Videoguys' DIY 4: Dual Core Face-Off - AMD Athlon 64 x2 vs. Intel Pentium D 900

Back in the end of 2005 we realized that our first two DIY projects had gotten pretty long in the tooth. While they were pretty cutting edge at the time, we were seeing some very new and exciting technologies breaking out. The most exciting was dual core processors.

What is a dual core processor?

By now I’m sure most of you already know the answer to this, so I’ll be brief here. (You can follow the links in the table below to articles we used in our research that go into far more detail). Basically a dual core processor is just as it sounds. It’s a single chip that actually contains and operated as two independent processors.

The advantages of Dual Core processors for video editing are significant. The biggest is price / performance. Most video editing applications are written to take advantage of dual processors and hyperthreading, now with a single affordable chip, you can maximize this capability. Those of you who read our DIY3 article are aware of the troubles and tribulations we ran into building a dual Xeon workstation. With a Dual-Core processor the installation and set up of our DIY4 machines was very easy. As you will see from this article, you can build a killer dual core workstation for under $2,000 that will give you outstanding performance for all your editing and encoding needs.

AMD was first to deliver dual core processors on the market. We’ve always used Intel based systems for our DIY projects, mainly because up until now, they were easier to build and configure. While AMD systems often gave superior price / performance, we found that they als tended to require more tweaking and many of the AMD motherboards used chipsets that ran into conflicts with some of our video editing products.

On our DIY forum we were constantly getting questions about dual processor systems and AMD. With DIY4 we decided to run our first ever DIY comparison test. We would not only build a dual core system, we would actually build two! One based on AMD and the other using an Intel dual core processor. We also decided that in addition to posting the configurations for the two systems we built, we would post additional configs based on our research, real world experiences from our customers, and posts we would find in the various support forums for our products.

DIY 4 – the long & winding road

Back in January we started this project. The research took about a month. We kept reading articles about new chipsets and new motherboards. One of the interesting technologies that also emerged is dual graphics card technology. With the release of Adobe Premiere Pro 2 and Avid Liquid 7 we could see that the video editing vendors were going to be tapping into GPU technology more and more. We decided that we wanted to use motherboards that could take advantage of this capability, even though we would be building systems with a single graphics card. We did spec out a machine – called the Liquid Vaporizer – that would have dual ATI 1900 graphics cards.

We decided that on the Intel side, we would go with a motherboard using the 955 chipset. The 955 was designed by Intel for their dual-core processors and the chipset includs all the features we were hoping for, and it did support dual graphics - although not true SLI. The 975 chipset has since been released and it does support dual graphics but we read stories about heat issues with the initial Intel Xtreme Dual Core processors. So we decided to go with the ASUS P5WD2 Premium motherboard and a D940 processor.

On the AMD side we decided to go with the Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe motherboard and an Athlon 64 X2 4400+ processor. We decided to spend the extra money for the 4400+ over the 4200+ for the bigger L2 cache. With all the data we’re pumping in and out of the processor, I felt it would be a mistake to cut corners and go with the smaller cache. I can’t demonstrate that it gave us better performance, but with video editing we want to avoid anything that could become a potential bottleneck and slow our system down in any way.

Those familiar with our DIY series know that we’ve had excellent success in the past with Asus motherboards. They are loaded with features, I/O, and excellent utility software. By using ASUS motherboards for both the AMD & Intel systems we felt we’d keep the playing field level. At the end of the article we put together a price matrix for all of the CPUs and motherboards we considered.

DIY4 Sneak Peak

Back on January 28th we began the assembly phase of our DIY4 projects and I decided to post a “sneak peak” article on our website. This was the first time we ever posted a DIY project while in process. We felt this was important because there was so much interest in dual core technology and unfortunately our vendors were not picking up on it. They continued to post recommended and certified system specs that were now very outdated. Our customers were getting frustrated and we felt we had to lead the way. Below is what we posted back on January 28th:

diy4-gary.jpg

We are in the process of putting together our next DIY project. It's going to be dual core, and for the first time we will build more than 1 workstation for the article. We'll be doing both an Intel (Asus P5WD2 Premium mobo) & an AMD (Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe mobo) dual core machine. We've finished our research and the motherboards and parts are here, so we are ready to begin building and testing the machines. This phase can go quickly, or get stalled along the way.

I have posted the article early, as a "sneak peak" because we are getting bombarded with questions about dual core. We've listed the two configs we are building, plus 2 additional options we feel will also work well. I have included a ton of links to the articles we used from sites like Tom's Hardware, ExtremeTech, Anadtech and others. We will be posting additional info and more research notes as we go along. Please keep in mind that on DIY3, we ended up having to go through several builds until we got it right. We learned alot, and I am confident we've picked the best possible motherboards for the project. Hopefully our research was accurate and the official article gets posted in a couple of weeks.

We will be installing Xpress Pro Mojo PowerPack on both systems (along with Avid Liquid, Sony Vegas and The new Adobe Production Studio w/ CIneForm Aspect HD). I'll be updating our DIY4 page as we learn more and make adjustments.

Before we get into the article there are three things we need to cover:

  1. Dual Core. The reality is that by year end, that's all you're going to find in anytrhing but the lowest end machines. The race is on and AMD & Intel will do everything possible to push the industry as fast as possible to these new chips. In theory a dual core processor should be seen the same asa dual processor system. So any software that is dual processor aware and hyperthreaded should work fine. This is where we may find problems for Xpress Pro. As posted in their tech notes, Avid recommends shutting off hyperthreading when running Xpress Pro with dual processors. I am concernd that this issue will be exaserbated with dual cores and we may run into issues. I'm not sure if you can shut off hyperthreading in a dual core system.

  2. Win XP 64 Bit. Do not even try to run any current NLE software under Win XP 64 bit. The software is not written for 64 bit, it does not know how to handle the extra bits, and there are no device drivers. Shortly after Vista is officially released (say a couple of months) I expect to see the first 64 bit versions and drivers for video editing. Even those will have be more 'beta' than solid. Mosat importantly - even running one device or software that is not 64 bit optimized can and will cause major stability issues. Don't go 64 bit until EVERYTHING installed in the computer is 64 bit

  3. Chipsets are as important as the CPUs. This is all too often overlooked, but in reality it is the single most important factor in the success of your computer for NLE. Picking the correct motherboard is critical. Any bottlenecks int he chipset can be a huge problem for NLEs. We discovered this with the 6300 southbridge while researching our DIY 3 dual core workstation.

Fortunately the machines went together like charm. Both systems were up and running in no time. We didn’t run into any issues and we were ready to start the testing phase of our project. Then someone posted on our DIY forum that they’d like to see us run some benchmarks comparing the two systems. This was such a great idea that I felt we had to do it – even if it meant delaying the publishing of this article. So we began searching for benchmarks that our customers would find useful.

Videoguys
DIY4 Configs

Black Steel Green Steel
Mother Board Asus P5WD2 Premium $195.00 Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe $160.00
CPU
Dual Core
Pentium D 940 3.2 Ghz Dual Core CPU X80553940 $439.00 AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ 2.2 Ghz Dual Core ADA4400CDBOX $458.00
Memory (2GB) Kingston 1GB 240pin DDR2 PC2 6400 (x2) KHX6400D2/1G $288.00 Kingston 1GB 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 PC 3200 (x2) KVR400X64C3A/1G $153.00
System Drive WD2500KS 250GB SATAII $93.00 WD2500KS 250GB SATAII $93.00
RAID Storage Hitachi 250x2 $186.00 Hitachi 250x2 $186.00
Case ASPIRE X-CRUISE-BL/420 Black Steel ATX Mid Tower w/ 420W PS $85.00 ASPIRE X-CRUISE-BL/420 Green Steel ATX Mid Tower w/ 420W PS $85.00
Graphics Card PNY Quadro FX540 128MB PCIe $249.00 PNY Quadro FX540 128MB PCIe $249.00
DVD Burner Pioneer DVR-R100 $50.00 Pioneer DVR-R100 $50.00
OS Microsoft Windows XP Pro SP2 OEM $155.00 Microsoft Windows XP Pro SP2 OEM $155.00
Total $1,745 $1,594

A bump in the road – Matrox Axio LE

We were doing great with our DIY4 machines and we had even found a couple of cool benchmark programs we could sue, when we got hit with a Major new product from Matrox. The Axio LE is a professional real-time HD editing solution for Premeire Pro 2. It requires a very fast computer with dual processors and motherboard chipset that can handle all the data. Matrox requires dual processors for the Axio LE, in fact they want dual dual-core processors. We were given the tesk of seeing if we could get Axio LE to run successfully in our DIY3 Dual Xeon machine. It took some tinkering, but Jon and the guys from Matrox were able to get it running. We realized that we needed faster processors and dedicated SCSI320 or FibreChannel RAID storage to hande the full capabilities of Axio LE. While doing our Axio LE research we came up with our ideal dual dual-core for Matrox’s new real-time HD solutions. We called this system "Big Red" and it’s based on Matrox’s top recommended motherboard the Tyan Thunder K8WE dual dual-core Opteron 200 series processors.

Back to DIY4

Back in March we were able to once again turn all our attention on our DIY machines. We had them each up and running with the full gamut of our NLE offerings; Adobe Production Studio Premium w/ Premeire Pro 2, After Effects 7, Photoshop CS2 & Encore DVD; Avid Liquid 7; Sony Vegas 6 and DVD Architect 3, Avid Xpress Pro Powerpack; plus DVDit 6 Pro for DVD authoring and Sorenson Squeeze Compression Suite for encoding.

Much to our delight, everything worked great and the performance was pretty amazing. We felt that the results we were getting with our NLE software was better than ever. As we banged away on both systems, I kept feeling that the AMD machine always seemed to have a little more oomph than the Intel. It wasn’t a big difference. In fact at times I wasn’t sure if it was really the systems or me that was faster or slower. We can and do recommend both of our DIY4 machines for video editing. Anyone who follows our 'recipe' will be delighted at the performance and stability you get.

The Benchmarks

Now it was time for our final round of testing.

  • The folks at VASST had put together a killer HDV render test for Vegas. How killer is it – well many of the folks who tried to run it didn’t get throught it without crashing. In fact, our Pentium based system did crash - the first 5 times we ran it. After we did some tweaks and updated some drivers we were able to complete the test.
  • We also used a greet little Premiere Pro benchmark test that one of our customers put together and sent to us.
  • To round out the testing we created a short DV project in Liquid and had it export as a Divx file. Our good friend Joe Figuroa at Planet Liquid is putting together a more substantial benchmark project for Liquid that we will run on both machines when they become available. We're also going to pop out the Quadro 540 card and put in an ATI 1800 card to really get an acurate reading for Liquid users.
  • Finally we created a multi-cam project for Avid Xpress that we encoded to MPEG2 using Sorenson Squeeze. We used a G-tech G-RAID 500 GB for our Avid test projects. It is actually a wedding video that one of our sales guys had been working on and generously agreed to allow us to use for the tests.

AMD WINS!! AMD WINS!!

After running the benchmarks and the results are pretty clear - AMD wins. We went back and tweaked the heck out of the Pentium Dual Core machine to try and catch the AMD, but we couldn't get the same results.

We tried updating the BIOS and installed a couple of patches that we read about on some high end gaming forums. But the results were still the same. AMD dual-core processors are faster for video editing. When we ran the benchmarks the AMD machine consistently outperformed the Intel machines. At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF Spring 2006) Intel demonstrated some new technology that many speculate will put them ahead of AMD once again. We certainly would like to see Intel back in the game, but as of today, AMD is our top choice.

Videoguys DIY4 Benchmark Tests
(Lower is better)

Intel AMD
VASST Vegas Killer render test 2:10:53 1:32:30
Adobe Premeire Pro benchmark 245 140
Liquid Divx Render test
Avid Multi-cam test 00:07:45 00:06:37
Sorenson Sqeeze Compression

April 21st update:
I am off to the NAB show in Vegas. We are still running and finalizing benchmark tests. We hope to have them available for you to be able to download and run on your own computer systems when I get back.

The Benchmark Test results above are our first round results. We plan on running 3 rounds of tests as we tweak both the machines and the tests themselves. We'll post our final test result numbers after we get the official Planet Liquid test and figure out a way to make our Avid test available as a download.

Additional Configs Under Consideration

Videoguys
DIY4 Configs
Silver Liquid Vaporizer*
Mother Board SUPERMICRO PDSG4 $309.00 Asus P5N32-SLI Deluxe $150.00
CPU
Dual Core
Pentium D 940 3.2 Ghz Dual Core CPU X80553940 $439.00 Pentium D940 3.2 Ghz Dual Core CPU $439.00
Memory (2GB) Kingston 1GB 240pin DDR2 PC2 6400 (x2) KHX6400D2/1G $288.00 Kingston 1GB 240pin DDR2 PC2 6400 (x2) KHX6400D2/1G $288.00
System Drive WD2500KS 250GB SATAII $93.00 WD2500KS 250GB SATAII $93.00
RAID Storage Hitachi 250x2 $186.00 Hitachi 250x2 $186.00
Case ASPIRE X-CRUISE-BL/420 Silver Steel ATX Mid Tower w/ 420W PS $85.00 ASPIRE X-CRUISE-BL/420 BLUE Steel ATX Mid Tower w/ 420W PS $85.00
Graphics Card SAPPHIRE 100105SR-BL Radeon X800XL 256MB GDDR3 PCIe x16 $249.00 ATI Radeon X1900XL 512MB (x2) $858.00
DVD Burner Pioneer DVR-R100 $50.00 Pioneer DVR-R100 $55.00
OS Microsoft Windows XP Pro SP2 OEM $155.00 Microsoft Windows XP Pro SP2 OEM $155.00
Total $1,852 $2,309

* Videoguys' Liquid Vaporizer
For our DIY4 article (we're building the machines now) we'll be doing both Intel (Asus P5WD2 Premium mobo) & AMD (Asus A8N-SLI Deluxe mobo) dual core machines. Both will have SLI capabilities. I don't want to delay the article any further, so we will not be doing any dual graphics testing at this time.

I'm also planning to build a new machine for myself - I'm still running our Big Blue DIY2 machine at home. If all goes well I'll have it in May. I'm wishing for a Liquid Vaporizer - Intel Dual Core D940 running in the Asus P5N32-SLI Deluxe mobo and dual ATI X1900 cards. I'm not going to build this machine until the cost falls below $2,250 - but we're getting closer! I was going to go with the 955 Xtreme chip, but we're getting great results with the D940. We aslo got grwrt results with the Asus A8N-SLI mobo for AMD, so I expect the same great results with the P5N32-SLI Deluxe. With the $150 mobo cost and the under $500 D940 chip, we're well on the way to my $2250 target price goal!!!

How about a Dual Dual-Core!

Videoguys
DIY4 Configs

BIG RED - Dual Dual-Core
Mother Board Tyan Thunder K8WE (S2895) $450.00
CPU
Dual Core
Qty 2 - AMD Dual-Core Opteron 265 Italy 1GHz HT Socket 940 $690.00
Memory (2GB) Kingston 1GB 184-Pin DDR SDRAM DDR 400 PC 3200 (x2) $171.00
System Drive WD2500KS 250GB SATAII $93.00
RAID Storage Hitachi 250x2 $186.00
Case ASPI

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