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Intel Core i3 540 review + Extreme Overclocking

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I might be a tad late to the party, but I ensure you that it definitely is read-worthy for everyone, the average joe, the budget overclocker and well... the extreme overclocker too.


I just finished and published the review of the newest mainstream Dual-Core processor from Intel, the Core i3 540.


Some quotes from the review:


For the past one and a half ( or so ) year Intel had nothing new to compete with the Phenom II and Athlon II processors from AMD except the "old" Penryn processor family ( Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Extreme QX9650 / QX9770 ) whose pricing wasn't exactly what I'd call competitive. If you were after a cheap processor ( 99$ - 199$ ) your best bet was AMD's Phenom II. It took Intel 1 year to release a Nehalem-based entry level & mainstream processor family ( I'm quite sure they had the processors ready for a while, but don't know why they didn't release them earlier ).

Now, with the release of the Core i3 and Core i5 processors, Intel's processor lineup for 2010-2011 is complete, we have the very cheap Intel Core i3 dual-core processors, the relatively cheap Intel Core i5 dual-core & quad-core processors, and finally the high end Intel Core i7 quad-core & six-core processors.


Today we're going to have a good look at the affordable entry-level processor from the Core i3 lineup, the i3 540.

The Core i3 540 is a dual-core processor with HyperThreading support based on the Clarkdale core ( which is based on the Westmere core ).

It's the first CPU with an integrated GPU from Intel for the desktop processors segment, although the IGP ( as Intel calls the integrated GPU ) [ Integrated Graphics Processor ] isn't actually on-die, it's on a separate die installed on the same package with the Clarkdale core.

Just like the Core i5 7xx CPUs, Clarkdale also features an Integrated PCI-Express BUS controller and a DMI controller, it's like a dual-core i5 7xx with an extra component ( Integrated GPU ), a different memory controller, manufactured with Intel's 32nm process.


Currently there are two Intel Core i3 processor models, the i3 530 and the 540, with the only difference between them being the clock frequency ( 2.93GHz & 3.06GHz respectively ) and the price ( MSRP: 113$ & 133$ respectively ).


If you asked me to guess if you're bored already or not, I'd say yes. I'm not good at all in writing introductions, so I'm going to do you a favor and end this suffering by letting you know what you'll find in the following pages of this review.

We're going to talk a bit about the technical specifications and the Clarkdale architecture, take a look at the CPU and the boxed heatsink, test the processor at its stock clock frequency and overclocked, compare it with an i7 950 processor in various configurations ( stock, clock per clock at 4GHz with 2 cores disabled to match the i3 540 in core & thread count, at 4GHz with 2 cores & dual channel memory, and fully overclocked ), find its max limits with the stock cooler and an aftermarket CPU air cooling solution, and then do some extreme overclocking using Dry Ice & Liquid Nitrogen.


If all of the above excite you or just seem to catch your interest, grab a cup of coffee or a cold beer and move on to the second page of this review.


Ok, now I'm going to try to explain to you what I wanted to check, how I did it, and why I did it to give you a general idea behind the methodology I used for this review.


Usually when I'm planning the testing for a review I try to cover every aspect of the test subject ( the product, duh! ) and take the appropriate measurements to compare it with various hardware from the same manufacturer and the competitors offerings, test its raw and everyday performance in various tests & benchmarks, and finally, push it to its limits ( or even beyond that :-p ).

My first idea for this review ( no,no, testing the product at its stock settings isn't an idea! do you think that you have to breathe ? ) was to compare the performance of the Core i3 540 clock-per-clock ( at the same clock frequencies and core & threads count ) with one of the 45nm parts of the previous generation to see if things got any better at the same clocks. So I overclocked the Core i3 540 at 4GHz and run the benchmarks, and also did the same with the Core i7 950 at 4GHz with only 2 DDR3 DIMMs ( to have the same amount of memory and of course to run the IMC at Dual Channel memory mode ) & 2 cores disabled from the BIOS setup to match the core & threads count of the Core i3 540 ( 2 cores / 4 threads ).

Since I had everything set up for a clock-per-clock comparison to see if the new 32nm parts have any performance advantages at the same clock frequencies I said "Why don't I test the i7 950 at the same settings but with 3 DDR DIMMs and the IMC in Triple Channel mode to see if there's anything to be gained by the increased memory bandwidth from operating in triple channel mode ?", and so I did. I installed a 3rd DDR3 DIMM and re-run all the benchmarks.


And the sweetest part of all, overclock all the CPUs to their maximum stable clock frequencies and run the benchmarks again, watch the scores go sky high ( well, for air cooling I'd say they did great, for the absolute clocks I need to get my liquid nitrogen dewars filled and overclock them at "stone cold" temperatures, way under 32*F/0*C).


To read the full review, just click here!


The Extreme Overclocking page should be filled with contents this weekend, I'm getting ready to test the i3 540 and an i5 670 on LN2 ( might have a live stream as well )

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