So what happens if you put eight cores on the desktop right now? A few things. First and most impressively, they slice through the right applicationsâ€”that rare breed capable of using eight threads at onceâ€”with ferocity. That's what we saw in our 3D rendering, image processing, and scientific computing tests, where the Xeon X5365-based V8 system set a new standard for performance. With some of those applications, it nearly doubled the performance of the best quad-core systems. Such a show of power is a wonderful and fun thing to see.
Second, in many cases, six or seven cores sit idle and offer no real performance benefit. That's what happened in our 3D gaming and MP3 encoding tests. In a great many applications, software developers have a long way to go to take full advantage of four cores, let alone eight.
Finally, in this particular case, the quirks of the eight-core system become immediately obvious. The current Xeon platform's relatively high memory access latencies and power consumptionâ€”both of which we can pin at least partially on the use of FB-DIMM memoryâ€”make it less than ideal for desktop use. Higher power draw means more noise and heat expended into the room with the user, and higher memory access latencies mean the V8 system isn't the fastest gaming rig on the block.
These problems alone could perhaps be overlooked, but Intel has more ground to cover in order to make its dual-socket solution palatable to the averageâ€”or very much above-averageâ€”PC enthusiast. 90% of the solution here will involve a better motherboard with the right expansion slot config, feature set, footprint, and price tag. Despite the vast performance lead Intel has over AMD, and despite the Quad FX platform's obvious shortcomings, AMD has established a superior blueprint for a dual-socket enthusiast offering.
The good news is Intel and AMD both seem to be zeroing in on the right way to do dually enthusiast systems. V8 is very much a first step for Intel. The firm has already signaled its intention to follow up later this year with a true enthusiast dual-socket platform with the promising codename "Skulltrail." We don't yet know much about it, but it will reportedly involve a multi-GPU-capable motherboard. Let's hope it also involves some affordable mobo and processor options.
We have been fairly hard on this first, new generation of dual-socket systems, both Quad FX and V8, and rightly so. They're far from perfect, and we'd have a hard time recommending either for purchase. Right now, your best choice for an over-the-top, bad-ass system is a Core 2 Quad or Core 2 Extreme QX6700-based system. As PC enthusiasts, though, we very much want to see dual-socket systems flourish as a new high-end option, much like SLI and CrossFire have done in graphics. Such expensive toys aren't for everyone, but they expand the boundaries of the PC's capabilities. Outrageously fast and capable PCs serve as enablers and incubators for all sorts of other good things, from widely multithreaded games to huge, wide-screen displays. These are the sorts of developments that could make us start daydreaming again about what comes next, and what could be better than that?