Budget Dual Core Battle: Athlon II 240 vs. Pentium Dual-Core E5200

Posted in CPU, Uncategorized by QuietOC on February 26, 2010

Computers have quickly gone from single processor cores into multiple cores, but most software still doesn’t benefit from the extra cores. Still the dual core processor has become standard for PCs, and, yes, two cores are beneficial in ways not measured by most benchmarks mostly by more smoothly handling background tasks.

Both AMD and Intel sell dual core processors that cost more than their cheapest quad core processors. That doesn’t mean there is a good reason to buy a $300 Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 or even a $100 AMD Phenom II X2 555. There are much cheaper deals for basically the same thing–specifically the Pentium Dual-Core and the Athlon II X2.

The Contestants

The Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 has been out for a while. When introduced in the summer of 2008 it replaced Intel’s Core 2 Duo E7200 as the cheapest 45nm dual core processor you could buy. Like the Core 2 Duo E7000 series the Pentium Dual-Core E5000 series are made from the fairly small 45nm “Wolfdale-3M” dual core die.

Unlike the E7000 chips the E5000 seires come with 1MB of the 3MB of on chip L2 cache memory in the Wolfdale-3M die disabled. This 2MB L2 cache was an upgrade for the Pentium line since the previous Pentium Dual-Cores were 65nm processors only had 1MB of L2 cache. The Core 2 architecture is rather sensitive to L2 cache size, so the original Pentium Dual-Cores were often well behind the performance of Core 2 Duos of the same clockspeed. Yet even the lowest end Pentium Dual-Core E2140 could still perform quite well when overclocked, and that particular chip could overclock to twice its rated clockspeed.

Cache size is not the only significant factor impacting Core 2 performance. The front side bus connection between the CPU and the chipset is a big factor. The top of Core 2 lineup used a 333MHz bus clock. The Xeon versions used a 400MHz bus clock. The Pentium Dual cores are restricted to a 200MHz bus clock. This meant that the Pentiums only have the same bandwidth as a single channel of DDR2 800. Core 2’s can’t benefit from fast memory. In fact the ability to overclock to twice its rated speed meant the E2140 could actually run on a 400MHz like their Xeon cousins and actually use the bandwidth of two channels of DDR2 800.

The E5200 can reach much higher clockspeeds than the old E2140, but its 12.5x multiplier means it cannot use a 400MHz front side bus clock (12.5 x 400 MHz = 5 GHz). Wolfdales can’t reach much higher than 4 GHz and that requires a lot of voltage and cooling.

The AMD Athlon II X2 is a new chip for AMD, it is not a Phenom with its L3 cache disabled. Athlon IIs are 45nm chips and do share core architecture of the latest Phenoms. The Athlon X2 has 1MB of L2 cache per core which is twice that of AMD’s previous generation Athlon X2s and twice that of all their current chips but the same amount L2 cache size as the original Athlon X2s. The 240 is the slowest member of the Athlon II X2 family and runs at 2.8 GHz compared to only 2.5 GHz for the E5200.

AMD continues to sell some of their older 65nm and 90nm chips. The Athlon X2 5800+ is slightly cheaper than the Athlon II 240 and runs at a slightly faster clockspeed of 3 GHz. Intel still sells Celerons and Penitum 4s neither of which are competitive with the old Athlon X2.


AMD Athlon X2 5800+ $55

  • 65nm Brisbane (126 mm2)
  • 3.0 GHz (15x)
  • 1000 MHz idle (5x)
  • 2 x 512kB level 2 cache
  • 1000 MHz HT DDR bus (5x, 16-bit)

AMD Athlon II 240 $59

  • 45nm Regor (110 mm2)
  • 2.8 GHz (14x)
  • 800 MHz idle (4x)
  • 2 x 1024 MB level 2 cache
  • 2000 MHz HT DDR bus (10x, 16-bit)

Intel Pentium Dual Core E5200 $67

  • 45nm Wolfdale-3M (82 mm2)
  • 2.5 GHz (12.5x)
  • 1200 MHz idle (6x)
  • 2048 MB  shared level 2 cache
  • 200 MHz QDR bus (1x, 64-bit)


The Pentium Dual-Core is the most difficult chip to overclock successfully. Raising the front side bus from the default 200 MHz bus speed causes timing issues on most LGA775 motherboards. It is possible to avoid these by tricking the motherboard into reading the CPU as a 266 or 333 MHz bus processor using pieces of foil and tape. The BSEL 266 mod requires two pads on the processor be jumpered before it is inserted into the socket. The CPU also has to now run at the higher clockspeed(12.5x 266 MHz = 3.33 GHz)  at its default voltage. This E5200 was not quite stable in that state.

The Athlon II X2 240 has a 14x default multiplier, so it is already starting several MHz faster than the 12.5x multiplier Pentium. Intel is also more aggressive with setting low default voltages on their chips. This helps stock power consumption, but makes overclocking more difficult and as in the case of our E5200 prevents utilizing a large amount of power savings that SpeedStep would have otherwise offered.

The Gigabyte GA-G31M-ES2L motherboard being used is not the best motherboard for overclocking 200 MHz bus processors, but it was able to run the E5200 up to a 300 MHz bus speed for a resulting clockspeed of 3.75 GHz. This required manually setting the core CPU voltage in the BIOS to the 1.4125 V setting which disables the SpeedStep ability to lower the CPU voltage during idle. The processor was marginally stable at 12.5x 330 MHz = 4.125 GHz using the highest 1.6V CPU voltage setting in the BIOS. Without the BSEL modification this higher setting overclocks the memory to DDR2 880. Even with capable memory the increased power draw isn’t really worth the marginal performance increase.

Overclocking the Athlon II X2 240 is similar to the Pentium Dual Core E5200 just with fewer issues. AMD does sell Black Edition processors where they allow any CPU multiplier to be selected. That luxury isn’t really needed though. AMD Hyper Transport bus which debuted with the original Athlon has offered plenty of headroom for overclocking multiplier locked processors.

AMD is overly liberal with the default voltages of its CPUs. The 240 ran just fine at 3.7 GHz merely by raising the base clockspeed from 200 MHz to 264 MHz. We choose to run the memory at 440 MHz at this bus speed which gave the AMD system even more available bandwidth compared to the bus limited Intel. Certainly more clockspeed is available from the Athlon II X2, but doing so would require giving up the power savings gained from the ability of Cool’n’Quiet to lower the idle CPU voltage.

The Athlon X2 5800+ is nearly the top of the line chip for its process technology so a meager gain of an extra 200 MHz to a 3.2 GHz overclock wasn’t unexpected. This is an older chip and we will see how competitive it remains.

Final Clockspeeds

3.75 GHz Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200

3.7 GHz AMD Athlon II X2 240

3.2 GHz AMD Athlon X2 5800+

Web browsing remains a primary task of most computer use. Sure any of these systems will feel plenty fast for web browsing. Peacekeeper is Futuremarks fairly recent web browing benchmark, and we tested each system using Google Chrome.

Things don’t look good for the older Athlon. Even the much slower clocked Pentium is faster than the overclocked X2 5800+. The X2 240 looks competitive with the Pentium, but the overclocked E5200 just dominates this test.

GUIMark is even worse for the Athlons. Again the overclocked Pentium is just in its own class here, but the X2 240 is slightly faster than the stock clocked E5200.

SuperPi is set to calculate Pi to 1 million digits. This should be a good test of single threaded performance. SuperPi gives some strange behavior with overclocked results matching stock results, so it may not be a reliable test.

7-zip is nice free compression software that includes a handy benchmark tool. It is clearly well multi-threaded so the power of the extra cores will be visible here.

The Athlons definitely have an advantage here, as 7-zip seems to appreciate clockspeed and favor AMD’s architecture. Clockspeed seems to mainly help decompression.

We also tested rendering performance with Cinebench R11.5.

Cinebench clearly favor the Core 2 architecture, but the Athlon II manages to outperform the older Athlon clock for clock.


The Pentium Dual-Core E5200 remains a good value even as AMD has caught up and even slightly surpased the Core 2 Duo with its Athlon II X2.

Given todays options though the Athlon II X2 makes the most sense. The Pentium Dual-Core is older, smaller, and should be cheaper for Intel to make, but it is still priced at a premium. Of course some software will always run better on Intel chips

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