Quick to the core(s)

In the GCN Lab's first review of dual-core notebooks, performance is a given

Could it be that, finally, one of the biggest CPU claims of recent years has actually proved to be true? With dual-core notebook PCs, it appears that Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. might be right: Clock speed matters little'if at all.

This is the first GCN Lab roundup of dual-core notebooks. And although we're working from a base of just seven laptops, we've noticed something about these systems. Intel's Core Duo processor is fast and efficient no matter how fast the clock is going. So, a smart buyer shouldn't obsess about differences within the Core Duo line. Rather, you should spend money on other features such as cellular broadband radios and integrated biometrics.

The fact is, the price difference between a 1.6-GHz and a 2-GHZz Core Duo CPU can be about $300. But if our tests are any indication, you're not going to get a significant speed bump from that investment. Actually, less might be more.

The GCN Lab brought in seven dual-core notebooks for testing. These are mainstream, business-class laptops from Acer, Dell, Gateway, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Sony and Toshiba. All had Core Duos, in clock speeds ranging from 1.6 GHz to 2 GHz.

The fastest system? It was a Lenovo ThinkPad T60 that not only had one of the slowest CPU clocks, but also just 512MB of RAM.

It's important to note that the GCN/Alterion benchmark scores for this review are a good indication of the relative performance of these systems, but we can't say for certain whether today's notebooks are significantly faster than last year's (although anecdotally, that's our conclusion, based on extensive usage). That's because the benchmarks have changed.

This is the first time we've employed updated tests from Conshohocken, Pa.-based Alterion Inc. Alterion holds a GSA schedule for government IT services and has been providing GCN with benchmark tests for years. But this review marks the first use of tests with native dual-core support. In 2005, the GCN Lab was able to jury-rig existing benchmarks to run on dual-core desktops. The results were excellent, but it was important that GCN and Alterion settle on an updated test that could be used on multicore systems of the future.

And although we'll always run application benchmarks, we'll be the first to admit that other things have become as important as raw speed.

What should you buy with the $300 you save by going with a 'lesser' dual-core processor? How about a bigger battery? These business systems typically have six-cell lithium ion batteries. But if you funnel $60 back into the Gateway M465-E, for instance, and you can get a 12-cell version that lasts more than twice as long in some cases. What's more, the Dell Latitude D620, HP Compaq nc6320 and Sony Vaio VGN-SZ180PC can be had with integrated cellular broadband radios, which do wonders for your ability to work anywhere.

So don't sweat clock speeds in dual-core processors. These systems can handle more than you'll likely throw at them. Focus on better applications of technology, and today's portables will help you operate more effectively.

Chief technology editor Brad Grimes contributed to this review.

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