As any ‘family source of computer information’ will testify, every so often a family member will want an upgrade.  Over the final few months of 2012, I did this with my brother’s machine, fitting him out with a Sandy Bridge CPU, an SSD and a good GPU to tackle the newly released Borderlands 2 with, all for free.  The only problem he really had up until that point was a dismal FPS in RuneScape.

The system he had been using for the two years previous was an old hand-me-down I had sold him – a Core2Duo E6400 with 2x2 GB of DDR2-800 and a pair of Radeon HD4670s in Crossfire.  While he loves his new system with double the cores, a better GPU and an SSD, I wondered how much of an upgrade it had really been.

I have gone through many upgrade philosophies over the decade.  My current one to friends and family that ask about upgrades is that if they are happy installing new components. then upgrade each component to one of the best in its class one at a time, rather than at an overall mediocre setup, as much as budget allows.  This tends towards outfitting a system with a great SSD, then a GPU, PSU, and finally a motherboard/CPU/memory upgrade with one of those being great.  Over time the other two of that trio also get upgraded, and the cycle repeats.  Old parts are sold and some cost is recouped in the process, but at least some of the hardware is always on the cutting edge, rather than a middling computer shop off-the-shelf system that could be full of bloatware and dust.

As a result of upgrading my brother's computer, I ended up with his old CPU/motherboard/memory combo, full of dust, sitting on top of one of my many piles of boxes.  I decided to pick it up and run the system with a top range GPU and an SSD through my normal benchmarking suite to see how it faired to the likes of the latest FM2 Trinity and Intel offerings, both at stock and with a reasonable overclock.  Certain results piqued my interest, but as for normal web browsing and such it still feels as tight as a drum.

The test setup is as follows:

Core2Duo E6400 – 2 cores, 2.13 GHz stock
2x2 GB OCZ DDR2 PC8500 5-6-6
MSI i975X Platinum PowerUp Edition (supports up to PCIe 1.1)
Windows 7 64-bit
AMD Catalyst 12.3 + NVIDIA 296.10 WHQL (for consistency between older results)

My recent testing procedure in motherboard reviews pairs the motherboard with an SSD and a HD7970/GTX580, and given my upgrading philosophy above, I went with these for comparable results.  The other systems in the results used DDR3 memory in the range of 1600 C9 for the i3-3225 to 2400 C9 for the i7-3770K.

The Core2Duo system was tested at stock (2.13 GHz and DDR2-533 5-5-5) and with a mild overclock (2.8 GHz and DDR2-700 5-5-6).  

Gaming Benchmarks

Games were tested at 2560x1440 (another ‘throw money at a single upgrade at a time’ possibility) with all the eye candy turned up, and results were taken as the average of four runs.


Metro2033 - One 7970

Metro2033 - One 580

While an admirable effort by the E6400, and overclocking helps a little, the newer systems get that edge.  Interestingly the difference is not that much, with an overclocked E6400 being within 1 FPS of an A10-5800K at this resolution and settings while using a 580.


Dirt3 - One 7970

Dirt3 - One 580

The bump by the overclock makes Dirt3 more playable, but it still lags behind the newer systems.

Computational Benchmarks

3D Movement Algorithm Test

3D Particle Movement Single Threaded

This is where it starts to get interesting.  At stock the E6400 lags at the bottom but within reach of an FX-8150 4.2 GHz , but with an overclock the E6400 at 2.8 GHz easily beats the Trinity-based A10-5800K at 4.2 GHz.  Part of this can be attributed to the way the Bulldozer/Piledriver CPUs deal with floating point calculations, but it is incredible that a July 2006 processor can beat an October 2012 model.  One could argue that a mild bump on the A10-5800K would put it over the edge, but in our overclocking of that chip anything above 4.5 GHz was quite tough (we perhaps got a bad sample to OC).

3D Particle Movement MultiThreaded

Of course the situation changes when we hit the multithreaded benchmark, with the two cores of the E6400 holding it back.  However, if we were using a quad core Q6600, stock CPU performance would be on par with the A10-5800K in an FP workload, although the Q6600 would have four FP units to calculate with and the A10-5800K only has two (as well as the iGPU).

WinRAR x64 3.93 - link

WinRar x64 3.93

In a variable threaded workload, the DDR2 equipped E6400 is easily outpaced by any modern processor using DDR3.

FastStone Image Viewer 4.2 - link

FastStone Image Viewer 4.2

Despite FastStone being single threaded, the increased IPC of the later generations usually brings home the bacon - the only difference being the Bulldozer based FX-8150, which is on par with the E6400.

Xilisoft Video Converter

Xilisoft Video Converter 7

Similarly with XVC, more threads and INT workloads win the day.

x264 HD Benchmark

x264 HD Pass 1

x264 HD Pass 2


When I start a test session like this, my first test is usually 3DPM in single thread mode.  When I got that  startling result, I clearly had to dig deeper, but the conclusion produced by the rest of the results is clear.  In terms of actual throughput benchmarks, the E6400 is comparatively slow to all the modern home computer processors, either limited by cores or by memory. 

This was going to be obvious from the start.

In the sole benchmark which does not rely on memory or thread scheduling and is purely floating point based the E6400 gives a surprise result, but nothing more.  In our limited gaming tests the E6400 copes well at 2560x1440, with that slight overclock making Dirt3 more playable. 

But the end result is that if everything else is upgraded, and the performance boost is cost effective, even a move to an i3-3225 or A10-5800K will yield real world tangible benefits, alongside all the modern advances in motherboard features (USB 3.0, SATA 6 Gbps, mSATA, Thunderbolt, UEFI, PCIe 2.0/3.0, Audio, Network).  There are also significant power savings to be had with modern architectures.

My brother enjoys playing his games at a more reasonable frame rate now, and he says normal usage has sped up by a bit, making watching video streams a little smoother if anything.  The only question is where Haswell will come in to this, and is a question I look forward to answering.



View All Comments

  • Movieman420 - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - link

    Just upped from an E8400 @4GHz - P45 - 6GB Of ocz dd2-1066 and a 4850. Had 2 Ocz Vertex 2 in raid1 as boot drive and the thing is still tight as well.

    When it comes to speeding up an older rig...2 best/cheapest things that make the MOST difference:


  • astharo - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - link

    Much Agreed ! Reply
  • TerdFerguson - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - link

    Although I think that a system where every part is lacking is better replaced than upgraded, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. For a person with an aging system, it's nearly impossible to find published tests of what targeted upgrades yield. I have no doubt this article will be very useful to folks still running old hardware and evaluating upgrades. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, January 16, 2013 - link

    Something must be lost in translation here. You are apparently buying a very nice computer system for your late (i.e. dead) mother. That seems very generous, but even if your mother is still living (which I hope she is) it's unlikely that she would need that much computational power given that she's been working just fine on a Pentium 4 system.

    Even if she keeps the computer for 8 years (like her previous P4 system), the reality is that the difference between an i5 and an i7 will be trivial compared to the difference between it and any modern computer system in the future. But then again, only the best will do for mom, who is hopefully just late for Bingo and not actually departed!
  • themossie - Thursday, January 17, 2013 - link

    beautiful, just beautiful Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, January 17, 2013 - link

    TIL AMD is on par with 2008 performance. Sad AMD, just sad. Reply
  • epobirs - Thursday, January 17, 2013 - link

    I recently replaced a C2D 6400 system I built in January 2007 with an Ivy Bridge Core i5 system. It started out with 2 GB and eventually got up to the maximum 6 GB PC6400 the Intel board would allow. Began with the Intel video, then got an Nvidia 210 card. A USB 3.0 card was added. Original OS was Vista beta, then Vista final, then Win7 beta, Win7 final, then Consumer and Release Previews of Win8.

    The old C2D still has plenty of utility but I haven't the space to let it keep a position on the KVM. Still, it's sitting in reserve in case some situation comes up to put it in service again. For day to day use it had finally gotten old enough that a new machine could be justified, more for the assorted niceties beyond the CPU than for processing power.

    It helps that Microsoft has been making an effort to reduce Windows resource requirements. In an earlier era a machine this old would be showing its age much more when running the latest Windows release.
  • chizow - Thursday, January 17, 2013 - link

    Really should've tested multi-GPU configs, the CPU has been a serious bottleneck for gaming rigs since Nehalem. The results are even more apparent in multi-GPU configs where there is little or no improvement in performance scaling from additional GPUs with a slower CPU that isn't overclocked. Reply
  • Marburg U - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    Honestly i think that dumping a C2D without having upgraded to a Quadcore Penryn is a waste. Reply
  • Wolfpup - Friday, January 18, 2013 - link

    I like seeing the comparison to current CPUs...probably useful for people looking to upgrade too.

    I actually have a Core 2 x2 @ 2.4GHz that I use regularly. I notice a big difference between it an Sandy Bridge for web browsing or the like (obviously not as big as between the Core 2 and c50, let alone my iPad, but you still notice it).

    But still, Conroe was a monster!

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