 Athlon 64 X2 3800+ respectively), there's little to stop this technology being widely adopted.

AMDs Athlon 64 X2 3800+ has two CPU cores, each with 512KB of Level 2 cache and running at 2GHz.


Test setup

This benchmark evaluation pits AMD's and Intel's entry-level dual core processors -- the Athlon 64 X2 3800+and Pentium D 820 respectively -- against one another. Performance results from each company's top-of-the-range model -- the Athlon 64 X2 4800+ and Pentium Extreme Edition (Pentium EE) 840 -- are also presented.

Dual core CPUs on test

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
Transistors 154m 233m 230m 230m
Die size 147mm2 199mm2 206mm2 206mm2
Clock frequency 2GHz 2.4GHz 2.8GHz 3.2GHz
Fabrication process 90nm 90nm 90nm 90nm
Level 2 cache 1MB 2MB 2MB 2MB
Power consumption 89W 110W 130W 130W
Hyperthreading no no no yes

Operating conditions
Intel's dual core processors can only be used with newer motherboards: specifically, the Pentium D requires the Intel 945 or 955 chipets, while the Pentium EE 840 is restricted to motherboards with the 955 chipset. The situation with AMD's dual core chips is simpler, as AMD uses the existing Socket 939 architecture. However, not every Socket 939 motherboard is automatically dual-core-compatible, and a BIOS update may be needed before a board correctly recognises the CPU's two cores.

Power consumption
The new dual core processors consume between 89W (AMD) and 130W (Intel) of power. For users, however, it's more relevant to consider the power consumption of the entire system, which we determined using a Voltcraft Energy Monitor 3000.

Test system specifications

Test system AMD Intel

Motherboard Asus A8N SLI Deluxe Asus P5WD2 Premium
Graphics card MSI Geforce 6600GT MSI Geforce 6600GT
Memory 2x 512 MByte DDR400 (Corsair) 2x 512 MByte DDR2-667 (Infineon)
Hard disk Maxtor Maxline III 250GB Maxtor Maxline III 250GB
Power supply Antec Truepower 380Sp Antec Truepower 380Sp
Operating system Windows XP Professional SP2 Windows XP Professional SP2

As the table below shows, the power consumption of the AMD-based dual core systems is relatively low. This is largely due to AMD's optimised 90nm SoI (Silicon on Insulator) chip production process, which minimises current leakage – and therefore heat output -- from transistors.

With the system sitting idle at the Windows Desktop, the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ uses the least power among all the dual core systems (107W). With AMD's power-saving Cool ' n ' Quiet mode activated, system power consumption even sinks below 100W, which makes the X2 3800+ particularly suitable for office use. The same cannot be said for Intel's dual core chips, the Pentium D 820 using 154W in Idle mode; unfortunately the Asus motherboard could not activate the Pentium D 820's power saving mode, so the high-end Pentium EE 840 delivers the lowest figure for the Intel dual core CPUs (145W) in this test.

Under full load, which was produced using CPU Stability Test 6.0, the high power consumption of the Intel systems compared to their AMD competition is clearly demonstrated. The most power-hungry system is the Pentium EE 840, which uses nearly 300W; even the entry-level Pentium D 820 consumes more power (245W) than AMD's high-end Athlon 64 X2 4800+ (195W). The clear winner here is AMD's entry-level X2 3800+, which uses only 162W.

Power consumption of dual core CPU systems

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
Fabrication process 90nm 90nm 90nm 90nm
Idle 107W 118W 154W 175W
Idle plus power saving mode 99W 105W n/a 145W
Fully loaded 162W 195W 245W 296W

CPU Stability Test 6.0 allows the processor to be run at maximum load. In the case of the Pentium Extreme Edition 840, the program must be started twice to get all of its CPU cores (two physical and two logical) fully loaded.

Memory and cache performance

Memory performance, as measured by ScienceMark 2, shows substantial differences between the AMD and Intel processors. AMD's integrated memory controller clearly offers superior memory access due to the lower latency. Since the memory interface is coupled to the CPU's clock speed, the 2.4GHz Athlon 64 X2 4800+ delivers slightly better memory performance than its 3800+ sibling, which is clocked 400MHz slower at 2GHz.


ScienceMark 2 (Memory throughput; bigger is better)

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
Level 1 cache 23,073MB/s 27,405MB/s n/a n/a
Level 2 cache 7,361MB/s 8,833MB/s n/a n/a
Memory bandwidth 5,191MB/s 5,442MB/s 4,568MB/s 4,577MB/s

ScienceMark 2 (Latency; smaller is better)

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
Level 1 cache
(32 bytes)
3 cycles/s 3 cycles/s 4 cycles/s 4 cycles/s
Level 2 cache
(4 bytes)
3 cycles/s 3 cycles/s 6 cycles/s 6 cycles/s
Level 2 cache
(16 bytes)
5 cycles/s 5 cycles/s 13 cycles/s 13 cycles/s
Level 2 cache
(64 bytes)
17 cycles/s 17 cycles/s 27 cycles/s 27 cycles/s
Level 2 cache
(256 bytes)
12 cycles/s 12 cycles/s 26 cycles/s 26 cycles/s
Level 2 cache
(512 bytes)
13 cycles/s 13 cycles/s 25 cycles/s 25 cycles/s
(4 bytes)
3 cycles/s 3 cycles/s 3 cycles/s 3 cycles/s
(16 bytes)
12 cycles/s 13 cycles/s 14 cycles/s 14 cycles/s
(64 bytes)
49 cycles/s 55 cycles/s 41 cycles/s 41 cycles/s
(256 bytes)
104 cycles/s 112 cycles/s 254 cycles/s 273 cycles/s
(512 bytes)
107 cycles/s 116 cycles/s 265 cycles/s 277 cycles/s

Application performance

The Business Winstone and Content Creation Winstone benchmarks carry out typical application-based tasks such as converting video files or creating a PowerPoint presentation. The following applications are used:

Content Creation Winstone 2004 (at 1600 by 1200 resolution)

  • Adobe Photoshop 7.0.1
  • Adobe Premiere 6.50
  • Macromedia Director MX 9.0
  • Macromedia Dreamweaver MX 6.1
  • Microsoft Windows Media Encoder 9.0
  • Internet Explorer
  • Newtek Lightwave 7.5b
  • Steinberg Wavelab 4.0f

Business Winstone 2004 (at 1600 by 1200 resolution)

  • 5 Microsoft Office XP applications (Access, Excel, FrontPage, PowerPoint, Word)
  • Microsoft Project 2002
  • Microsoft Outlook
  • Winzip 8.1
  • Norton Anti-Virus 2003
  • Internet Explorer

Business Winstone 2004 has two modes. In the standard test, there is no multitasking: several applications are loaded in memory, but only the foreground application is active. This corresponds to the work routine of a Web designer, for example, who first prepares graphical elements in Photoshop and then integrates them into a Web site using Dreamweaver.

There is also a multitasking mode in Business Winstone 2004 (BWS-MT Overall), in which the background applications are active. Business Winstone 2004 can also simulate different multitasking scenarios (BWS-MT Test 1, 2 and 3).

In the first scenario (BWS-MT Test 1) files are copied in the background, while Outlook and Internet Explorer process tasks in the foreground. The second scenario (BWS-MT Test 2) starts with Word and Excel in the foreground with Winzip files being compressed in the background. The third scenario (BWS-MT Test 2) runs a Norton Anti-Virus scan in the background, while all of the Microsoft Office programs are busy with tasks in the foreground.

Under Business Winstone 2004 (BWS04), the AMD processors are clearly the superior performers. Only in the multitasking test can Intel's chips keep up with their AMD counterparts.

Content Creation Winstone 2004 (CCWS04) lacks a multitasking mode, but many of the component programs in this benchmark are multithreaded. The AMD processors are the winners here, too. Even the entry-level $328 Athlon 64 X2 3800+ is faster than Intel's $999 Pentium EE 840.

It's worth noting that Intel's processors perform better under BAPCo's SYSmark thanks to its greater prevalence of Pentium 4-optimised applications. Ideally, a performance test should go beyond standard benchmark suites, and in the following pages we test AMD's and Intel's dual core chips with current applications from the audio, video and 3D-rendering markets.

Dual core processors are not particularly relevant to 3D gaming -- highly clocked single core processors such as the Athlon 64 FX57 or Pentium 4 670 are more suitable for this market. As a result, we have only tested with one game, Farcry, here: once again, the AMD chips deliver the best performance.

Business and Content Creation Winstone 2004 (bigger is better)

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
CCWS04 37.7 40.7 29.8 33.4
BWS04 26.4 29.0 22.7 24.7
BWS-MT Overall 3.23 3.51 3.06 3.14
BWS-MT Test 1 2.55 2.56 2.72 2.89
BWS-MT Test 2 2.68 2.69 2.39 2.48
BWS-MT Test 3 3.96 4.75 3.56 3.58
Farcry Regulator (640) 141.9fps 169.6fps 120.4fps 130.0fps


Video and audio performance

With the exception of Nero Recode, the AMD processors come out top in all of the video tests. In fact, the entry-level Athlon 64 X2 3800+ beats the substantially more expensive Pentium EE 840 in the majority of these tests.

Video performance (smaller is better)

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
Mainconcept H264 (MPEG data) 13m 16s 11m 28s 17m 15s 15m 31s
Nero Recode (DVD) 6m 14s 5m 41s 6m 34s 5m 35s
MS Media Encoder 9 3m 19s 2m 40s 3m 48s 3m 33s
Real Producer 14m 4s 11m 56s 15m 28s 14m 40s
TMPGEnc 3.0 5m 55s 5m 6s 7m 6s 6m 41s

The picture is similar when we look at the table of audio results. Only in the FLAC decompression test are the Intel chips ahead of their AMD competitors. In all the other tests, AMD again emerges victorious.

Audio performance (smaller is better)

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
FLAC (compress) 123s 97s 153s 133s
FLAC (decompress) 32s 27s 29s 25s
Monkey Audio (APE) compress 51s 44s 61s 54s
Monkey Audio (APE) decompress 63s 54s 74s 65s
iTunes (AAC, 192Kbps) 2m 53s 2m 23s 3m 28s 3m 03s
iTunes (MP3, 192Kbps) 2m 7s 1m 44s 2m 21s 2m 4s


Rendering performance

When tested using Maxon Cinema 4D rendering software, the dual core Athlon 64 X2 processors are superior to their Intel counterparts. This test also demonstrates the effect of Hyperthreading in Intel's dual core chips: the HT-equipped Pentium EE 840's performance in the Multi-CPU test is more than double its Single-CPU result, while the performance increase for the Pentium D, which lacks Hyperthreading, is significantly lower.

Maxon Cinema 4D (bigger is better)

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
Single-CPU 285 340 246 283
Multi-CPU 536 638 462 613
C4-Shading 342 408 322 367
OGL-SW 1561 1833 1294 1451

3D Studio Max 7 (smaller is better)

CPU Athlon 64 X2 Athlon 64 X2 Pentium D Pentium EE

Model number 3800+ 4800+ 820 840
Stadium 41s 36s 40s 35s
Architecture 65s 53s 75s 60s
Cballs 21s 18s 25s 18s
Single Pipe 2 106s 88s 132s 97s
Underwater 155s 122s 171s 128s


The value of dual core chips is not in doubt. Today's PCs run a large number of background processes, and a single CPU can easily become overloaded. Intel has had processors with two logical cores for several years; more efficient chips with two physical cores are a natural progression from this Hyperthreading technology.

Both Intel and AMD now have a good range of dual core processors. Intel offers the biggest range of pricing, from the entry-level $241 Pentium D 820 running at 2.8GHz, through the $316 830 at 3GHz, to the $530 840 at 3.2GHz. The Pentium Extreme Edition 840, meanwhile, costs a princely $999.

AMD's Athlon 64 X2 4200+, 4400+, 4600+ and 4800+ processors range from $408 to $803, while the $328 entry-level 3800+model is well suited to both enterprise and home PCs.

AMD currently offers the most attractive dual core option. The entry level Athlon 64 X2 3800+ may cost $87 more than its Intel counterpart, the Pentium D 820, but the AMD chip is a much better performer. It also uses considerably less power. A typical Athlon 64 X2 3800+ system uses less than 100W, while an equivalent Intel-based system uses about 50 per cent more, so it will be easier to build a quiet office PC around an AMD dual core chip. The lower electricity cost could also be a significant factor in enterprises with several thousand PCs.

Dual core CPU pricing (as of October 31)

CPU Price (in 1ku)

AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+ $803
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600+ $643
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ $507
AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ $408
AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ $328
Intel Pentium Extreme Edition 840 $999
Intel Pentium D 840 $530
Intel Pentium D 830 $316
Intel Pentium D 820 $241