Data Centers

SolutionBase: Surveying the dual-core processor landscape

Dual-core processors are almost standard equipment on laptops and desktops today. There are so many different kinds, however, that it can become confusing to understand how the processors differ. In this article, Greg Shultz outlines the differences.

This article is also available as a TechRepublic download.

With the release of Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, chances are very good that you've been thinking about getting a new computer. Whether you're looking for a new desktop or a new laptop, you've undoubtedly encountered systems with dual-core processors from either Intel or AMD. At face value, the idea of getting a system with two processors rather than one sounds like a no-brainer, especially when the price is reasonable.

However, you'll quickly discover a bewildering number of brand names and model numbers attached to dual-core processors available from Intel and AMD. For example, Intel's dual-core brand names include: Pentium D, Pentium Extreme Edition, Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, and the Core 2 Extreme. In the AMD arena: Athlon 64 X2, Athlon 64 FX, and Turion 64 X2. That no-brainer can quickly turn into a big headache.

In this article, I'll provide you with a generalized overview of the dual-core processor brands from both Intel and AMD. As I do, I'll explain the differences in each to help in your purchase of a new PC with a dual-core processor.

The genesis of dual-core technology

The road to dual-core processors really began when Intel and AMD discovered that the goal of improving processor efficiency and performance by increasing the clock speeds towards the 3-GHz mark and beyond was actually having the opposite effect. The faster clock speeds were producing more heat and consuming more energy, both of which were hindering the efficiency and performance of the processors. Both companies realized that they needed to move towards dual-core processor technology in order to continue to improve processor performance.

Dual-core processors contain two processor cores on one chip; consequently, they can simultaneously perform calculations on two streams of data, which increases efficiency and speed when running multiple programs. This is especially true when running new, multi-threaded software, such as video and audio editing applications.

Intel's dual-core lineup

To dramatically mark their break into the new dual-core technology arena, Intel decided to abandon the Pentium brand name in favor of a brand name called Core. In developing the Core brand of processors, Intel took the low heat and low voltage technologies developed for its recent mobile processor, the Pentium M, along with the EM64T 64-bit architecture technology, and combined that with its newly developed dual-core technology.

When you begin looking at the Core processors, keep in mind that the clock speeds are down a bit from the Pentium line. This is because the Core technology focuses on improving performance per clock cycle rather than on improving performance by increasing clock cycles.

The Pentium dual-cores

Before inventing the Core technology, Intel experimented with making Pentium-based dual-core processors. In early 2005, Intel released Pentium D and Pentium Extreme, which are essentially made up of two Pentium 4 dies placed together in a single package. You can still purchase a computer with the Pentium D and Pentium Extreme processors; however, keep in mind that while these Pentium dual-core processors are very powerful, they still fall victim to the high-heat generation and high-energy consumption problems that the Core technology was designed to overcome.

Core Duo

Intel's first processor in the Core lineup is called the Core Duo. At the time of the Core Duo's release, Intel was still focusing on the Pentium D for desktop computers, so the Core Duo was designed specifically for mobile computers. While the Core Duo utilizes the low heat and low voltage technologies of the Core technology, it doesn't incorporate the EM64T 64-bit architecture technology. As such, it is a 32-bit processor, something you might want to take into consideration when evaluating your dual-core options.

As of this writing, the current crop of Core 2 Duo processor's model number system use the 2000 series; the higher the model number, the higher the clock speed. The model numbers also contain single-letter prefixes to designate the processor's power consumption. The letter "T" is used for the Standard versions, and indicates 31 watts. The letter "L" is used for the Low Voltage versions, and indicates 15 watts. The letter "U" is used for the Ultra Low Voltage versions, and indicates nine watts.

Specifications for the Core Duo processors are listed in Table A.

Table A

Intel's Core Duo processors

Model

Clock Speed

L2 Cache

Bus Speed

T2050

1.66 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

T2250

1.73 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

T2300E

1.66 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

T2300

1.66 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

T2400

1.83 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

T2500

2.00 GHZ

2 MB

667 MHz

T2600

2.16 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

T2700

2.33 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

L2300

1.50 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

L2400

1.66 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

L2500

1.83 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

U2400

1.06 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

U2500

1.20 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

Core Solo

When manufacturing the Core Duo processors, Intel encountered defects that rendered one of the two cores inoperable. Since one of the cores was perfectly functional, Intel decided to disable the second core and call the processor the Core Solo. Like the Core Duo, the Core Solo is used exclusively for mobile computers and is not a 64-bit processor.

Taking advantage of a manufacturing defect is nothing new: Intel took 486DX processors with defective Floating Point Unit components, renamed them a 486SX, and sold them as lower cost processors.

Table B lists members of the Core Solo family.

Table B

Intel's Core Solo processors

Model

Clock Speed

L2 Cache

Bus Speed

T1300

1.66 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

T1350

1.86 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

T1400

2.33 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

U1300

1.06 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

U1400

1.20 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

Core 2 Duo

The Core 2 Duo is the second iteration of Intel's Core-branded dual-core processor and is probably the best choice when purchasing a PC with an Intel dual-core processor. The major difference between the Core Duo and the Core 2 Duo is this new version combines the dual-core technology with Intel's EM64T technology, making the Core 2 Duo a true 64-bit processor. Further differentiating the Core 2 Duo is that it is designed for both desktops and laptops.

As of this writing, the current crop of Core 2 Duo processor's model number system uses the 6000 series for desktops and the 5000 and 7000 series for laptops. The higher the model number, the higher the clock speed.

The model numbers also contain single-letter prefixes to designate the processor's power consumption. On desktops, the letter "E" is used, and it indicates 55-75 watts. On laptops, the letter "T" is used, and it indicates 25-55 watts.

Table C lists the members of the Core 2 Duo family.

Table C

Intel's Core 2 Duo processors

Model

Clock Speed

L2 Cache

Bus Speed

E6300

1.86 GHz

2 MB

1066 MHz

E6400

2.13 GHz

2 MB

1066 MHz

E6600

2.40 GHz

4 MB

1066 MHz

E6700

2.67 GHz

4 MB

1066 MHz

T5200

1.60 GHz

2 MB

533 MHz

T5500

1.66 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

T5600

1.83 GHz

2 MB

667 MHz

T7200

2.00 GHZ

4 MB

667 MHz

T7400

2.16 GHz

4 MB

667 MHz

T7600

2.33 GHz

4 MB

667 MHz

Core 2 Extreme

The Core 2 Extreme is a version of the Intel's dual-core processor aimed at gamers and digital media creation professionals. It has a higher clock speed than the Core 2 Duo, a fully loaded L2 cache, and a host of other features specifically aimed at enhancing graphics, video, and animation. To take gaming or digital media creation up another level, there is also a quad-core processor version of the Core 2 Extreme with twice the L2 cache.

Table D lists the members of the Core 2 Extreme family.

Table D

Intel's Core 2 Extreme processors

Model

Clock Speed

L2 Cache

Bus Speed

X6800

2.93 GHz

4 MB

1066 MHz

QX6700

2.66 GHz

8 MB

1066 MHz

AMD's dual-core lineup

Like Intel, AMD has several processors in its dual-core lineup. However, before AMD made the move to dual-core processor technology, it focused on integrating 64-bit technology into the Athlon XP processors. In doing so, AMD was able to take into account the transition to dual-core processors earlier in the design process. The lineup of AMD's dual-core processors is much easier to analyze when compared to Intel's lineup.

Athlon 64 X2

Athlon 64 X2 is the brand name for AMD's line of 64-bit, dual-core processors for desktop computers. The model numbers and clock speeds associated with the Athlon 64 X2 processors are closely aligned with model numbers and clock speeds of previous Athlon 64 processors. This is due to the fact that AMD's transition from 64-bit processors to dual-core processors was better engineered.

As of this writing, the current crop of Athlon 64 X2 processor's model number system starts with 3800+ and move up to 5600+. The higher the model number, the higher the clock speed. You’ll find the members of the Athlon 64 X2 family in Table E.

Table E

Athlon 64 X2 processors

Model

Clock Speed

L2 Cache

Bus Speed

3800+

2.00 GHz

1 MB

2000 MHz

4200+

2.20 GHz

1 MB

2000 MHz

4400+

2.20 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

4600+

2.40 GHz

1 MB

2000 MHz

4800+

2.40 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

5000+

2.60 GHz

1 MB

2000 MHz

5200+

2.60 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

5400+

2.80 GHz

1 MB

2000 MHz

5600+

2.80 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

Athlon 64 FX

Athlon 64 FX is a version of the Athlon 64 processor aimed at gamers and digital media creation professionals. It has a higher clock speed than Athlon 64 X2, as well a host of other features specifically aimed at enhancing graphics, video, and animation.

Athlon 64 FX is available in dual- and quad-core versions: Athlon 64 FX-60 is the dual-core version; Athlon 64 FX-70, Athlon 64 FX-72, and Athlon 64 FX-74 are the quad-core versions. (Model details are shown in Table F.) The FX-70 series of processors are actually dual-core processors specifically designed to work together via what AMD is calling the AMD Quad FX platform, which includes a dual-socket motherboard featuring Dual Socket Direct Connect (DSDC) Architecture for high-bandwidth processor-to-processor communication.

Table F

AMD's Athlon 64 FX processors

Model

Clock Speed

L2 Cache

Bus Speed

FX-60

2.60 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

FX-70

2.60 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

FX-72

2.80 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

FX-74

3.00 GHz

2 MB

2000 MHz

Turion 64 X2

Turion 64 X2 is AMD's 64-bit, dual-core, low-power processor designed for laptops. As of this writing, the current crop of Turion 64 X2 processor's model number system consists of two letters followed by two numbers: They start with TL-50 and move up to TL-60 (shown in Table G). The letters designate the processor class and the degree of mobility features (power consumption and heat generation.) The higher the numbers, the higher the clock speed.

Table G

AMD's Turion 64 X2 processors

Model

Clock Speed

L2 Cache

Bus Speed

TL-50

1.60 GHz

512 KB

1600 MHz

TL-52

1.60 GHz

1 MB

1600 MHz

TL-56

1.80 GHz

1 MB

1600 MHz

TL-60

2.00 GHz

1 MB

1600 MHz

Moving forward

When you begin investigating the current crop of dual-core processors from Intel and AMD, it's easy to get confused by the various brand names and model numbers. In this article, I've presented you with a general overview of the dual-core technologies from Intel and AMD. Of course, there is a lot more to these dual-core processors than I've presented here; but, now you have a good basis on which to continue your analysis.

About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

Editor's Picks