As well as looking at the CPU's performance we also gave the onboard GPU a quick run through. We started with the very undemanding TrackMania Nations, which is a really fun casual 3D racing game that can look quite impressive on top hardware but also scales down nicely to run on modest systems. We ran it at a resolution of 1,366 x 768 with 4xAA and 4xAF (the same as we run on our laptop benchmarks) and got a healthy 42.6fps. So next we moved onto Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, which we ran at the same settings as for the CPU performance testing (1,280 x 1,024 resolution, details on high, 0xAA, 0xAF) and got a less impressive 15.30fps. Based on this last figure, we didn't even try to run our other CPU gaming test, the infamously taxing Crysis, as we would have been looking at single figure framerates even at low res and medium detail settings. All told, gamers, should look to buy a separate graphics card.
That said, the Core i5 661's GPU delivers the level of performance we'd expect for integrated graphics, i.e. just about good enough to do a bit of casual gaming and keep desktop tasks ticking over. Also, by eliminating the need for a separate graphics card, or more expensive integrated graphics chipset, the Clarkdale series in general will hopefully result in more compact, low power, and low cost home and office PCs.
As for the CPU's performance, it's a close one to call. As the Core i5 661 is priced quite highly, our gut reaction is to recommend a true quad core alternative for the same price, i.e. the Core i5 750 or even the AMD Phenom II 965. However, thanks to its high clock speed, the Core i5 661 significantly outperforms these two in single-threaded tasks and holds its own in multi-threaded situations. Ultimately, though, if you're not going to use the integrated graphics, we do think the two above alternatives are the better overall bet, especially as they can be fairly easily overclocked to a similar level as the Core i5 661 (around 4GHz) for more performance across the board.
Intel's new dual-core Clarkdale range of CPUs certainly seems to have great performance and if you're looking for an entry-level Intel-based system, one of the Core i3 500 of Core i5 600 range is going to be a good start, especially if you're going to use the CPU's integrated graphics. However, if you don't plan to use the integrated graphics, the 600 range, and in particular the Core i5 661 we reviewed, seem a just a little overpriced. For less money you can get a true quad core chip that will give you better multi-threaded/multi-tasking performance and with a bit of overclocking, better single task performance as well.