Some weeks ago while in the middle of the HP-Voodoo acquisition we weren't able to dedicate resources to testing certain new products. Understandably many things were happening at once, so we couldn't focus too many resources on one area. When Larry Clark at Intel insisted that Kentsfield would "shock us all" we went ahead and built a couple of platforms for fun.
Let's just say Larry wasn't lying. This is a copy of the article I wrote for CPU Magazine for the most recent issue. For those of you who follow the hardware industry I would encourage you to grab a subscription of this magazine.
INTEL KENTSFIELD ROCKS THE HOUSE
Many weeks ago our FedEx driver arrived with a surprise: Intel had shipped us a few Kentsfield CPUs. The minute they arrived we quickly assembled some bench configurations to test the processors capabilities.
Overall the assembly succeeded without a hitch - it was effortless to put the configurations together and get them to post. We installed our standard 650 watt power supply, a Voodoo heatsink, some Corsair memory, and a pair of ATI Radeon X1900XTX in Crossfire. It was only until we started to load test it that we thought there was something wrong with the CPUs.
To give you an idea of what we witnessed you must understand that our techs test hardware using some of the most rigorous methods in the industry. We normally start by softwaring the machine from scratch followed by a custom benchmark suite called “Haiti”. Haiti was designed to bring any and all hardware down to its knees as it continuously executes multiple games and benchmarks with escalating demands. In the case of the Kentsfield platforms, they didn’t seem to have a problem running through the suite over a 24 hour period. This is considered normal behavior for us in our final testing prior to shipping a machine. If our systems do not pass a full run of Haiti we will not ship the machine to a customer.
I then asked the team to kick it up a notch and do whatever they could to sweat the hardware. I knew that if we killed a CPU it wasn’t a big deal as we were working with engineering samples – it’s always important to understand the limitations.
Our lead tech on the project decided to run four instances of Prime 95 in a “torture test” while running Farcry in a looping “max settings” demo. Still no trouble, so he ran four instances of Prime 95 while viewing a DVD with multiple applications sitting idle in the background to eat memory. The system still had 10% of its CPU resources left to spare.
To put this in perspective, usually two instances of Prime will cripple any dual core CPU at any level of performance. Not only did this machine run the through the most intense benchmark without breaking a sweat, it blew away our expectations with the DVD test.
To make things interesting I had the tech remove the fan from the CPU and leave the heatsink on. Under normal tasks everything seemed okay and the temperature hardly increased. This is where I thought for sure something was wrong with the hardware (because most systems would have crashed by now), but further tests proved that the CPU was running at full throttle the entire time. After about thirty minutes of tinkering the system finally tapped out. To ensure that the hardware wasn’t to blame for the odd “no fan” behavior we attempted the same thing on the other configurations - All of them yielded more or less the same results.
There is clearly something amazing about this processor - it easily takes place as my most wanted CPU for 2006. Not only does this machine run cooler than the AMD Athlon FX or Core 2 Duo Extreme, but it seems to run more applications at one time without breaking a sweat.
We all know AMD has some strength with multitasking being that they have an integrated memory controller, but Kentsfield left us wanting more. In fact, I would say based on the performance of the platforms we tested that it shouldn’t really matter about the architectural advantages or disadvantages – the proof is in the benchmarks.
Now imagine the possibilities with an advanced liquid cooling system, some high end memory, a top shelf motherboard, and a bit of overclocking. We were all surprised to see the flexibility of Kentfield – granted these were all engineering samples so the production modules may yield different results – at this point I will base our opinion only on what we have seen in our labs.
Needless to say Intel Kentsfield is a killer processor, and we are certain that at most of our high end OMEN machines will ship with it when it becomes available.
Intel has done good, again – It’s time to give the Israeli engineers a raise man!
Now if game developers would take note and start developing their games to take advantage of multiple cores we will probably witness a new evolution in gaming. With the idea of graphics and cpu computations being handled on one chip the possibilities are truly awesome. It's time for the developers to get on board.