Battle of the Quads: AMD X4 9850 vs. Intel Q6600

The 9850 is a 2.5 GHz Quad Core built on 65 nanometer architecture, with 2 MB of L2 cache and a TDP of 125 watts. By comparison, the Q6600 has similar specs, running at 2.4 GHz with 8 MB of L2 and a TDP of 105 watts. Up until the last week of April this year, the $235 each per thousand that AMD's chip was being sold at was lower than Intel's offering; but with Intel's latest price cuts, the chip giant has taken a small lead with a per thousand price of $224 each.

Both CPUs were set up in the same testbed which was an NZXT Tempest case, an NZXT PP600 power supply, 2GB of Corsair DDR2 RAM, and a PowerColor AX3450 graphics card. The operating system was Microsoft Vista with Service Pack 1 installed.

First we set up AMD's 9850 in a Gigabyte MA790FX-DQ6 motherboard and ran Primate Labs' Geekbench 2 benchmarking software. The system scored a 4400 -- comparable to the score it received during our initial review when the CPU was originally launched.

Following that test, we timed how long it took to convert a full length movie from Windows Media Video to high definition AVI. The conversion, from start to finish took just under an hour at fifty-eight minutes and twenty-five seconds.

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After our first round of testing was done, reviewers swapped out the motherboard and replaced it with an Intel DG33FB containing the Q6600 and an OCZ Vendetta 2 cooler. All other components were exactly the same. Running both tests again, the Q6600 attained a Geekbench 2 score of 3881 and the movie conversion took one hour, one minute and twenty seconds using the same movie and converting software. Given the similarity of the two CPUs, the relative closeness of our test results wasn't shocking.

Additionally, after closely examining the detailed Geekbench 2 scores, it appears that the tests where the Intel processor fell significantly short all involved memory handling. Since the exact same memory modules, as well as all other components, were used in each test, it appears that the motherboards likely came into play here. The street price of the Gigabyte board, used in the AMD test bed is more than double that of Intel's.

In this test, at least, a system using a motherboard at twice the price in the AMD system simply matched the performance in the Intel-based system.

Discounting the pricing difference in motherboards, the playing field otherwise looks level between the AMD and Intel Quad cores. While AMD has a 100MHz advantage in processor speed, Intel offers four times as much L2 cache at an $11 savings.

The bottom line: AMD and Intel are still highly competitive on CPU desktop performance, but Intel's advantages in pricing and control over the platform as a whole continue to work in its favor.