Quad Core: Useful or Waste?

by fwhagen Wed, 21 May 2008

There has been a lot of talk in the channels lately about the Quad Core CPUs lately.  Most of it has been along the lines regarding most applications only use 1 or 2 cores so the others sit idle.  Others say that in the future, that will change, but why spend the extra money on the purchase and in the cost of the power until then.  Essentially, expert opinion is that it is a waste of money.

I am not an expert.  I am, however, a professional developer and a experienced computer user (~30 years) that owns a Q6600 Core2Quad CPU.  My experience is that, indeed, while playing games, I probably see no performance increase over 2 cores.  Unless at the same time I am encoding video or audio, downloading something, or a myriad of other things that I do all the time.  With my last CPU, granted it was "only" a Prescott, I had to stop all other tasks, and frequently services, to play a heavy game, or to encode audio, or other high-priority tasks.  With the Q6600, I don't ever have to do that anymore.  My system will hum along, no matter how many things I have going on at once.  And to me, that is the advantage of the 4 cores.  Be realistic, how many things do you have running at the same time?

Also, I have seen many applications utilize more than one core at a time.  Almost all games I play use at least two.  Or more specifically, the ATI video driver uses more than one for itself, effectively offloading much of its performance cost to idle cores.  LAME only uses one, but I can now run up to 4 instances.  Or more to the point, I can rip and encode simultaneously, which gets high-quality CD ripping down to under 3 minutes for me.  And the H.264 video encoder I use pegs all four cores.

If the Q6600 was twice as much as the E6600 was when I bought it, I would have agreed that it was not worth it, but it was only $40 to $50 (~25%) more expensive.  And the G0 series chip only uses a bit more power (90W?), so yes, it is more expensive to run, but Vista S-states minimize that somewhat.  In my opinion, quad core CPUs are a must for the power user today.   While the benefit isn't 2X over a dual core, I believe that one day it will be.  I don't make these statements as a defense of my purchase, I made the purchase because I really believe that it is true.  The main reason I waited to upgrade my system was to delay until Intel dropped the price from the $500+ level to $279 so I could afford to buy one.

I cannot tell you how much Nehalem excites me.  I wish I could afford to get one, but there is no way that I am going to be buying a new mobo and memory any time soon.  I may buy a newer Core2Quad on the 45nm die for power and speed reasons, but the Q6600 is an incredible chip.

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