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Living with Intel?s V8 Workstation and AMD?s 4×4

Intel dropped off their V8 workstation the other day, which truly is a workstation and not a typical gamer rig by any stretch of the imagination. However, this technology will have worked itself into game systems by year’s end, so I think it is important to give you a sense of what ultimate power will mean by that time.

Currently, my primary box is an AMD Quadzilla with a couple of noisy fans that will be history as soon as I can find time to open up the case and swap them out again. It’s a nice box and has a lot of performance overhead. For instance, as I’m writing this, I’m running a full screen DVD background in full motion on both of my 24” screens, and I’m hardly moving the performance meter from its base levels. I can bring up a video game and still do e-mail, run the movie, and have loads of remaining headroom, but if I add transcoding, this system will max out. Unfortunately, I do a lot of transcoding (I like to watch movies on my Zune when I travel).

When I move to the V8, the only way I can even get it close to its limits is to start a massive workstation application that analyzes DNA. Even with it running and all 8 cores at 99%, there is still enough headroom to run a video game. While I do see occasional frame drops, this is a level of performance that is well ahead of anything else on the market.

Living with 8 Cores

Having what amounts to unlimited headroom is damned nice. You don’t have to think about shutting stuff down if you want to do something else, you can multi-task everything, begin virus scans whenever you want, run video games (several at once if you want), watch TV or movies, and generally fry your brain, depending on your attention span and your tolerance level for distraction.

The speed under Vista Ultimate is impressive (only Ultimate supports two processors). This is a workstation class system, so the data pipes are fat; you can even run two Ethernet cables into two-gigabit Ethernet ports to push the limits of your network or anyone else’s. It doesn’t support SLI, Crossfire, or PCI cards, so upgrading the really basic sound and adding extra USB ports isn’t on the short list of easy-to-do things.

But man, if you want raw power for video encoding, transcoding, editing, or planning your next moon launch, this puppy screams performance.

Comparing the V8 to the 4X4

Let’s be clear: I wouldn’t toss either one of these machines out of my office. I like them both a lot, but they are different. The AMD is a gaming rig with good sound that supports SLI and is better designed for that use. It is also a good workhorse box, and you have to work to find any headroom issues with it.

The Intel is fine for gaming, and as it is configured with an 8800 card versus two 7900 GTX cards in the 4×4, graphics performance is near identical. It lacks expansion and it is one expensive puppy. But, if you are into video or photography or just want to have something no one else will have for some time, this is the box for you.

Both will impress the neighbors and both will probably draw a small crowd at a LAN party if you dress them up a bit.

Both products also showcase Vista better (I think) than a dual core offering does. Vista was designed to scale, and XP doesn’t seem to like it much when you move beyond 2 cores.

Mid-year, AMD is expected to announce their own quad-core offing, and Intel will likely have a V8 that is more consumer-friendly (both in terms of configuration and price). You watch: next Christmas, eight cores and four video cards will be the rig to lust after, and I’m hoping there will be at least one game that will push such a rig. It probably will literally blow my mind.

We’ll see. For now, I’m going back to my movie, my e-mail, my video transcoding, and my therapist, because all of this activity is driving me nuts and I seem to think that is a good thing.

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