Price / Performance, Overclocking, Conclusions and Final Thoughts
Performance per Dollar Measurements

To gauge performance per dollar, I decided I would use the same benchmarks in our “performance per watt” comparison and see how things looked with prices placed into the game.  Keep in mind that these are also invented metrics, so while the numbers don’t mean anything directly (1.71 Hz/$ or 0.22 FPS/$) it is their relative value to other scores that is important.  I have marked the best scores for each benchmark in red:

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(Based on prices of $113, $196, $555, $285, $199, $999, $279, $319, $189, $239)

While our performance / watt metric was a bit of a letdown for the Core i3-530, when we look at performance per dollar it is a sweep!  With the low price of $113 the Core i3-530 is able to offer fantastic value for your purchase in everything from CineBench 10 to POV-Ray, Handbrake and even the gaming titles like World in Conflict and Far Cry 2.  That being said, keep in mind that our Handbrake results for the Core i3 part were the slowest of the ten or so processors benchmarked for the review; the fact that this processor is so cheap saves it here.

I think a lot of our readers are really most interested in THIS type of information, though it is just one data point in a vast matrix of results that you need to know about to make the best buying decision. 

Impressive Overclocking Results

Overclocking remains more art than science, but it is one of the factors of CPU reviews that make this job as fun and exciting as it is.  The new Intel Core i3-530 did not disappoint in this arena either…

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Without any adjustment in voltage the CPU that has a default clock speed of 2.93 GHz was able to fly past 3.86 GHz without a problem.

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While the ASUS H57 motherboard did seem to up our voltage just a bit without us actually doing anything in the BIOS or in software (jury is out on how I feel about this still…) but the result was a completely stable 4.08 GHz overclock by only adjusting the bus speed from 133 MHz to 185 MHz!

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Of course we did finally tweak the voltage on the processor just a bit, increasing it to 1.35v which is considered moderate really.  I was able to get a full 4.44 GHz clock speed running benchmarks and stability tests.  So, maybe we don’t need that Turbo Mode at all when you can just turn a quick little dial manually and see a 51% increase in CPU performance!!

Overall Performance

Looking at the stock performance of the Core i3-530 processor there really isn’t much that makes it stand out from the first wave of Clarkdale processors we tested just about two months ago.  The Westmere architecture, despite running a 32nm variant of the Nehalem architecture with dual HyperThreaded cores, failed to really dominate over the existing, and very very old (in CPU years at least) Core 2 products that many of our readers currently have in their systems today.  The Core i5-661 fell into this trap and so it only makes sense that the Core i3-530 would do the same.

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There are benefits to this new architecture of course including better scaling in some particular applications and gaming performance that is on par with even the most expensive Intel Core i7 processors available today.  The addition of integrated graphics on the chip itself isn’t going to mean much unless you are forgoing discrete graphics options, the fact that it is there is a nice addition. 

Where the Core i3-530 was able to shine was when we looked at the value it provided for gamers and computing enthusiasts on a budget.  The price of $115 is just too damn sweet to pass up, especially when you consider the extremely simple and reliable overclocking we saw on our testing configuration. 

New and Improved Features (from our first Clarkdale review)

So if the standard computing performance was not that spectacular on the Core i3-530 what does the new Westmere architecture and Clarkdale CPU have going for it?  There are some other improvements that are really worth noting here that stem mainly from the new GPU integrated on the processor.  Let’s get this part out of the way first though: I will still never recommend gaming on Intel HD Graphics, despite Intel’s claims to the contrary.  They can keep telling us that their IGP architecture is designed for games like Spore and Sims 3 all they want, and they may play them reasonably, but the truth is you will always be better off with the purchase of even a $50 discrete graphics cards. 

Where Intel’s team has a much compelling argument for HD Graphics is with HD video playback.  The IGP on the Clarkdale GPUs is capable of offloading dual streams from Blu-ray discs – more or less the current pinnacle for HD video processing.  The audio support of the platform is also incredibly impressive – the chipset supports 7.1 channel bit streaming Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master audio.  That means even the least expensive system built on the Clarkdale platform will be able power a damn nice HTPC! 

Pricing and Availability

When I reviewed the Core i5-661 that sells for $196, about the same as the Core i5-750 quad-core processor, I said that I doubted that there were a ton of DIY consumers that would be willing to trade the benefits of two additional cores for a meager Intel integrated graphics solution and I stand by that claim.  If you know you are DEFINITELY going to be using the IGP then the value play is defensible.  Otherwise, get the added performance of a true quad-core part.

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The Core i3-530 is able to withstand this criticism because it is so much cheaper than the i5-661 was at just $113.  That might not seem like a huge difference in terms of real American dollars but the fact that you might lose 10-15% of the system performance for 73% of the price will make budget-conscious gamers perk up their ears for sure.  Our performance per dollar segment at the top of this page spelled that out better than I could hope to with grammar and spelling and such.

Final Thoughts

At the conclusion of my first Clarkdale article I stated this:

The exception to this?  Extreme low cost requirements.  You can get a Core i3 processor for $113 that will give you similar levels of CPU performance but without the Turbo Mode features.  You still get the Intel HD Graphics and HyperThreading support so you could create a nice HTPC system for minimal cost by pairing it with one of the Intel HD55TC mATX motherboards or another option. 

It looks like that decade of hardware testing has paid off with a bit of clairvoyance.  I would even take this a step further and tell our readers that if you are looking for a budget gaming system the Core i3-530 would make a decent choice and should at least be considered for the job.  I showed you on our gaming performance page that the difference between even the Core i7-975 and the Core i3-530 are minimal when we are comparing real-world resolutions and image quality settings. 

You will be making a sacrifice for other applications though including stalwarts like video encoding and media utilities and if you think those actions are going to make up a significant portion of your computing then you still might want to look at the Core i5-750 or the Core i7-860 Lynnfield processor that is a true quad-core CPU with HyperThreading support for up to 8 concurrent threads.  But, if you are comfortable with the idea, you could more than likely hit a 3.8-4.0 GHz clock rate on this CPU without a problem and negate much of that performance deficit without increasing your budget. 

Overall I have to say that I was much more impressed with the Core i3-530 processor than I expected to be especially considering the rather poor outlook it appears to have when looking at just the raw benchmark scores.  If you have a budget rig in mind, the Core i3-530 might make a terrific starting point.

If you have questions or comments about this article, please head into this thread of the PC Perspective Forums to discuss!!!



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