The new Core i5 661 may just be a dual-core processor, but it's still incredibly fast at 3.33GHz, even when compared to high-performance quad-core parts. Accompanied with the rest of the Core i5 and Core i3 line-up, we finally have Intel moving completely away from its older Core 2 products.
However unlike previous Core i5/i7 launches where AMD had little to no answer to Intel, the green camp is better equipped to fight at the mainstream and budget levels. For the most part, the Core i5 661 is slower than the 3.0GHz Phenom II X4 945 processor, which has a two core advantage. With pricing set at $196 for the Core i5 661, it is more expensive than the Phenom II X4 945 ($166).
Same goes for the platforms, if say you wanted to look at some HTPC use, AMD has a good showing with the 790GX. Boards based on that chipset can be had for as little as $75.
It's also hard to escape the fact that the Core i5 661 is priced alongside the Core i5 750. Although there is no integrated chipset for the Core i5 750 right now, and the cheapest P55 boards are priced at around $170, the quad-core processor is clock for clock considerably faster. Further, you can always pick up a GeForce 8400GS graphics card for under $30.
If Intel H55 motherboards were to become available for less than $100, those savings could go directly into the entire system cost. But again, AMD has that price point well covered with 790GX motherboards.
The gaming performance of Intel's built-in GPU was nothing spectacular. Although Intel claims that you can do a little gaming with this IGP solution in more modern games, such as Resident Evil 5 and World of Warcraft, do not expect to do so using respectable quality settings at a worthwhile resolution.
What the Graphics Media Accelerator HD can do is play 1080p HD movies smoothly, and for now that is all we needed it to do. Combined with full hardware decode acceleration for AVC, VC1, and MPEG-2 formats, dual simultaneous HDMI 1.3a support and DisplayPort 1.1 with audio, means that the GMA is well suited for other tasks other than gaming.
Another aspect that makes the Core i5 661 an ideal candidate for budget systems and HTPCs is its power consumption, which is very low. Whether you want it to run a cool compact system, or for overclocking purposes, we eventually ended up running our Core i5 CPU at a crazy 4.6GHz. Assuming these overclocking abilities transcend to the rest of the series, the Core i5 650 which is clocked at 3.20GHz ($176) should become the value option that overclockers will go after. At the other end of the scale, the Core i5 670 seems a little ludicrous at $284, given that it comes clocked at just 3.46GHz.
Although it's hard to say exactly how much a new Core i5 6xx processor and motherboard combination will cost at this point, we estimate that Intel won't be able to undercut AMD with this series. Therefore, they will look to do so with the Core i3 540 ($133) and 530 ($113) processors, which are also being released this month.
The Core i5 661 is making a relevant appearance sending older Core 2 products into oblivion, but it hasn't won us over in good part due to AMD's already enticing offerings at these price points. That's not to say this isn't a step in the right direction for Intel as we look forward to watching the budget processor war play out throughout the rest of 2010.
Early next month AMD is expected to launch its fastest dual-core processor ever, the Phenom II 555 Black Edition, along with numerous Athlon II processors. They will also have a new iteration of hybrid graphics combining their 800-series chipsets with the 5000-series GPU, so keep an eye out for that as well.