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Intel Core i7-980X Gulftown Six-Core 32nm Processor Review

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Associate Review Editor
Nov 8, 2006


Even though they will likely only be purchased by a small minority, Intel's 32nm six-core processors have easily been the most highly anticipated processors that we can recall. Even the day that the first Core i7's were launched people were already talking about hexa-core chips. Part of this anticipation is no doubt due to the fact that we have been 'stuck' with 45nm and quad-core since early 2007. Either way, the wait was arguably worth it. As we have stated earlier, yes...the Core i7-980X is basically just a six-core i7-975 with an extra 4MB of L3 cache and manufactured on the 32nm process. However, that's good enough for us.

The results really do speak for themselves. The Core i7-980X took first place in 14 of our 16 real-life applications and games, falling behind the equally-clocked i7-975 once, and then losing to the Phenom II X4 in quirky Far Cry 2. However, as we stated earlier to really take advantage of Gulftown's potential you need software that supports more than eight threads, which is hard to find right now in the consumer realm. Heck, there is only a tiny handful of games that can make use of more than 4 threads, with only a slight trickle of 8+ capable games on the horizon. Thankfully, Intel is hard at work motivating developers to increase the multi-threadedness (is that even a word?) of their software.

Despite the impressive performance that we witnessed, we are tempted to put forth the argument that Intel were a little too conservative with the core clock, since they surely could have launched the i7-980X above 3.33Ghz. Furthermore, we are a little disappointed that Gulftown doesn't feature Lynnfield's more aggressive Turbo Boost implementation. Having said that, we understand that it was likely a requirement in order to stay within the 130W TDP limit.

Speaking of power, we were very pleased to see that our Core i7-980X's power consumption was effectively exactly the same as our i7-975. That is a testament to Intel and their new 32nm manufacturing process, since they have managed to increase multi-threading performance by up to 50% without increasing power usage. The Gulftown chip also doesn't run any hotter than our Bloomfield samples, so when combined with the new DBX-B Thermal Solution temperatures were quite reasonable. Just make sure that you keep the DBX-B's fan on Quiet mode, since we found it too noisy for our liking on Performance mode.

Overclocking-wise we were quite satisfied. It was almost hard to keep our expectations realistic after seeing endless overclockers hitting over 6Ghz on liquid nitrogen (LN2), but achieving a fully stable 4.4Ghz CPU core clock on a six-core processor is a very respectable result. Considering the fact that our engineering sample was manufactured a while ago, we suspect that the retail i7-980X's might be able to achieve even better results, since surely the 32nm process has improved somewhat in the 2.5 months since our particular chip was manufactured.

At the end of the day, the Core i7-980X is for those who take multi-tasking or benchmarking seriously, or for those who simply need something with unprecedented multi-threaded performance. We could harp about the price tag, but it's to be expected at this point. If you want an Extreme Edition processor from Intel, you are going to pay $999 for it. I think everyone can agree that unlocked multipliers aren't worth the price premium. However, there wasn't a shortage of people willing to buy the $999 Core i7-965 XE and then the $999 Core i7-975 XE, so there will undoubtedly also be a market for this $999 Core i7-980X. We do hope to see Gulftown models trickle down to more reasonable price points sooner rather than later though.

By the way, do keep in mind that Core i7-980X availability is still a few weeks away. On the plus side though, this gives you time to start counting your pennies and looking for loose change between the sofa cushions.

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