Intel and AMD have battled for years to claim the top spot in the CPU manufacturing industry. Intel's Core i7 line of chips was released in November 2008. Marketed as the world's fastest, smartest chip, there was no surprise when the Core i7 performed extremely well in benchmark testing. The Quad Core AMD Opteron chip, released in 2005, is engineered for efficiency and stability, and just because it's a few years old does not mean it's no longer a viable option for consumers.
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Intel Core i7
Intel boasts that the Intel Core i7 processor is the fastest performing processor on the planet. The i7 980 X Extreme Edition has six cores running at 3.33 GHz, with Turbo Boost technology pushing the speed up to 3.6 GHz for short periods. A four core chip at the same speed is also available. The chips supports 64 bit programming and uses Intel's proprietary "Hyper-Threading" technology, which allows multiple applications to run simultaneously without a significant performance hit.
Quad Core AMD Opteron
The Quad Core AMD Opteron is a four core, 64 bit processor that comes in a variety of speeds and configurations. The 2300 series is the consumer line of Quad Core Opteron chips. The fastest of the 2300 series is the 2393, running at 3.1 GHz; the slowest model, the 2344 HE, runs at 1.7 GHz. The Opteron processor line is designed to maximise stability and energy efficiency without sacrificing performance. The 8300 series is the industrial line of Quad Core Opteron chips, whose fastest chip, the 8393 SE, also runs at 3.1 GHz.
As of July 2010, you can get an Intel i7 chip for anywhere between £195 and £650. The cheapest is the i7 920, running at 2.66 GHz. The £650 option is the i7 980 X. 2300 Series Opteron chips cost between £113 for the 2344 HE and £757 for the 2360 SE. These are manufacturer's list prices; it may not match the number you see on a retailer's price tag.
CPU performance is often measured using the Passmark company's CPU Mark software, which performs a number of intense calculations designed to find out exactly how much data a processor can process. The program rates the chip's performance with a number; the higher the number, the better the performance. The Quad Core Opteron 2380 rated a 2691, the best result of any of the consumer line Quad Core Opteron chips. The i7 980X blows this score out of the water with a 10,914. It's the fastest chip on record at Passmark's website.
CPU Mark scores don't always reflect the speed a processor performs at in real world situations, though. To get a better idea of how fast a chip is, it should be benchmarked with every day programs in real working environments. Most programs still aren't programmed to use multiple cores optimally, meaning that a multi-core chip might only use one or two to do the computations requested by the program. In one benchmark test directly comparing an i7 with an Opteron, different tests favoured different chips. The test used i7 and Opteron chips, running at roughly the same speed, to determine how much work per cycle each chip could do.
For home users wanting to get maximum performance from their computers, an i7 chip is still probably a better option than an Opteron chip. For users who don't need that sort of high-level performance, either chip would work. The i7 chip line is more directly engineered for home consumers, which will likely translate into better customer support for home applications, though problems with processor operation are quite rare.
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