Intel will be launching very soon the world’s first six-core CPU for desktops, Core i7-980X (codenamed “Gulftown”), a socket LGA1366 processor running at 3.33 GHz, and we had the privilege of benchmarking this beast. Let’s see what kind of performance level it will deliver.
Core i7-980X is manufactured under the latest 32 nm manufacturing technology (this manufacturing process is codenamed Westmere). Internally this CPU still uses Nehalem microarchitecture (click here to learn about this microarchitecture). The next microarchitecture to be released (probably in 2011) by Intel is codenamed Sandy Bridge and the first CPUs based on it will also be manufactured under 32 nm process.
This CPU also has Hyper-Threading technology, which simulates an extra core on each CPU core. Therefore it is seen by the operating system and programs as a 12-core CPU. Holy Moly!
The official internal clock for this CPU is 3.33 GHz, but with TurboBoost technology enabled (which allows the CPU to automatically overclock itself when needed), internal clock rate can reach up to 3.60 GHz.
This CPU is based on socket LGA1366 like the first Core i7 units (models starting with “9”). This means that its integrated memory controller supports only DDR3 memories up to 1,066 MHz under triple-channel architecture. At first the support of only DDR3-1066 may be seen as a drawback since several mainstream CPUs support DDR3-1333. However the triple channel configuration more than overcomes this limitation, as it provides 50% more bandwidth for memory access. Some numbers for you. A CPU with two DDR3-1066 memory modules in dual-channel configuration has a 17,056 MB/s maximum theoretical transfer rate available for memory communication, while a CPU with three DDR3-1066 memory modules in triple-channel configuration has a 25,584 MB/s bandwidth available (50% increase). A CPU with two DDR3-1333 modules in dual-channel configuration has a maximum theoretical transfer rate of 21,328 MB/s available, so the triple-channel configuration with DDR3-1066 memories still has 20% more bandwidth than two DDR3-1333 modules under dual channel.
The L3 memory cache was also increased from 8 MB (on the other “9xx” Core i7 CPUs) to 12 MB on this model. This 12 MB cache is shared by all six cores.
Core i7-980X supports AES-NI instructions, a set of 12 new instructions to improve performance of encryption and decryption operations (if the software makes use of these new instructions, of course). Like all other CPUs based on the Nehalem microarchitecture, this new Core i7 supports both SSE4.1 and SSE4.2 instruction sets.
Intel will ship Core i7-980X with a new stock CPU cooler, called DBX-B. This cooler will be only available with this CPU and won’t be sold separately. It uses the now popular tower design with four U-shaped copper heatpipes, very polished copper based (mirrored finishing) and a Quiet/Performance switch, so you can choose between automatic control or maximum speed all the times (and maximum noise level), respectively. Below you can see some pictures of this new cooler.
The price tag of this monster? The same as Core i7-975: USD 999 (price for distributors in the USA buying in 1,000-unit lots; the price for the end-user will be higher). It will be a very expensive CPU, but look at the bright side: it could be even more expensive.
Now let’s make a quick comparison between Core i7-980X and the other CPUs we included in our benchmarking.