Ready for the era of dual-core? You now have a choice of dual-core processors; and based on PC World tests, the winner is clearly AMD's new Athlon 64 X2, which handily outdistanced a dual-core Intel system we tested last month.
Our tests indicate that with both AMD's and Intel's dual-core chips you'll obtain the biggest performance benefit when you work with multiple applications at once or when you use multithreaded software, designed to recognize more than one processor.
Dual-core chips build in two processing cores, in effect giving you two CPUs in a single piece of silicon. You also get two L2 memory caches, one for each core; the 2.4-GHz Athlon 64 X2 4800+ chip that we tested, for example, had 1MB of L2 cache per core. The 64-bit Athlon 64 X2 chips ship in June, joining currently available dual-core Opteron server and workstation CPUs. Systems should soon be available from vendors such as Acer, Alienware, HP, and Lenovo.
PCs with the new chips, which will come in several variations, should be available now. Also, you should be able to upgrade your existing Athlon 64 PC to the new chips with just a BIOS change, whereas to convert an Intel unit to dual-core you'll need to purchase a new motherboard.
We tested a reference system provided by AMD that ran Windows XP Pro. It came configured with 1GB of 400-MHz DDR memory; a 10,000-rpm, 74GB hard disk; and an NVidia GeForce 6800 Ultra graphics card with 256MB of DDR3 RAM. (The Intel system we previously tested came with comparable hardware.)
The AMD machine was the second-fastest we've ever tested, with a 116 mark on WorldBench 5, easily surpassing the 95 posted by the 3.2-GHz dual-core Pentium Extreme Edition 840 reference system that we looked at earlier (see the accompanying chart).
The unit showed its prowess on the multitasking portion of WorldBench 5. Its time of 6 minutes, 44 seconds was an impressive 3 minutes, 42 seconds faster than the average of two Athlon 64 FX-55 systems, and about 3 minutes faster than the dual-core Pentium EE 840 reference PC's time.
If you want one of these powerful beasts, you'll have to pay dearly for it: AMD's 4800+ chips alone are priced at $1001 each in quantities of 1000, while Intel's 3.2-GHz Pentium EE 840 chips currently sell for $995. Entry-level Athlon X2 chips will cost only about half that much, however, so you can still get the benefits of 64-bit technology and dual-core processing without breaking the bank.
Intel devotees should also observe dual-core Pentium D-based systems arriving about the time you read this, and such PCs should be considerably less expensive than those with the Pentium EE 840.