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Quad Core Rivals
Quad Core processors have finally become mainstream. Both AMD and Intel offer a wide range of processors, and both are now using processor architectures which were designed to be used primarily in quad-core products.
But while both Intel and AMD offer quad cores, there are significant differences in the designs, prices, and performance of these products. Given a straight up fight, Intel vs. AMD, which quad core is victorious?
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AMD Quad Cores
While AMD was second to market with quad core processors by a small margin, AMD's first quad cores were the first to market to exhibit a "true" quad core design. The Phenom architecture on which AMD's first quad cores were based was built from the ground up as a quad core design, Intel's were made up of two dual cores on one die, which in theory should mean faster performance for AMD.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. The early Phenoms were generally not as quick as Core 2 Quads from Intel. There was also a bug which could in rare situations cause a system to lock up. Although this problem was so rare that it would likely never occur for most people, and the problem was dealt with on later releases, the fact that it slipped through AMD's quality control put a black mark on AMD's reputation.
AMD followed up the Phenom with the Phenom II. Although largely the same architecture, the Phenom II processors make some minor tweaks and add DDR3 support. This results in higher performance than the original Phenom processors.
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Intel Quad Cores
Intel's first quad cores were the Core 2 Quad products. Unlike AMD's Phenom products, the Core 2 Quad was not a "true" quad core design. Intel simply took the Core 2 Duo design and made modifications to turn two Core 2 Duos into a quad core processor on one die. While in theory a less elegant solution than AMD's, the Intel Core 2 Quad processors were solid performers which served Intel well for several years.
In 2009 Intel released the Nehalem architecture, an entirely new architecture constructed primarily as a quad core design. Nehalem includes DDR3 support, brings the memory controler off the motherboard and onto the CPU die , hyperthreading, and other improvements. As a result, Nehalem is typically between 20% and 40% faster in multi-threaded applications which can use four or more threads. Nehalem based processors are also known for having very low power consumption relative to their performance.
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Intel vs. AMD: Quad Core Verdict
There is no doubt that Intel's quad cores are currently superior. The Phenom II processors from AMD can compete with the Core 2 Quads, but the Nehelam based products of the Core i5 and i7 line are clearly superior to anything AMD can offer. They will not be able to respond until 2011, when a new AMD architecture is brought to market.
However, AMD has priced its Phenom II quad cores so that they remain a good choice for the price paid. AMD offers the least expensive quad core (actually branded an Athlon II X4) and offers numerous competitive processors between $100 and $200 dollars. As a result, AMD quad cores should absolutely be given a glance if you're in that price range. If you're looking for a more powerful, more expensive quad core, Intel is the way to go.