Alienware Area-51 m5550 with Core 2 Duo Performance Evaluation
by Charles P. Jefferies
Core 2 Duo T7600 powered Alienware m5550 (view large image)
Intel’s embargo on the Core 2 Duo is finally up, and it’s time to see exactly what sort of performance it brings to the table. The notebook we’ll be evaluating today is Alienware’s mid-range m5550, a 15.4″ gaming notebook with a powerful GPU and a host of high-end options. Our particular model is configured as follows:
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T7600 2.33GHz 4MB Cache 667MHz FSB
- Operating System (Office software not included): Genuine Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 with Service Pack 2
- Display: Alienware m5550 15.4″ WideXGA 1280 x 800 LCD
- Motherboard: Alienware Intel 945PM + ICH7 Chipset
- Memory: 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SO-DIMM at 667MHz – 2 x 1024MB
- Hard Drive: 100GB Serial ATA 1.5Gb/s 7,200 RPM w/ NCQ & 8MB Cache
- Primary CD ROM/DVD ROM: 8X Dual Layer DVD+/-RW / 24X CD-RW Combo w/Software
- Video/Graphics Card: 256MB NVidia GeForce Go 7600
- Sound Card: Intel 7.1 High-Definition Audio
- Wireless Network Card: Internal Intel PRO Wireless 3945 a/b/g Mini-Card
- Communications: Integrated 10/1000Mb Gigabit Ethernet & 56K V.92 Modem
- Warranty: 1-Year AlienCare Toll-Free 24/7 Phone Support w/ Onsite Service
The T7600 is the flagship Core 2 Duo for notebooks, running at a relatively high clockspeed of 2.33GHz. The 4MB of L2 cache is shared between the two execution cores — Intel refers to it as Smart Cache.
Also packed into our m5550 is a top-of-the-line Nvidia GeForce Go7600 256MB GPU, currently the best GPU available in this size notebook, along with the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600. Other important specifications include 2GB of DDR2-667 RAM, and one of the fastest 2.5″ drives on the market, a 100GB 7200RPM Seagate Momentus (ST910021AS ).
It would be hard to see what sort of performance this machine has without something to compare it to — my everyday machine seems like a good candidate, and it is configured as follows:
Model: Sager NP-5320
- Intel Pentium M Processor 750 1.86GHz 2MB Cache 533MHz FSB
- Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition w/ SP2
- 15.4″ WSXGA+
- Intel 915PM chipset
- 2GB DDR2-533 dual-channel RAM
- 100GB 7200RPM Serial ATA Hitachi TravelStar
- 8X DVD+/-RW DL Burner (Sony)
- 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X700
- Intel High-Definition audio
- Intel PRO Wireless 2915ABG
- Integrated Gigabit Ethernet + 56k modem
The specifications are fairly close — very similar hard drives, same amount of RAM. The GPUs aren’t that comparable, but 3D performance isn’t the focus of this article and it won’t be used in any comparisons. Of course, the only major difference and the only one we care about for now is the CPU — the Pentium M in my Sager is two generations behind the Core 2 Duo, and it’s a single core.
Detailed memory specifications:
Alienware Area-51 m5550:
- 2 x 1GB DDR2-667 (PC5300)
- Brand: PDP Systems
- 5-5-5-15 timings
- 2x 1GB DDR2-533 (PC4200)
- Brand: OCZ
- 4-4-4-12 timings
Both systems were plugged into AC power for all testing. I ran Windows Update and installed all the latest patches and fixes for Windows. Wireless was turned off, and no unnecessary background services were running. Both systems were tuned using DH TuneXP 1.5. I fully defragmented the hard drive prior to testing, and ran appropriate spyware/anti-virus scans.
Important note regarding dual-core processors: Most manufacturers do not set up Windows to work properly with a dual-core processor. See Gophn’s Windows XP Multi-core config thread in the NotebookReview.com forums for proper set-up procedures.
Alienware m5550 Core 2 Duo notebook (view large image)
Benchmarking with SiSoftware Sandra
SiSoftware Sandra is an information and diagnostic utility, and can be used to benchmark your PC. I used Sandra 2007, and decided to do two different benchmarks — the Processor Arithmetic and Processor Multi-Media tests. I only used the parts of the benchmarks that were comparable — for example, the Pentium M only supports up to SSE2 instructions, while the Core 2 Duo can do SSE4. I did not use any tests that couldn’t be run on both CPUs.
The first benchmark is the Processor Arithmetic test, which shows how the processor(s) handle arithmetic and floating point instructions:
The Core 2 Duo excels at floating point operations. It should be a strong number-cruncher.
And our second benchmark is the Processor Multi-Media test, which shows how the processor(s) handle multi-media instructions and data:
Overall Gaming Performance
We’re not going to look at any 3DMark scores for the graphics cards here, only the scores for the CPUs. I ran the stock 3DMark06 test on both machines.
The CPU test in 3DMark06 is designed to simulate how a processor would be stressed in next-generation games. It is multi-threaded, and thus a dual-core processor is a huge advantage in this test.
The Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 really puts up a strong showing here — 2007 points is the highest score I have ever seen in a laptop. If the 3DMark06 CPU test was a single-threaded benchmark, the Core 2 Duo’s score would be roughly cut in half, putting it closer to the Pentium M. We’re still looking at about a 20% performance increase with single-core, which is significant.
Keep in mind that the vast majority of laptops on the market will be GPU-limited when it comes to gaming, so putting in the fastest CPU you can find won’t always help.
Rendering performance using Cinebench 9.5
Cinebench is a rendering benchmark tool based on the powerful 3D software, CINEMA 4D. Its rendering tasks can stress up to sixteen multiprocessors on the same computer. It is a free benchmarking tool, and can be found here: http://www.cinebench.com/
I ran only the CPU tests on both test machines, and used the following settings:
- Resolution: 1280×800 (WXGA)
- Color Depth: 32-bit
Even in single CPU mode, the Core 2 Duo T7600 is almost one-third faster than the Pentium M. Rendering does depend on the CPU’s clockspeed, so some of the difference in scores can be attributed to that, but the Core 2 Duo clearly is faster clock-for-clock thanks to its wider and deeper pipeline.
When the Core 2 Duo runs the multi CPU test, it has 1.83x the performance of simply running in single CPU mode.
Adobe Photoshop CS2 Performance
Using Adobe Photoshop CS2, I benchmarked both test platforms using DriverHeaven’s Photoshop Bench V2. It features twelve different tests, all which are CPU-dependent. Photoshop is a multi-threaded program, and can take advantage of Core 2 Duo’s dual-core architecture. The numbers:
Quite a difference, no? The Core 2 Duo is more than twice as fast as the single-core Pentium M in four of the tests, and out-performs it handily in all others. Looking at the overall time for completion of all the tests, the Core 2 Duo is about forty percent faster than the Pentium M.
Benchmarking using SuperPi
SuperPi is another entirely CPU-dependant program. Although it doesn’t have any real-world use or meaning, it’s interesting to see just how fast processors can get.
The Core 2 Duo T7600 is on the left, and the Pentium M 750 on the right (like you couldn’t guess).
It should be noted that this is a single-threaded benchmark only. I used the standard version (not the special SSE-2, SSE-3 versions).
Super Pi Alienware (Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz)
Super Pi Results Sager (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)
Super Pi Comparison Results:
|Alienware m5550 (2.33GHz Core 2 Duo)||0m 56s|
|Sager NP5320 (1.86GHz Pentium M)||1m 43s|
|Dell XPS M1710 (2.16GHz Core Duo)||1m 07s|
|IBM ThinkPad T43 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 45s|
|IBM ThinkPad Z60m (2.0 GHz Pentium M)||1m 36s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook N3510 (1.73 GHz Pentium M)||1m 48s|
|Alienware M770 (AMD Dual Core FX-60)||1m 23s|
|Dell Inspiron 600M (1.6 GHz Pentium M)||2m 10s|
|HP Pavilion dv4000 (1.86 GHz Pentium M)||1m 39s|
|Asus V6Va (Pentium M 1.86 GHz)||1m 46s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 18s|
Overall Performance of the Alienware Area-51 m5550
Other benchmarks I performed on the Alienware were to gauge overall performance. These will be discussed in greater detail in the upcoming full review of the Alienware Area-51 m5550.
I used CoreTemp to monitor the temperatures. In a 24oC (75oF) room, the T7600 idled at 52-53oC. The area where the processor sat in the notebook remained cool. The fan in the notebook did not have to be on full-time to cool the processor; every once in a while, the fans would go on for about a minute, then power off.
Under load, I saw the temperature range from 59-63oC. In comparison, my Pentium M is near the same, although has a slightly lower (48-51oC) idle.
Each notebook will have different temperatures and power consumption, depending on what sort of cooling system it uses, and the placement of the components in the notebook. From my experience, the Core 2 Duo has no heat issues and remains cool enough to be comfortable.
If you need the absolute fastest processor in a mobile package, the Core 2 Duo T7600 is it without a doubt. It is hands-down the fastest processor I have ever used, and never once did I feel a lack of power. As far as competition goes, AMD’s only dual-core mobile offering at the moment is the Turion 64 X2, which was already out-performed by the standard Core Duo in most benchmarks. Considering that the Core 2 Duo improves on the Core Duo in performance, it should easily edge out the AMD.
As a single-core Pentium M user, I saw the biggest performance differences in Photoshop and Cinebench. The difference in rendering times was night and day, and Photoshop felt a lot more responsive on the whole, especially when applying filters and working with multiple three- and five- mega-pixel images.
Multitasking – remember that it will not always be improved with a dual-core CPU — you’ll mainly see the benefits of a dual-core CPU when one of the processing cores is under load, and you need more processing power to do something else. For those scenarios, having a dual-core CPU is extremely useful, and can make you more productive.
Pricing — the Core 2 Duo carries the same pricing scheme as the Core Duo, and a Core 2-based laptop should carry the same price tag as a Core Duo-based one, but what the consumer will end up paying is unknown. There will most likely be an elevated price tag to begin with for Core 2 machines, but a few months down the line (October-November), the prices should level out. Of course, those are only my predictions, and they could all change by the time notebook manufacturers/brands start using the Core 2 Duo.
To clear up a common myth, the Core 2 Duo does not replace the standard Core Duo in Intel’s lineup. The Core Duo will still be around until the next-generation Santa Rosa Centrino platform makes its debut in Q2 2007, and will be sold in notebooks alongside the Core 2 Duo.
I don’t necessarily recommend opting for the T7600 2.33GHz CPU that we tested here today, because it carries a hefty premium — all top-shelf processors do. If you need every ounce of processing power money can buy, then go for it, but for the rest of us, the best value is probably the T7200 2.0GHz — it doesn’t cost much more than the T5600, and doubles the cache. All Core 2 Duos are 64-bit.
Final words — Current Core Duo owners need not worry about upgrading, I wouldn’t bother looking into getting a new machine until next year with the introduction of Intel’s Santa Rosa at the earliest. But to those of you who have been waiting for Core 2 Duo-based machine, they’re finally here. It’s been a genuine pleasure to use the Core 2 Duo. I sincerely hope you enjoyed this article, and be sure to look for the full review of the Alienware Area-51 m5550 in the coming weeks.
Availability — The Alienware Area 51 m5550 is available from Alienware.com now with any of the current Core 2 Duo processors. The Alienware Area 51 m5750 17″ notebook and Alienware Alienware Sentia m3450 14″ notebook are also available configurable with the Core 2 Duo.
Alienware Area 51 m5550 (view large image)