Price/Performance Charts: Price of Core 2 Extreme drops ahead of quad-core launch

Posted by Mark Raby

Chicago (IL) - If you plan on upgrading your computer with Intel's fastest processor, this may be your best opportunity yet: The latest update of our Price/Performance Charts reveals a substantial drop in etail pricing - close to $900 and substantially below any price of any other Intel Extreme processor before.

Week 42 has been another rather quiet period for processor prices, indicating that most SKUs have settled into a comfortable supply/demand area. We did not record any major price changes this week, and, in fact, the price of our base processor, the Pentium 4 520, which we use to determine the relative performance index, remained unchanged, so prices of the target processors were the only factors impacting our charts this week.

But, of course, we were able to use this week to improve our charts with the help of the input of our readers: Many of you requested larger charts and designations of individual processors within the charts. We have added such charts, which you can simply access by clicking on the respective graphics in this article. We continuously enhance this ongoing coverage - but we welcome any input from you with features you would like to see. Feel free to email us by clicking on the link behind the author's name in the beginning of this article. We read every message and try to answer as many emails as possible.

Average CPU etail prices for week 42

Before we get too far, let's have a look at the developments of this week. On the AMD side, the Athlon 64 X2 4400+ needs some quick attention: Last week, the average price on Pricegrabber.com showed up as $383, which was a $145 increase. Now, it's back down to $234, almost the same price it was two weeks ago. Either there were some unusual supply issues with the 4400+ last week or it was an error on Pricegrabber.com's list of average prices. Either way, we'll consider it a fluke.

The most noteworthy development circled around the Intel Core 2 Extreme X6800, which dropped 8% from last week's $1003 price and is now listed for an average etail price of $921, which is the lowest average price we've ever recorded for any of Intel's Extreme Edition processors. The fact that it is an average price means that you can get this processor for substantially less at some etailers - the lowest price for in-stock X6800's was $894 at the time of this writing. Check out the Pricegrabber.com listings through our Merchant Hound site.

Intel Core 2 Extreme

The biggest price increase Intel saw this week was for the Extreme Edition 965, which went up $38. It's not a huge increase, only 4%, but the last-generation Extreme Edition processors are, as we've noted before, extremely overpriced considering their average performance on a variety of benchmarks.

Additionally, the Pentium D 805 and Core 2 Duo E6400 continue to drop in price, each decreasing 3% and 4%, respectively, over the past week, even though they're essentially the only processors that are actually under-priced, even when they're not overclocked. If you are out for the best deal and the most bang for your buck, this is the area you want to look at. The E6400 can be bought for around $224 and with some overclocking effort you can squeeze more performance out of the processor than out of a stock X6800. The Pentium D 805, based on the first generation 90 nm Smithfield dual-core design, remains a great value, even as the processor is being phased out: The chip currently sells for an average $99, but you can overclock the chip significantly: According to Tom's Hardware, 4.1 GHz and the performance of a Pentium EE965 are possible.

As for AMD, prices went both ways this week. Ignoring the 4400+ for now, the 4600+ threw off the scales with a 24% jump in price, from $243 to $302. The FX-60 also saw a somewhat significant 6% increase from $559 to $595. The X2 4800+ dropped the most, down 8% from $344 to $318. On the lower end, there was essentially no change. The price increases outweigh the price drops by a little bit, and that's on processors that are already priced above the price dictated by the relative performance index.


Extra performance is less expensive in Intel processors these days

The Intel curve has leveled off even more from last week to the point where it is almost a straight line compared to AMD. On average, this is a great development for consumers. It means that, if someone wants more processing power, they're going to have to pay very little for it and at least theoretically, you would get a linear increase in power for your extra dollars. Of course, that's on average, and the thing about averages is that sometimes extremes can alter the general image that's presented, which is certainly the case with Intel. The slopes are very telling: Intel's curve has a slope of 280, meaning that, on average, for every additional one-tenth increase on the relative performance index, it's going to cost you an extra $280. That number is $440 on AMD's side.

Performance without Core 2 Extreme QX6700: Click to enlarge and get more details

However, once again, let's look at the correlation coefficients of these graphs. For AMD, it's 0.942. This is just a little less than two weeks ago, when it was 0.965, most likely because of the imbalance of the price increases this week. Last week, the 4400+ threw off the correlation a bit, and brought it down to 0.903. Regardless, AMD remains extremely reliable in its pricing for the relatively short span of processor power it offers, compared to Intel.

Intel, however, has increased its price confusion even more with its price-performance correlation coefficient dropping to 0.301. Below 0.3 is generally considered the point where there's virtually no relationship between the two variables. However, while this may sound negative, it is actually creating a great deal of opportunities for consumers who spend some time watching the market. Determine your needs and these graphs can lead you to the best value in the processor market today. On the other hand, of course, it means that individuals not paying close attention to Intel processor pricing could end up with a very bad deal with a blue team CPU.

Performance with Core 2 Extreme QX6700: Click to enlarge and get more details

When the yet-to-be-released QX6700 is factored into our charts, however, the correlation actually doubles, to 0.600. This is because the high processor power, combined with the price (which carries a 269% price premium over the $446.03 relative price) the curve adapts to a more natural and exponential shape, which should be expected in a case such as this.

AMD's curve, which is truly exponential, is again undercut very quickly by Intel's curve, mainly because we do not have details on AMD's 4x4 platform package. For AMD to have the natural exponential curve over such a short distance on the x-axis, it needs to shoot up at a rapid pace, which it does. However, once AMD does come out with its new 4x4 high-end platform that is predicted to come out this year for about $800 - $900, we expect increased pricing pressure on AMD's mainstream processor family. At least at this time, it does not appear that 4x4 can solve AMD's problem of not having high volume mainstream processors in the $400 - $500 price range.

However, the performance impact of the basic and non-overclocked 4x4 platform may not be as dramatic, as we hear that there may be very few applications that can take advantage of four cores at this time. We will have to wait for the first QX6700 vs. 4x4 shootout to get a better idea, where AMD stands these days.