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Intel Conroe performance previewed

We take an early sample for a quick spin
— 3:56 PM on March 9, 2006

SPRING IDF — We were among a select group of publications here at IDF to get a chance to do some hands-on testing with Intel's next-generation desktop processor, code-named Conroe. Although the results are obviously very preliminary, they give us something of a window into how Intel's new CPU may perform when it arrives. Read on for a first look at Conroe performance, compared directly to an overclocked dual-core Athlon 64 system.

The test setup
I should start by saying that we very rarely publish benchmark numbers obtained at trade shows or in other sorts of pre-arranged settings outside of our own test labs. We have elected to do so in this case because of an extraordinary opportunity to get an early glimpse at a brand-new CPU architecture in action. You should know, though, what the test conditions were like.

We used test systems pre-configured by Intel before the show, and we had very limited time to conduct testing or inspect the systems. We were not allowed to look inside of the case of either PC, and the scope of the benchmarks we were allowed to run was defined by Intel. We weren't given the leeway to record our own custom timedemos for the games, and we didn't have enough time to run each test three times or even reboot between the tests. Intel PR reps painted timedemo results on the screen with white-out after our Quake 4 test run.

Just kidding about the white-out. But our role really was confined largely to clicking a few icons and menu items to kick off a test and then writing down the results.

The Conroe system was based on an Intel "BadAxe" 975X motherboard modified to supply less voltage. This box had 1GB of DDR2 667MHz memory set at 4-4-4 timings. The graphics setup consisted of a Radeon X1900 XTX and a Radeon X1900 XT CrossFire Edition running together in dual-GPU mode. (We checked around back, and the CrossFire dongle was there as expected.) The Conroe processor itself was running at 2.66GHz. Here's a look at the system properties page. You can see that the system was running Windows XP SP2.

Intel configured a competing AMD-based system for comparison that they said was intended to approximate, as much as possible, where Athlon 64 performance may be by the time Conroe hits the market. To that end, the Athlon 64 FX-60 processor was overclocked to 2.8GHz, and the system's 1GB of DDR400 RAM was set to 2-2-2 timings with a 1T command rate. The same Radeon X1900 CrossFire graphics subsystem was in the AMD box, along with a DFI LANParty RDX200 motherboard based on the Radeon Xpress 200 CrossFire Edition chipset.

AMD systems should have made the transition to Socket AM2 with DDR2 memory when Conroe really arrives, of course, so this system probably doesn't reflect the full performance we may be seeing from AMD by the middle of this year. Heck, this box doesn't even have a CrossFire Xpress 3200 chipset with dual sixteen-lane PCI Express graphics slots. Assuming everything is on the up and up, though, it should be a reasonably decent reference point for comparison.