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Intel's S-Series Processors: Core 2 Quad Isn't Dead Yet

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 2/13/2009

Core i7 may have hogged a lot of attention lately, but that doesn't mean Intel is giving up on its older Core 2 Quad processors. In fact, Intel has made numerous changes to its Core 2 Quad lineup, including the introduction of new, more energy efficient Core 2 Quads.

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    Dead? Not Yet

    Traditionally, the debut of a new product hardware product line by a major manufacturer would cause the old, out-of-date product line to be de-commissioned, or at least forgotten. Nvidia keeps its product line modern by re-naming the same product once the old name has aged, and AMD, while still producing many Athlon X2s, has focused the vast majority of its new product efforts on the Phenom and Phenom II processors. You'd think that would mean that Core i7 would now be the focus of Intel. In reality, we still have the same Core i7 products we had when the chip launched. Intel's older architectures, on the other hand, have seen numerous new products launched.

    Perhaps it has to do with the economy. Perhaps it has to do with the lack of demand for extremely high-end hardware. Either way, the Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad still seem to have a lot of life in them. And some of that life is expressing itself in Intel's new "S" series of Core 2 Quads.

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    S Stands For...What?

    Actually, the S doesn't seem to stand for anything. Its just there. Don't pay it any mind; there have certainly been more confusing marketing schemes used for new products. What matters is how these products are different than their predecessors, and in this, there isn't much that needs to be understood. The S-series processors use less power than the previous Core 2 Quads. That's it. That's the only difference.

    Which isn't to say that power savings is not important. In fact, saving power can be very important. Saving power keeps more money in your pocket, keeps wildlife happy, and reduces the amount of heat your computer has to exhaust. I think those are respectable traits for any piece of hardware, and Intel seems to agree, as they haven't simply released one product. Instead, they've duplicated three of their Core 2 Quad products buy unleashing the Q8200S , the Q9400S , and the Q9550S. All of these products have a 65W TDP, instead of 95W, which is standard for Core 2 Quads.

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    Intel's New S-Series Processors: What's The Point?Intel's new S-Series Core 2 Quads seem a difficult sell, because they are a difficult sell. The Q8200S, Q9400S, and Q9550S all command a price premium of around a hundred dollars compared to the standard Core 2 Quads of the same model number. For that, these new Core 2 Quads give you nothing except improved energy efficiency. As a result, its hard to recommend these Core 2 Quads to anyone, at least for right now. That said, prices will probably fall quickly, and it is likely that these S-series Core 2 Quads will eventually replace their higher-power siblings. Core 2 Quad, Q8200S, Q9400S, Q9550S
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    Should I Buy One?

    The lower power usage is appealing. It not only saves energy, but also suggests a processor that will be more livable overall. It will run cooler, meaning you can run a minimum of PC cooling and thus have a quieter PC. Enthusiasts will be interested because processors built to use less energy sometimes exhibit better overclocking characteristics than their higher-power brethren. Given the choice between two otherwise identical processors, one that uses more energy and one that uses less, the answer is obvious; the low power processor is better.

    But the choice is not made in a vacuum. Cost always comes into the equation, and it is cost which seriously derails any enthusiasm for the new, low power Quad-cores. Intel's price sheet indicates large price premiums between regular 95W TDP processors and the new 65W TDP processors. The Q8200 has an MSRP of $163, while the Q8200S has an MSRP of $245. That is a serious jump, and a price hike of similar size is imposed on the Q9400S and Q9550S.

    So, it would seem that you buying one isn't a good idea. It is hard to think of any situation in which someone would need to buy an S-series processor. There is no performance benefit; remember, these processors are basically identical in nearly every way except for the amount of power used. That means you're paying only for the lower energy usage. The difference in total system power draw would have to be dramatic to justify such a large price hike, but testing indicates that buying a Q9400 will only save you 3W at idle and 6W at load.

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    What's The Point?

    As a product launch, this is one of the most disappointing line-ups Intel has presented in awhile. At least the numerous new sub-$100 dollar processors from Intel have an obvious purpose - to compete against AMD's Athlon X2s. The purpose of the S-series, on the other hand, is less clear.

    Perhaps this launch is simply meant to be a technical example. It is nice, from an engineering stand-point, that Intel has been able to do this. There is nothing wrong with great processors that use little power - it is only the price which haunts these new products. More likely than not, this is launch is simply Intel preparing the market for a wide-spread launch of 65W TDP Quad Cores. There is nothing negative that could be said about any plan to do so - just as long as you don't purchase this first batch, and instead wait until 65W TDP Core 2 Quads becomes the rule rather than the exception.