The quad-core payoff

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I was thinking of buying or building a system built around a quad-core CPU. I had made a mental note to wait until the fall, until I looked in my RSS reader one day and saw that Dell was selling the Dimension 9200 with an Intel Core 2 Q6600 (quad-core, 2.4GHz), 2GB of RAM, and double-layer DVD burner for $649 (with shipping, $680).

After it arrived, I installed an extra 2GB of RAM ($70), replaced the default 80GB single drive with a 160GB Raptor (10,000 RPM) system drive and a 500GB data drive ($250 combined), and ditched the Nvidia 8300 GS video card in favor of a 512MB ATI Radeon HD2600XT ($95 $155). I also upgraded Vista Home Basic to Vista Ultimate x64 ($199).

Grand total: $1295 $1355. Here’s how it does on the Windows Experience Index:


Three observations:

1. This machine really does fly. It’s especially impressive to see a 1600 x 1200 screen full of thumbnails in Windows Photo Gallery draw itself instantly.

2. Vista x64 is working better than I imagined. I had tried it back in February and gave up because of driver and software compatibility problems. Those appear to be all fixed now. There are still a few missing pieces in the 64-bit puzzle (like no connector for Windows Home Server), but I can deal with those issues and will definitely keep using Vista x64.

3. VMWare Workstation 6 absolutely rocks on this machine. I have Ubuntu Linux 7.04, XP Pro, and Vista Enterprise Edition all running in virtual machines and this box isn’t even breaking a sweat. I’ll have more to say on this subject at ZDNet soon.

With the exception of a single test system running on a four-year-old P4, every system in this home/office is now dual-core or better, with most running some flavor of Vista (the exceptions being a hard-working Media Center Edition 2005 system, another running the final release of Windows Home Server, and a third running the latest beta of Windows Server 2008).

I really don’t think I’ll need any new hardware for at least another year!

25 thoughts on “The quad-core payoff

  1. Tell me where do you get a 512MB ATI Radeon HD2600XT for $95 ? A quick google lists from $157
    to over $200. Even E-Bay $150
    2g of ram for $70 ?

  2. I am taking detailed notes here. My current machine will probably last me into next year, but is begging to be replaced.

  3. RL, I’m still hearing rumors that the V2 extenders will be out this fall in time for the holiday season. Haven’t gotten confirmation though.

  4. I’m about to build an HTPC with this processor. All the pieces have been ordered and should be here next week. I only went with 2gb of RAM.

    Here’s the question, should I run the x64 version of Vista Ultimate or the x32 version? This machine’s only job will be for television, music, and pictures. I went with 2 Avermedia AverTV combo cards and the ATI Radeon X1650 pro as the video card.

    I have the Xbox360 as an extender and will probably need at least 2 of the v2 extenders whenever they surface. I doubt that I will run Windows Home Server, but it is a possibility. I’ve yet to take a hard look at WHS.

    Thank you.

  5. Aaron, I would go with 32-bit. In the scenario you lay out, you’ll get no advantage from x64. 2GB of RAM will be plenty.

  6. Happy to hear the success with the upgrades 🙂

    I just built a new PC with the quad core Q6600, 4 GB of ram, and an Nvidia 8800GTS 640MB. I’m also very happy with how my overall computer and Windows Vista x64 has turned out. Upgrading from a P4 with 1 GB of ram (with Vista Business) it is so much better.

    I’d also second Ed’s x64 bit “working better” than one would imagine. I’ve heard alot of driver/program horror stories; but I have had basically no problems with anything. The only issue I had was with my D-Link wireless card. I knew from D-Link that the card was not supported in x64; but forums all over the internet say that you can plug your computer into a wired jack and then Vista automatically finds the generic Atheros drivers for you! Sure enough it worked 🙂

  7. I also got the same PC. Question for you: were you concerned with the 375W PSU when you upgraded the HardDrive and Video card? or did you replace the PSU also?

    Btw; i love how quiet the PC is.

  8. Have you run any x64 guest OSs within your VM on that dimension 9200, such as a VM machine of XP x64 or Vista x64? I’m curious if that machine’s BIOS supports Intel VM (the processor certainly does).

  9. I’m running the same processor with 2gb of RAM in Vista x32, per your recommendation a week or so ago. My WEI is 1.0 based on the score of 1.0 for the ‘Graphics’ category and the ‘Gaming Graphics’ category. I’m running the ATI Radeon 1650 PRO. Vista AERO is working.

    Right now, I’m on an old LCD monitor to test the system out before I put the machine in my living room. Resolution is set at 1024×768.

    Any thoughts? Thank you.

  10. Aaron, have you installed the latest ATI drivers and then rerun the WEI test? With that card you should get killer scores.

  11. I purchased Windows XP Pro SP2 last year but I didn’t use it. Lately, I’ve been reading Intel Quad Core 2 Q6600 reviews and about its recent price drop. Compared to Vista, what would the performance be if I used XP Pro SP2 instead? I’ve read a number of Q6600 reviews and the testers all seem to use XP Pro SP2. Vista has a new feature for quad cores called “load balancing.” How much of a difference would it make if I used XP without this feature?

    I will be running 2 CPU intensive business apps and a special permanent memory resident disk program. If I bought the Q6600, in XP if possible, I would manually assign the last 3 cores to these tasks. I would leave the first core for regular system usage and other apps. Would this setup work in XP and would there be any performance difference compared to Vista? I do not want to buy a whole new set of software again.


  12. I haven’t tried XP on this box, Cypherdude, so I can’t answer any of those questions. Maybe someone else who has read this can. You might also check some of the reviews I pointed to earlier.

  13. Turned out I didn’t install both ATI Radeon drivers. I also needed something called ‘Avivio’ installed.

    I posted a comment on The Green Button about 6:30 this morning. By 8:00 am more than 15 people had read my post and one of them had the solution. If only everything was this easy.


  14. That was funny to hear from you that a window full of thumbnails draws “instantly”. (strong emphasis on your italics) hihi… i just wanna say, Vista does cache your thumbnails to disk. (period) once rendered vista draws that “instantly” –yes even on my Sempron 3000+ PC. =P

  15. Question for Cyberdude:

    I’ve just build a Quad Core 6600 system with Windows XP Pro, SP2, and it’s flying. However, I can’t recognize more than 2 CPU’s in Task Manager. Would you or anyone else in the group know if I am supposed to be able to see all 4 in task manager? or is XP’s limit 2 Processors?


  16. Hey Ed,
    Good post. I was thinking about getting a Dell 1430 dual quad core as a home workstation. But I’d use Fedora as my primary OS. I know that you’re running Ubuntu under VM on your system. I was wondering how many CPUs does VMware Workstation allow you to see? All four or only two?

    Looking forward to your ZDNet post.

  17. Ed,

    How quiet is the 512MB ATI Radeon HD2600XT?

    As I said in one of my comments above, I’m using the ATI Radeon 1650 PRO in my HTPC. The fan on this thing is loud enough to be heard over the television.

    Any thoughts on a higher-end video card with a fanless design?

    Thank you.


  18. I don’t see an answer to Svenkpoijken’s question regarding onlyt two processors visible in XP. Which is a pity, ‘cos I have the same problem.
    But I can only get XP to run if I disable the quad core (ie revert to dual core) and also if I disable the SATA RAID controller.
    I’ve tried installing the RAID driver but that says it can’t be installed ‘cos the feature doesn’t exist and I can’t get XP to run if I enable RAID in the BIOS.
    I’ve yet to find a driver to cover my quad core (6600) problem

    Anyone any ideas?

    I’m running XP Pro SP3 on a Dell XPS 420 with 4GB RAM and 2 500 GB (non-RAID) Seagate HDDs

  19. Shoulda gone with an Nvidia. Much more industry-friendly. From my perspective, and that involves a bit of stereoscopic 3d gaming (aka – standard gaming format of the future) ATI has dropped the ball.

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