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Intel Core i3-540 'Clarkdale' LGA1156 Processor Review

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MAC

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System Benchmarks: Lame Front End / x264 HD / WinRAR

System Benchmarks: Lame Front End / x264 HD / WinRAR




Lame Front End

Lame Front End v1.0 is a single-threaded application, which means that it only utilizes a single processor core. This will obviously limit performance but it will allow us to gauge a processor's single-threaded performance as well as test any turbo feature that it might have. We will be encoding a WAV rip of Santana’s Supernatural album and converting it to MP3 using the highest fidelity VBR 0 quality preset.





x264 HD Benchmark


x264 HD Benchmark v1.0
Test: MPEG-2 HD 720P Video Clip Conversion to x264
DVD Video Length: 30 Seconds
Comparison: FPS of Second Pass

x264 is quickly becoming the new codec of choice for encoding a growing number of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC videos. Think of it as the new Divx of HD and you can understand why we felt it critical to include. Tech Arp's recent development of the x264 HD Benchmark takes a 30 second HD video clip and encodes it into the x264 codec with the intention of little to no quality loss. The test is measured using the average frames per second achieved during encoding, which scales with processor speed and efficiency. The benchmark also allows the use of multi-core processors so it gives a very accurate depiction of what to expect when using encoding application on a typical full length video.





WinRAR


WinRAR 3.8.0
Test: Compression of 1GB of Assorted Files
Comparison: Time to Finish

One of the most popular file compression/decompresion tools, we use WinRAR to compress a 1GB batch of files and archive them, timing the task until completion.


 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks: 3DMark06 / 3DMark Vantage

Gaming Benchmarks: 3DMark06 / 3DMark Vantage



Futuremark 3DMark06


3DMark06 v1.1.0
Graphic Settings: Default
Resolution: 1280X1024

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3Dmarks
Comparison: Generated Score

The Futuremark 3DMark series has been a part of the backbone in computer and hardware reviews since its conception. The trend continues today as 3DMark06 provides consumers with a solid synthetic benchmark geared for performance and comparison in the 3D gaming realm. This remains one of the most sought after statistics, as well as an excellent tool for accurate CPU comparison, and it will undoubtedly be used for years to come.





Futuremark 3DMark Vantage


3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
Graphic Settings: Performance Preset
Resolution: 1280X1024

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3Dmarks
Comparison: Generated Score

3DMark Vantage is the follow-up to the highly successful 3DMark06. It uses DirectX 10 exclusively so if you are running Windows XP, you can forget about this benchmark. Along with being a very capable graphics card testing application, it also has very heavily multi-threaded CPU tests, such Physics Simulation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which makes it a good all-around gaming benchmark.


 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks: Crysis / Far Cry 2

Gaming Benchmarks: Crysis / Far Cry 2



Crysis


Crysis v1.21
Resolution: 1680x1050
Anti Aliasing: 0
Quality Settings: High
Global Settings: DX10 / 64-Bit

Test 1: Ice benchmark_CPU2 demo
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

Still one of the most hardware intensive game on the market today, Crysis has been chosen for its obvious ability to be able to showcase the differences between platforms and to showcase just how far one will need to go in the quest for maximum performance. The game also features the renowned CryEngine, the power behind the incredible graphics, which is expected to be foundation of future titles.





Far Cry 2


Far Cry 2 1.02
Resolution: 1680x1050
Anti Aliasing: 0
Quality Settings: Very High
Global Settings: DX10 Enabled

Test 1: Ranch Long Demo
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

Far Cry 2 is the hot new new first-person shooter from Ubisoft's Montreal studio, and the first game to utilize the new visually stunning Dunia Engine, which will undoubtedly be used by numerous future games. Using the included Benchmarking Tool, we ran the Long Ranch demo in DX10 mode at 1680x1050 with all settings set to very high.



Far Cry 2 has always been quite quirky in our experience. The Dunia engine performs exceptionally well on Phenom II processors. It also loves L2 cache, hence why the Core 2 Quad Q9550 and its 12MB L2 cache performs so well. For some reason, the Clarkdale processors are also a force to be reckoned with in this game, or at least the in-game benchmark. We might have to retire this particular benchmark.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks: Left 4 Dead / Particle Simulation

Gaming Benchmarks: Left 4 Dead / Particle Simulation



Left 4 Dead


Left 4 Dead (Latest Update)
Resolution: 1680x1050
Filtering: 4X MSAA / Anisotropic 8X
Graphic Settings: High
Shader Detail: Very High
Test 1: HWC Custom Timedemo
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

Left 4 Dead is the latest disorienting, fast-paced zombie apocalypse mega-hit from Valve. L4D uses the latest version of the Source engine with enhancements such as multi-core processor support and physics-based animation. We test here at 1680x1050 with in-game details set to their highest levels, with MSAA 4X and AA 8X. For benching, we used a pre-recorded 20 minute timedemo taken on the No Mercy campaign during The Apartments mission.



Although the Source engine scales very well with multi-core processors, we discovered that the scaling seems to stop at eight threads, hence why the Core i7-980X doesn't take the lead. We actually found that it was faster in this benchmark when we disabled two cores and ran it as a quad-core/eight-thread processor.


Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark


Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
Default
Comparison: Particle Performance Metric

Originally intended to demonstrate new processing effects added to Half Life 2: Episode 2 and future projects, the particle benchmark condenses what can be found throughout HL2:EP2 and combines it all into one small but deadly package. This test does not symbolize the performance scale for just Episode Two exclusively, but also for many other games and applications that utilize multi-core processing and particle effects. As you will see the benchmark does not score in FPS but rather in its own "Particle Performance Metric", which is useful for direct CPU comparisons.


 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
Gaming Benchmarks: Street Fighter 4 / World in Conflict

Gaming Benchmarks: Street Fighter 4 / World in Conflict



Street Fighter 4


Street Fighter 4 Demo
Resolution: 1680x1050
Anti-Aliasing: 0X
Graphic Settings: High
Test 1: Built-in Timedemo
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

Street Fighter IV is a 2008 arcade game produced by famous developer Capcom, that has finally been released on the PC platform. This game has not been 'ported' since the Street Fighter IV arcade machines actually have PC internals, with circa 2005 components. As a result, the version of the game released on the PC is considered the definitive version. With a multi-threaded engine and an astounding hybrid 2D/3D graphics style, this game is sure to please all fans of the Street Fighter series.



Can anyone say "GPU bottleneck" ?



World in Conflict


World in Conflict v1.010
Resolution: 1680x1050
Anti-Aliasing: 4X
Anisotropic Filtering: 4X
Graphic Settings: Very High
Test 1: Built-in Benchmark
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

One of the most visually stunning real-time strategy games in recent history, World in Conflict can really push systems to the brink, which is what we attempt by running the game in DirectX 10 mode at 1680x1050 with all settings maxed out. For this test we used the in-game benchmarking tool.


 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
IGP Gaming Benchmarks

IGP Gaming Benchmarks



In order to get an idea of how the new Intel HD Graphics IGP performs we decided to compare it to a few modern IGPs that are on the market today, namely the ATI HD 4200, Intel GMA X4500, and NVIDIA GeForce 9400. Keep in mind that the Core i3-540 processor features a 733Mhz GPU core clock, same as all the other i3-500 series and i5-600 series models, except for the Core i5-661 which has a 900Mhz GPU clock.

Although all the IGPs are DirectX 10 capable, we decided to stick with good old DirectX 9, since otherwise performance would be a little too lackluster. Nevertheless, we aren't going to be testing some graphically lax 'casual' games, instead we are putting these IGPs through the ringer with some demanding benchmarking apps, first-person shooters, and real-time strategy games.

Futuremark 3DMark06


3DMark06 v1.1.0
Graphic Settings: Default
Resolution: 1280X1024

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3Dmarks
Comparison: Generated Score

The Futuremark 3DMark series has been a part of the backbone in computer and hardware reviews since its conception. The trend continues today as 3DMark06 provides consumers with a solid synthetic benchmark geared for performance and comparison in the 3D gaming realm. This remains one of the most sought after statistics, as well as an excellent tool for accurate CPU comparison, and it will undoubtedly be used for years to come.




Futuremark 3DMark Vantage


3DMark Vantage v1.0.1
Graphic Settings: Entry Preset
Resolution: 1024X768

Test: Specific CPU Score and Full Run 3Dmarks
Comparison: Generated Score

3DMark Vantage is the follow-up to the highly successful 3DMark06. It uses DirectX 10 exclusively so if you are running Windows XP, you can forget about this benchmark. Along with being a very capable graphics card testing application, it also has very heavily multi-threaded CPU tests, such Physics Simulation and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which makes it a good all-around gaming benchmark.





Crysis


Crysis v1.21
Resolution: 1280x1024
Anti Aliasing: 0
Quality Settings: Low
Global Settings: DX9 / 64-Bit

Test 1: Sphere benchmark - autotest demo
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

Still one of the most hardware intensive game on the market today, Crysis has been chosen for its obvious ability to be able to showcase the differences between platforms and to showcase just how far one will need to go in the quest for maximum performance. The game also features the renowned CryEngine, the power behind the incredible graphics, which is expected to be foundation of future titles.





Far Cry 2


Far Cry 2 1.02
Resolution: 1280x1024
Anti Aliasing: 0
Quality Settings: Low
Global Settings: DX9 Enabled

Test 1: Ranch Long Demo
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

Far Cry 2 is the hot new new first-person shooter from Ubisoft's Montreal studio, and the first game to utilize the new visually stunning Dunia Engine, which will undoubtedly be used by numerous future games. Using the included Benchmarking Tool, we ran the Long Ranch demo in DX9 mode at 1280x1024 with all settings set to low.





Left 4 Dead


Left 4 Dead (Latest Update)
Resolution: 1280x1024
Filtering: 0X AA / 0X AF
Graphic Settings: Low
Shader Detail: Low
Test 1: HWC Custom Timedemo
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

Left 4 Dead is the latest disorienting, fast-paced zombie apocalypse mega-hit from Valve. L4D uses the latest version of the Source engine with enhancements such as multi-core processor support and physics-based animation. We tested at 1280x1024 with in-game details set to low. For benching, we used a pre-recorded 20 minute timedemo taken on the No Mercy campaign during The Apartments mission.





World in Conflict


World in Conflict v1.010
Resolution: 1280x1024
Anti-Aliasing: 0X
Anisotropic Filtering: 0X
Graphic Settings: Low
Test 1: Built-in Benchmark
Comparison: FPS (Frames per Second)

One of the detailed and most visually stunning real-time tactical games in recent history, World in Conflict remains a staple in gaming lineup . For this test we used the in-game benchmarking tool.


 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
Power Consumption / Temperature Testing

Power Consumption / Temperature Testing




Power Consumption



For this section, every energy saving feature was enabled in the respective BIOSes and the Windows Vista power plan was changed from High Performance to Balanced.

For our idle test, we let the system idle for 15 minutes and measured the peak wattage through our UPM EM100 power meter.

For our CPU load test, we ran Prime 95 In-place large FFTs on all available threads for 15 minutes, measuring the peak wattage via the UPM EM100 power meter.

For our overall system load test, we ran Prime 95 In-place large FFTs on all available threads for 15 minutes, while simultaneously loading the GPU with OCCT v3.1.0 GPU:OCCT stress test at [email protected] in full screen mode.


As you can see, Clarkdale-based chips have really impressive power consumption when you use the Intel HD GMA integrated graphics processor (IGP), which is why it is perfect for HTPC or non-gaming PC use.

Even when you use a discrete GPU Clarkdale's power consumption is very low, but then again so is Lynnfield's. Obviously when you start overclocking power consumption ramps up quickly, but that occurs with any processors.


Temperature Testing



For the temperature testing, we used both the stock Intel Clarkdale CPU cooler and a Thermalright Ultra-120 Extreme (TRUE). The system was left to idle for 15 minutes, and then we ran Prime 95 In-place large FFTs for 15 minutes. The ambient temperature was 23°C/73.4°F. Keep in mind that the thermal sensors in most modern processors are not really accurate at measuring idle temperatures, hence the very small delta between the room temp and the idle results.


Even with the stock Intel cooler, the Core i3-540 does run at low temperatures at default clock speed, as we would expect from a 32nm chip. With a high-end heatsink like the TRUE the temperatures were extremely low, low enough that we believe passive cooling might definitely be a possibility with Clarkdale, at least in systems with decent case airflow. When heavily overclocked CPU temps do shoot up, but they are very manageable with a decent quality CPU cooler.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results



Since Intel's 32nm process is brand new, no one really knows what the safe limits are with regard to voltage. However, by relying on Intel's white papers we set our own limits at 1.35vCore, 1.40V VTT/IMC, and 1.65vDIMM. If you want to play it 100% safe, we would probably recommend reducing the VTT/IMC to 1.35V.

Keep in mind that most utilities cannot properly read the memory timings with Clarkdale, often skewing the CAS latency figure up by 1 notch.


Highest Stable BCLK Overclock



With Discrete GPU on the left, With IGP on the right - Click on images to enlarge

As you can see, we achieved some really remarkable BCLK numbers with the i3-540 on the ASUS P7H57DV-EVO. When using the IGP we weren't quite able to hit the same BCLK, but the difference was a relatively minor mere 19Mhz. Keep in mind that as you increase the BCLK the IGP frequency increases as well. As a result, it can quickly become a bottleneck. Therefore, you have the calculate the "real" IGP clock yourself. Thankfully the formula is fairly simple: Real IGP Frequency = Selected IGP Frequency x (BCLK/133). In our case, with a 225Mhz BCLK, we selected the 433Mhz IGP clock option the BIOS. This allowed the IGP on our Core i3-540 to remain as clock as possible to the stock 733Mhz (433 x (225/133) = 733Mhz). Most motherboards will automatically adjust the IGP clock up for you, but once you reach a certain elevated BCLK-level it's better to do things manually.

By the way, whereas overclockers have to keep a close eye on the QPI and Uncore frequency when overclocking increasing the BCLK on Bloomfield and to a lesser extent Lynnfield processors, things are a little different with Clarkdale. Essentially both those limitations have effectively disappeared completely. QPI-wise the sky is the limit. We were able to hit almost 4400Mhz QPI 24/7, which would previously be unthinkable on air cooling. The higher the better by the way, since increasing your QPI will have tangible benefits in benchmarks.

Highest Stable CPU Overclock



Click on image to enlarge

IGP enabled or disabled doesn't affect the CPU overclocking potential as long as you can keep the chip cool enough (under 80C). With our self-imposed 1.35vCore limit, our Core i3-540 3.07Ghz processor managed to scale up to an impressive 4.59Ghz. Hitting above 4.6Ghz is relatively easy if you are willing to risk the higher voltages.


Highest Stable Memory Overclock



With Discrete GPU on the left, With IGP on the right - Click on images to enlarge

On Clarkdale processors, the GPU, memory controller and PCI-E controller are all integrated into a seperate 45nm die on the CPU package, the Ironlake Graphics Memory Controller Hub (GMCH) Now due to a variety of reasons related to how the Uncore and memory frequency are linked, the end result of this tight integration is that memory frequency headroom is not nearly as high as on Lynnfield. While we managed to achieve some solid results nonetheless, our results on this i3-540 were nowhere as good as the ones we got on our engineering sample Core i5-661.

In order to hit anything ressembling decent memory speeds on Clarkdale we have to loosen timings though, a lot. Clarkdale's achilles heel seems to be its inability to run tight timings at decent memory frequencies, at least on air. By further increasing VTT or further loosening the timings we may have been able to hit even higher memory frequencies, but it's definitely a case of diminishing returns.

There is also a difference in memory overclocking headroom depending on whether or not the IGP is being used. Going above DDR3-1866 caused graphical anomalies in our case, with parts of screen going black.
 

MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
Nov 8, 2006
Messages
1,141
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion



When we first heard about Clarkdale processors we were mightily skeptical since a dual-core/four-thread processor design had never been attempted before and Intel was not exactly known for their top-notch integrated graphics processor (IGPs). However, what we have here is an excellent product driven by a great price/performance ratio. Yes, the IGP is in most cases slower than contemporary IGPs from AMD or NVIDIA, but it does work very well. It is more than capable for casual gaming purposes, and it has excellent high definition video decoding and ouput capabilities. The Intel GMA HD also has some light GPGPU capabilities, but they aren't yet supported by enough applications for us to make a judgement regarding that feature.

Performance-wise, thanks to it's Nehalem-based microarchitecture, this highly clocked dual-core consistently lays waste to Core 2 Quads and Phenom II X4s in lightly threaded applications, but is generally 20-30% slower in most highly multi-threaded applications. The addition of Hyper-Threading is really the feature that makes this CPU viable though, since without it the performance deficit would grow by another 15-30% in most multi-threaded workloads. Ideally, the i3-540 is definitely not the chip of choice for those doing significant multimedia content creation. Having said that, if the situation is not ideal, and you have a really tight budget for example, the i3-540 can made to perform exceptionally well.

As we demonstrated in our benchmarks, if you are willing to overclock the i3-540 will easily compete neck-and-neck with the $200 Core i5-750 across the board. Yes, it takes a significant overclock to close that performance gap, but it is doable on most i3-540's (motherboard & cooling permitting, of course). Frankly, Clarkdale chips are some of the most fun to overclock since there is so much headroom, and the fact that they are so affordable means that novice users don't have to panic that they might damage their chip. Yes, it might happen if you go voltage crazy, but worse case scenario you are out $140, not a crippling blow for most people. Based on our scouring of various e-tailers and online forums, we notice that the cheaper $120 i3-530 is by far the most popular of the Clarkdale chips, but we can't help but make a strong case for the i3-540. That 23X CPU multiplier is a winner, since it will allows you to run at 4.6Ghz with a 200Mhz base clock (BCLK), which is within the reach of most LGA1156 motherboards. With that particular BCLK you can run your memory at DDR3-1600, another easy to reach frequency. What about the i5-600 series chips? Well unless you plan on running your system at stock, forget about them since their main advantage is Turbo Boost, which you don't use on a overclocked system.

Since the i3-540 appeals to the eco-minded at least as much as the budget enthusiast, power consumption is something that just has to be mentioned in this conclusion. The i3-540 is a phenomenally efficient processor, particularly when you make use of the integrated graphics graphics processor (IGP). Combined with an Intel H55 or H57 chipset motherboard, this is the perfect platform for a home theather PC (HTPC) or any casual use computer, where you really want minimal heat output and power consumption. This is also an ideal chip for those who want to build a tiny, compact Mini ITX system since the i3-540 runs so cool that the poor airflow in those small cases is a non-issue.

As we mentioned in our original launch article, Intel have successfully brought the benefits of the Nehalem microarchitecture into the budget realm. At default clocks, the i3-540 is a solid performer in all lightly threaded applications and it is a great budget choice for those who have casual computing needs or simply want the most energy-efficient computing platform available. Budget gamers can also rejoice, since when you have all the graphics settings turned up, using a stock i3-540 will not diminish your gaming experience in most current PC titles. Lastly, those afflicted with the overclocking bug can have a blast by squeezing out a whole lot of extra performance from this $140 piece of silicon. It's just a great overall processor for those who can live with its shortcomings.

 
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