While many users are still savouring the upgrade to dual-core computing, Intel is keeping the multi-core ball rolling by releasing its first quadcore CPU. The Core 2 Extreme QX6700 is the company's flagship consumer offering, built using Intel's 65-nanometre technology, which allows for the creation of smaller transistors, allowing more to fit into the same physical space. The QX6700 is actually two dual-core CPUs installed in the same CPU package with a total of 8MB of cache -- 4MB for each dual-core portion of the quad-core CPU -- and Intel claims this is more efficient than using separate cache memory units for each core. Each core runs at 2.66GHz and the CPU has a front side bus of 1066MHz. The CPU uses Intel's LGA775 socket design and it will work with motherboards that use the Intel P965 chipset. Early P965-based motherboards may not be able to run the QX6700 due to the CPU's power requirements, but more recent boards may just require a BIOS upgrade.
The QX6700 is the type of CPU that won't improve the speed of many current applications; it will benefit people who use multithreaded software applications such as video rendering. The lack of performance gain on current applications was evident in tests, where the CPU recorded an identical score to the Core 2 Duo E6700 chip (which runs at 2.67GHz) using the same test PC. There were no discernible differences in performance once all the individual application scores were analysed. Likewise, in our MP3 encoding test, both CPUs took an almost identical time to convert 53min worth of wave files to 192Kbps MP3 files (89sec for the quad-core and 90sec for the dual-core). That's not to say that the QX6700 is a dud. Quite the contrary. It's great for users who do a lot of multitasking, particularly in the field of video. Programs that make use of multithreading will theoretically be able to get through a rendering process twice as fast on a quad-core than on a dual-core CPU. Programs that can run in separate instances will also benefit from the quad-core QX6700 as they will let you work on four instances of a program simultaneously. We used Sorenson Squeeze to maximise the utilisation of our quad-core CPU by encoding multiple videos simultaneously.
Despite the load on the CPU being a consistent 94-97 per cent and the load being spread across all cores, the system was still very responsive and we were able to use Microsoft Office and the Internet without noticing any stutters or a slow-down in performance. That's one of the keys to multiple CPU cores. They can keep users working efficiently while they conduct CPU-heavy tasks in the background. At the moment the QX6700 is the only quad-core model available and it will no doubt find a niche in workstation-style PCs. Current games don't use multithreading, so unless you multitask while you play games, you can still get by easily with two cores, or even one.
VERDICT: The Core 2 Extreme QX6700 possesses the most processing prowess for present-day PCs. It will propel your productivity if you use multithreaded applications or if you run multiple CPU intensive tasks concurrently. Suitable for users who do a lot of video editing and rendering, or want to build a workstation for design or programming tasks.