Core i7 a waste of money for gamers, says Nvidia

Written by Ben Hardwidge

April 23, 2009 // 2:58 p.m.

Tags: #250 #3dmark #beamer #core #frame-rate #gaming #geforce #gts #gtx #hummer #i7 #intel #money #nvidia #petersen #sli #tom #upgrade #vantage #waste

Intel’s Nehalem architecture might have generated a lot of excitement and rave reviews, but it turns out that Nvidia isn’t that impressed with its impact on gaming performance. In fact, yesterday the company described Intel’s claims about Core i7's gaming performance as “disingenuous” in a presentation to introduce Nvidia’s concept of an optimised gaming PC.

In the presentation, Nvidia’s technical marketing director Tom Petersen said “I have a copy of Intel’s latest deck that they share with press and customers, and on there they have a slide that is called The Intel Core i7 920 Processor, where they claim that gaming performance goes up by 80 percent when you use a Core i7. Now, I was impressed by that claim, and I was trying to figure out how they could possibly say such a thing, and it turns out that Intel is basing that claim on only 3DMark Vantage’s CPU test.”

As Petersen points out, this test “is designed to show CPU difference, it doesn’t actually measure gameplay, it doesn’t actually measure anything about game performance. Sure enough, if you do that test you will see Core i7 running faster, but I think it’s a little disingenuous to call that game performance.”

To prove his point, Petersen outlined two types of PC, which he likened to cars - the Hummer and the Beamer. Petersen described the Hummer, saying that it “has got to be big, and it’s got to be expensive and of course it’s infused with Hafnium, which is kind of a dig at Intel. It has a Core i7, which is Intel’s latest, greatest CPU that they claim is the best for gaming.” The Hummer features a Core i7, 4GB of RAM, an X58 motherboard and a single GeForce GTS 250. Meanwhile, the Beamer swaps out the Core i7 CPU for a basic Core 2 Duo E8400, an nForce 750i motherboard and a pair of GeForce GTS 250 cards in SLI.

The cost difference between the two is massive, with a Core i7 965-based Hummer costing $1,501 US based on pricing from US etailer Newegg, and the Beamer costing just $715 US. Petersen also noted that even a Core i7 920 setup with a single GeForce GTS 250 would still cost more than the Beamer SLI rig at around $790 US. The prices were based on the core components only, and didn’t include features such as the case or PSU.

“You’re paying a pretty dear price to follow the Intel story of how to build the fastest PC for gaming”, said Petersen, as he showed a graph of how gaming performance scales with CPU upgrades. Petersen got his test results by adding together the frame rates from Crysis Warhead, Fallout 3, Call of Duty: World at War and Far Cry 2 at 1,920 x 1,200 (no AA or AF) and taking an average. With a Core 2 Duo E8400 and a GeForce GTS 250, the average was 41.6fps.

He then showed how this increased as you upgraded the CPU (the blue line in the graph above), and compared it to how the frame rate increased when you added another graphics card in SLI. The frame rate only increased to 42.4fps after upgrading to a Core i7 965, but jumped all the way up to 59.4fps after upgrading to a GeForce GTX 260 (216 stream processors) SLI setup.

This might seem obvious to those of us who know about how 3D acceleration works, but Petersen claims that the result is still “surprising to most people”. Petersen says that “it is a fact, that when you’re gaming and you’re running at resolutions of 1,920 x 1,200 or better, the Core 2 Duo is perfect for running all of today’s games. In real gaming, there’s no difference between a Core i7 and a Core 2 Duo.”

Petersen accepts that some gamers want the very best of everything, and likens the combination of a Core i7 and SLI graphics to a Ferrari. “If you’ve got money to burn, and you want to get the latest Core i7, and you want to get great graphics cards, then sure you can get the best of everything. There is some small benefit to having a Core i7 965 over a Core 2 Duo when you’re buying the best graphics cards and running at the highest resolutions, so a Core i7 has a place and it does have a benefit in what I’m going to call the Ferrari configuration. But the truth is that when you’re trading off money, there’s nothing like the Beamer configuration.”

“Particularly in today’s economic climate, people are concerned about getting the most value for their money,” says Petersen. As such, Petersen advises PC gamers to ignore Core i7 and instead set up a Core 2 Duo system using an nForce SLI motherboard. “With the leftover $800 I can go out and buy 16 games,” says Petersen, “it’s not even close.”

Is Nvidia just stating the obvious here, or do you think the general PC gamer thinks that they’ll get a big boost in gaming performance from a Core i7 CPU? Would you rather have a Core i7 system with one GPU, or a Core 2 Duo system with an SLI setup? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.

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