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Power consumption
We took our power readings at the wall outlet using an Extech 380803 power meter. Only the PC was plugged into the watt meter; the system's monitor and speakers, for instance, were not. The "idle" readings were taken at the Windows desktop, while the "load" readings were taken using SMPOV and the 64-bit version of the POV-Ray renderer to load up the CPUs. In all cases, we asked SMPOV to use the same number of threads as there were CPU front ends in Task Manager—so four for the Extreme Edition 965, two for the Core 2 and Athlon 64 X2 processors. The test rigs were all equipped with OCZ GameXStream 700W power supply units.

The graph below for idle power use has results with and without "power management." By "power management," we mean the dynamic clock speed and voltage throttling technologies from Intel and AMD, known as SpeedStep and Cool'n'Quiet, respectively. The Intel processors also have an enhanced halt state known as C1E. A processor's halt state is invoked by the OS whenever the system is able to sit idle for a moment. The C1E halt state in the Intel processors ramps down the CPU clock speed and voltage in order to save power, so even without SpeedStep, the CPU's idle power use is reduced. Keep that in mind when considering the "No power management" results for the Intel processors at idle.

Interestingly, we found that the Core 2's C1E state doesn't lower CPU voltage. The CPU multiplier drops to 6.0, bringing the clock speed down to 1.6GHz, but voltage appears to remain unchanged. Turning on SpeedStep, however, drops the CPU's core voltage, allowing for even lower idle power use.

Another tricky part about power consumption testing is getting good numbers for our "simulated" CPU speed grades. In order to make it work, you have to set the proper CPU core voltage, not just the right clock speeds. I made an attempt at simulating the Athlon 64 X2 models 4800+, 4600+, and 4200+ and the Pentium D 950/960 by setting the CPU voltages manually, but I've put an asterisk next to those CPUs in our results as a reminder that they're simulated. I didn't even bother including some simulated CPU models because of the difficulty involved and a few questionable results.

For the Athlon 64 X2 4800+, I set the voltage at 1.35V. The X2 4600+ and 4200+ were set to 1.3V. The "power management" idle scores were simply taken from chips with the same cache size (the FX-62 and 5000+, respectively), because all of these processors share the same 1 GHz/1.1V idle with Cool'n'Quiet.

The Pentium D 950 and 960 were trickier, since each Pentium D's voltage needs are programmed at the factory. In this case, I stuck with the default of 1.312V for both speed grades. On an 800MHz bus, the Pentium D 950 and 950 both clocked down to 2.4 GHz at idle via the C1E halt mechanism. The Extreme Edition 965 clocked down to 3.2 GHz at idle.

Wow, that's close. System power consumption at idle and under load is practically the same between the Athlon 64 X2 3800+ EE SFF-based system and the Core 2 Duo E6300-based one. The systems based on both chips draw quite a bit less power under load than most in the field, although the Core 2 Duo E6700 system is only 3W away from them.

That comparison pits the chips against one another with the E6300 on an Intel 975X-based motherboard and the EE SFF on an nForce 590 SLI motherboard. Both of those motherboards—and the core-logic chipsets on them—are enthusiast-class products that include support for dual graphics slots and a host of high-end features. The nForce 590 SLI, in particular, is a fairly power-hungry two-chip design with 16-lane PCI Express for graphics connections coming off of each chip.

I was also able to test several of the Athlon 64 X2 processors on a much simpler motherboard, the Asus M2NPV-VM. This mobo conforms to the Micro ATX form factor and uses the GeForce 6150/nForce 430 chipset combo with only a single graphics slot. I'd expect to see the EE SFF taking up residence on a lot of boards like this one. We don't yet have a comparable motherboard for the Core 2 Duo, unfortunately.

Total system power draw for the EE SFF drops 20W at idle and 23W under load, simply by switching to a different motherboard. When coupled with the right mobo, the EE SFF's power efficiency is outstanding.