Intel Core i7 Processors: Nehalem and X58 Have Arrived

Article Index

Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: We have a number of different things to consider in this summary--the performance of the Core i7 as it compares to the Core 2 and Phenom, the performance of the Core i7 with and without Hyper-Threading enabled, and the performance of the three X58-based motherboards we tested.  Thankfully, it's rather easy to summarize the Core i7 processor's performance.  In the majority of the benchmarks we ran, the new Core i7 processors outperformed the fastest Core 2 Extreme, the 3.2GHz QX9770.  Clock for clock, the Core i7 is markedly faster than the Core 2, which allowed the 2.66GHz Core i7 920 to outperform the 3.2GHz QX9770 on a number of occasions, and the overall the Core i7 Extreme 965 / X58 combo put up the best performance we have seen from a desktop PC platform to date.  At no time did the Phenom X4 9950 threaten to overtake the similarly clocked Core i7 920 and the higher clocked 940 and Core i7 Extreme 965 were simply in another league.

Comparing the Core i7 Extreme 965's performance with an without Hyper-Threading enabled yielded some interesting results.  In the more heavily multi-threaded optimized benchmarks and applications, enabling HT on the Core i7 processor resulted in increased performance across the board.  In a few of PCMark Vantage's test suites and in couple of the low-resolution gaming benchmarks, however, disabling HT resulted in increased performance.  Unlike the day of the Pentium though, there aren't huge performance swings with HT enabled or disabled, so in our estimation it is fine to leave it enabled at all times.  Especially as more and more multi-threaded applications hit the scene.

Somewhat surprisingly, the three motherboards we tested put up measurably different benchmark scores.  We suspect the relatively immaturity of the platform will account for the differences and that in time, most X58-based motherboards will offer similar performance.  When AMD brought the memory controller onto the Athlon 64's die, once the platform matured, virtually all motherboards for the platform performed at similar levels.  The same thing will probably ring true for the Core i7.  For now though, the ASUS P6T Deluxe we tested offered the best overall performance, followed by the Gigabyte GA-EX58 Extreme, and then the Intel DX58SO.  The performance deltas separating the three motherboards were relatively small, however, except for those produced in the low resolution in-game tests.

What can we say about the Core i7 and X58 Express that the benchmarks haven't already told us?  Looking back through the results, it is obvious Intel has raised the desktop CPU performance bar yet again and in a big way.  The Core i7 920, 940 and Core i7 Extreme 965 put up some of the best benchmark scores we have seen to date.  In a few instances, the Core 2 Extreme is able to come close clock-for-clock, but overall there is no denying the Core i7 represents a significant step up in performance.  Even at this early stage, we were also impressed by the X58 Express chipset-based motherboards we tested.  Throughout our entire battery of tests, which took place over the better part of week, we did not experience any instability whatsoever and everything we connected to the boards "just worked".  We also had a good experience overclocking with the Core i7, which bodes well for the enthusiasts and modders out there contemplating a purchase of one of these new processors.

The one drawback to the Core i7 platform, if you can really call it a drawback, is that the upgrade path from a Core 2 is somewhat difficult.  Even if you've got a fast Core 2 processor and some DDR3 RAM, users will likely need to purchase at least one more stick of RAM to take full advantage of the platform's performance and a new motherboard and cooler will be required as well.  If you're building a brand new rig, purchasing these items is to be expect, but if you're upgrading piecemeal, we can see some enthusiasts being put off a bit.

When the new Core i7 processors arrive sometime later this month, pricing for the flagship Core i7 Extreme 965 will be set at $999, the Core i7 940 at $562, and the Core i7 920 at $284.  Expect enthusiast-class X58 based motherboards to sell for around $300 give or take a few dollars depending on the number of features.  Considering what we've seen of the Core i7's performance so far, what this means for Core 2 pricing remains to be seen, but we suspect some price cuts are in order.  Ultimately, we can't help but be impressed by the new Core i7 processors. The performance, power profile, and overclockability are all very good even at this early stage.  Intel clearly has another strong product in their line-up that will undoubtedly appeal to PC enthusiasts and multimedia professionals alike.



  • Excellent Performance
  • Power Efficient
  • Highly Overclockable
  • Quiet PIB cooler
  • Requires New Motherboards
  • Not Available Yet
  • Sensitive To Higher Voltages

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