Intel Q9550S: A Greener Quad Core?

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While the Q9550S does indeed use less power than the Q9550, it is much less than the 30W suggested by their TDP ratings. Thermal Design Power is an "up to" specification indicating maximum power dissipation under the most extreme loads, so caution should be used when looking at these numbers. We found that the difference in power consumption was much too small to justify the $125 higher price-tag. To add insult to injury, our retail Q9550 sample could be undervolted to the point where it became more energy efficient than the Q9550S at stock voltage. Our Q9550S didn't undervolt any better — when both processors were set to their respective minimum operating voltages, the numbers were indistinguishable. There were no significant performance differences between the two.

The performance of our retail Q9550 sample suggests that Intel's 45nm manufacturing process has matured. A Q9550 purchased today and properly undervolted should come close to the energy efficiency of a Q9550S. All that is required is a capable motherboard, a little time, effort, and know-how.

For a user looking for energy efficiency both to reduce their system's overall operating cost and the amount of heat that needs to be dissipated, the Q9550S may be a viable choice depending on the circumstances. If, for instance, the system in question is mini-ITX, the Q9550S merits some consideration: A SFF PC is difficult to cool and most mini-ITX motherboards lack the ability to undervolt.

For corporations and OEMs which simply don't have time to undervolt and stress test each processor individually to ensure system stability, the Q9550S is a questionable choice, given its current market price. The lifespan of the processor is probably not long enough to offset the $100+ cost premium unless the electricity rate is very high. The slower "S" models currently cost about $75 more than their 95W counterparts — still high, but a far more palatable price to absorb.

Our thanks to Intel for Q9550S sample.

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