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Intel Core i3-530 Clarkdale Processor Review - Low Price Performance

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Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel
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Westmere brings Nehalem cores to lower prices

Introduction

In our first experience with Intel's Westmere architecture back in January, known now as the Core i5 and Core i3 lines of desktop processors, I found this 32nm shrunk dual-core version of the Nehalem architecture to be both adequate and reasonable in terms of performance and pricing.  The integration of an Intel GMA graphics core on the processor was an improvement only in that it lowers the cost of entry for system builders and OEMs - it did not adequately change performance on the oft-criticized GPU component to warrant applause.  Couple that with the fact that the price of our first sample, the Core i5-661 processor, was about the same as the quad-core Core i5-750 processor and you can see how I came to my tentative conclusion:

The most specific thing I can say to a potential buyer of a Clarkdale
processor is this: it only makes sense to buy one if you are going to
utilize the integrated graphics.  If you plan on adding a discrete
graphics card anyway, then it makes more sense to use that processor
budget for a Lynnfield part. 

Now we are preparing for our second look at the Clarkdale processors based on the Westmere architecture and things are already starting out better.  With an estimated street price of about $115 which is about 70% lower than the Core i5-661, the Intel Core i3-530 trades some of the advanced features for pure affordability.  How that affects overall system performance has yet to be seen - until of course you read the rest of this review. 

The Core i3 Series

No one has ever accused Intel of having high quality naming schemes for its products and the mess of Bloomfield, Lynnfield and Clarkdale parts confirm this continues to be the case.  You can get LGA1366 Core i7 processors, LGA1156 Core i7s and Core i5s, LGA1156 Core i3s and if we go to the mobile world you can get Core i7s, i5s and i3s in the same configurations and without a degree in cryptology it's hard to tell the difference.  Let's see if this helps:

If we narrow the search to ONLY the new Clarkdale processors that integrate a dual-core Westmere 32nm processor die and integrate graphics on the same package, this are your options.  Here all of the processors are LGA1156 and should work in H55/57 motherboards (or even P55 if you want to forgo the integrated graphics option) and the specification differences are more easily discernible. 

All six of these SKUs are dual-core processors that support HyperThreading for a total of four virtual processors as reported to the operating system.  That is notable because in the Lynnfield product line there are some CPUs that have quad-core processors with, and some without, HyperThreading support.  All six CPUs also sport a total of 4MB of cache and DDR3 memory speeds up to 1333 MHz. 

While base clock speeds scale from 3.46 GHz down to 2.93 GHz based on the price of the CPU, there is more to the story than that.  You will notice that the Core i3 processors actually don't have anything listed for Turbo Frequency in the table above - because they don't support the Turbo Mode feature.  One of the cooler features of the Nehalem architecture was its ability to scale frequency ABOVE the base clock based on work load and current thermal conditions.  For example, a Core i5-661 processor under normal operating conditions would go from 3.33 GHz to as high as 3.60 GHz when only a single thread was running and maybe as high as 3.46 GHz when all cores were loaded.  For our Core i3-530 though, 2.93 GHz is where it will stay.



Core i5?  Core i3?  Lynnfield?  Clarkdale?  I dunno.

Obviously this means that performance will be lower on the Core i3 series of processors, but we expect that for the lower price tag. 

Other than that, the Core i3-530 processor we are testing today really does have all the same features and functionality of the Core i5 Clarkdale parts.  If you want more details on what Nehalem/Westmere and the accompanying integrated Intel HD Graphics offers in terms of architectural changes, check out my initial review of the Clarkdale series here

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