Core i7-980X CPU Review
By Gabriel Torres on March 11, 2010


Introduction

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.

Intel DBX-B CPU cooler
click to enlarge
Figure 1: Intel DBX-B CPU cooler.

Intel DBX-B CPU cooler
click to enlarge
Figure 2: Intel DBX-B CPU cooler.

Intel DBX-B CPU cooler
click to enlarge
Figure 3: Intel DBX-B CPU 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.

The Tested CPUs

On the tables below you can see a comparison between the CPUs we included in our review. AMD CPUs do not support SSE4 instructions (they have a proprietary instruction set called SSE4a, which is not the same thing as SSE4). We only included one CPU from AMD because Phenom II X4 965 is the fastest CPU AMD has available and it is positioned at a lower price range (see table). AMD has announced that they will be also launching a six-core CPU this year, called Phenom II X6.

CPU

Cores

HT

Internal Clock

Turbo Clock

QPI or HT

Base Clock

Core

Technology

TDP

Socket

Price

Core i7-980X

6

Yes

3.33 GHz

3.60 GHz

6.4 GB/s

133 MHz

Gulftown

32 nm

130 W

1366

USD 999

Core i7-965

4

Yes

3.20 GHz

3.46 GHz

6.4 GB/s

133 MHz

Bloomfield

45 nm

130 W

1366

USD 999

Core i7-870

4

Yes

2.93 GHz

3.60 GHz

2 GB/s

133 MHz

Lynnfield

45 nm

95 W

1156

USD 562

Core i5-750

4

No

2.66 GHz

3.20 GHz

2 GB/s

133 MHz

Lynnfield

45 nm

95 W

1156

USD 196

Phenom II X4 965

4

No

3.4 GHz

8 GB/s

200 MHz

Deneb

45 nm

140 W *

AM3

USD 185

TDP stands for Thermal Design Power which advises the user of the maximum amount of heat the CPU can dissipate. The CPU cooler must be capable of dissipating at least this amount of heat.

* Newer models are coming with a TDP of 125 W. The tested model was from the older version, with a TDP of 140 W.

The prices listed are the official prices for distributors based on 1,000 quantities. The end-user price is higher than the prices listed.

CPU

L1 Cache

L2 Cache

L3 Cache

Memory Support

Memory Channels

Core i7-980X

32 KB + 32 KB per core

256 KB per core

12 MB total

DDR3 up to 1066 MHz

Three

Core i7-965

32 KB + 32 KB per core

256 KB per core

8 MB total

DDR3 up to 1066 MHz

Three

Core i7-870

32 KB + 32 KB per core

256 KB per core

8 MB total

DDR3 up to 1333 MHz

Two

Core i5-750

32 KB + 32 KB per core

256 KB per core

8 MB total

DDR3 up to 1333 MHz

Two

Phenom II X4 965

64 KB + 64 KB per core

512 KB per core

6 MB total

DDR3 up to 1333 MHz

Two

Socket LGA1366 CPUs talk to the external world (i.e., the chipset) through a bus called QuickPath Interconnect (QPI), which has the same goal as the HyperTransport bus used with AMD CPUs. For a detailed explanation on how QPI bus works, read our Everything You Need to Know About The QuickPath Interconnect (QPI) tutorial. Socket LGA1156 CPUs, however, use the DMI (Digital Media Interface) bus to talk to the chipset, which is the interface previously used to make the connection between the north bridge and the south bridge chips on Intel chipsets. At a first look this solution may seem worse than using the QPI bus, because the DMI interface provides a maximum transfer rate of 2 GB/s while QPI provides a maximum transfer rate of 4.8 GB/s or 6.4 GB/s, depending on the CPU. However, on socket LGA1156 the CPU has an integrated PCI Express 2.0 controller, so these CPUs talk directly to the main video card without using their external bus and without using the chipset.

Our tests have a known flaw. Socket LGA1366 Core i7 processors support triple-channel memory configuration and with them we used three 1 GB DDR3-1066 modules, so these CPUs had 3 GB available. With all other CPUs we used two 1 GB DDR3-1333 modules, so these CPUs had 2 GB available. Unfortunately due to the different memory configuration supported by each CPU, we had to decide which methodology to use, and we chose to use one that would provide the “best” memory configuration for the tested system.

How We Tested

During our benchmarking sessions, we used the configuration listed below. Between our benchmarking sessions the only variable was the CPU being tested and the motherboard, which had to be replaced to match the different CPU sockets.

Hardware Configuration

Operating System Configuration

Driver Versions

Software Used

Error Margin

We adopted a 3% error margin; thus, differences below 3% cannot be considered relevant. In other words, products with a performance difference below 3% should be considered as having similar performance.

PCMark Vantage

PCMark Vantage simulates the use of real-world applications and gives scores for the following categories:

For a detailed description of each one of these tests, please download and read the PCMark Vantage Reviewer’s Guide.

You can see the results for each category below. We are not going to compare the results for the Memories and HDD suites.

Core i7-980X

Core i7-980X achieved an overall score 17% higher than Core i7-870, 20% higher than Core i7-965, 23% higher than Core i5-750 and 35% higher than Phenom II X4 965.

Core i7-980X

On the TV and Movies benchmark Core i7-980X achieved a score 10% higher than Core i7-965, 12% higher than Core i7-965, 12% higher than Core i7-870, 30% higher than Core i5-750 and 31% higher than Phenom II X4 965.

Core i7-980X

On the Gaming set Core i7-980X achieved a score 13% higher than Core i7-965, 16% higher than Core i7-870, 28% higher than Core i5-750 and 71% higher than Phenom II X4 965.

Core i7-980X

On the Music benchmark Core i7-980X achieved a score similar to Core i7-870 and 7% higher than Core i6-750 and 30% higher than Phenom II X4 965. Core i7-965 achieved a score 3% higher than the reviewed CPU.

Core i7-980X

On the Communications tests Core i7-980X achieved a score 62% higher than Core i7-965, 64% higher than Core i7-870, 68% higher than Phenom II X4 965 and 79% higher than Core i5-750.

Core i7-980X

And finally on the Productivity benchmark Core i7-980X achieved a score 5% higher than Core i7-965, 6% higher than Core i7-870, 16% higher than Phenom II X4 965 and 17% higher than Core i5-750.

VirtualDub + DivX

With VirtualDub we converted a full-length DVD movie to DivX format and saw how long it took for this conversion to be completed. The DivX codec is capable of recognizing and using not only more than one CPU (i.e., more than one core), but also the SSE4 instruction set (feature not available on the reviewed CPUs).

The movie we chose to convert was Star Trek – The Motion Picture: Director’s Cut. We copied the movie to our hard disk drive with no compression, so the final original file on our HDD was 6.79 GB. After compressing it with DivX, the final file was only 767.40 MB, which is quite remarkable.

The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the better.

Core i7-980X

On DivX encoding Core i7-980X was the fastest CPU, being 5% faster than Core i7-965, 9% faster than Core i5-750, 24% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 27% faster than Core i7-870.

Photoshop CS4

The best way to measure performance is by using real programs. The problem, though, is creating a methodology using real software that provides accurate results. For Photoshop CS4, there is a methodology created by the folks at GamingHeaven that is very accurate. Their script applies a series of 15 filters to a sample image, and we wrote down the time taken for each filter to run. At the end, we have the results for each individual filter and we simply added them up to have the total time taken to run the 15 filters from the GamingHeaven batch. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.

Core i7-980X

On Photoshop CS4 Core i7-980X was again the fastest CPU, being 4% faster than Core i7-965, 12% faster than Core i7-870, 21% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 23% faster than Core i5-750.

After Effects CS4

After Effects is a very well-known program for video post-production that is used to add animation and visual effects in videos. To evaluate the performance of each CPU running this program, we ran a workload consisting of 25 compositions that applied several filters and effects to a variety of input file types such as PSD (Photoshop), AI (Illustrator), EPS, and TIF. After each filter was applied, the composition was rendered to an uncompressed AVI file with the same resolution as the input files. The results below are the time each CPU took to finish the whole batch, given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.

Core i7-980X

On After Effects CS4 Core i7-980X was the fastest CPU and here we can clearly see the difference in performance the extra cores can bring on an application that can take advantage of them: the reviewed CPU was 28% faster than Core i7-965, 30% faster than Core i7-870, 47% faster than Core i5-750 and 59% faster than Phenom II X4 965.

WinRAR

We measured the time each CPU took to compress five high-resolution 48-bit uncompressed TIF images, each one with around 70 MB, to RAR format with the popular WinRAR application. The results below are given in seconds, so the lower the number the better.

Core i7-980X

Core i7-980X was again the fastest CPU, being 11% faster than Core i7-965, 15% faster than Core i7-870, 23% faster than Core i5-750 and 41% faster than Phenom II X4 965.

Cinebench 11.5

Cinebench 11.5 is based on the 3D software, Cinema 4d. It is very useful to measure the performance gain given by having more than one CPU installed on the system when rendering heavy 3D images. Rendering is one area in which having more than one CPU helps considerably, because usually, rendering software recognizes several CPUs. (Cinebench, for instance, can use up to 16 CPUs.)

Since we were interested in measuring the rendering performance, we ran the test called “Rendering x CPUs,” which renders a “heavy” sample image using all available CPUs (or cores – either real or virtual, as on CPUs with Hyper-Threading technology, each core is recognized as two cores by the operating system) to speed up the process.

Core i7-980X

On Cinebench we could see a big difference in performance between Core i7-980X and the other CPUs: it was 56% faster than Core i7-965, 63% faster than Core i7-870, 122% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and 172% faster than Core i5-750.

Call of Duty 4

Call of Duty 4 is a DirectX 9 game implementing high-dynamic range (HDR) and its own physics engine, which is used to calculate how objects interact. For example, if you shoot, what exactly will happen to the object when the bullet hits it? Will it break? Will it move? Will the bullet bounce back? It gives a more realistic experience to the user.

We ran this game under 2560x1600, maxing out all image quality controls (i.e., everything was put on the maximum values on the Graphics and Texture menus). We used the game internal benchmarking feature, running a demo provided by NVIDIA called “wetwork.” We are putting this demo for downloading here if you want to run your own benchmarks. The game was updated to version 1.7. We ran this test five times, discarding the lowest and the highest scores. The results below are an arithmetic average of the three remaining values, given in frames per second (FPS).

Core i7-980X

The performance achieved by all CPUs was within the same level; there is no statistically significant difference between Core i7-980X and the other CPUs included in this review on this game.

Fallout 3

Fallout 3 is based on the same engine used by The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and it is a DirectX 9.0c (Shader 3.0) game. To measure performance, we used the FRAPS utility running an outdoor scene at God mode, running through enemy fire, triggering post processing effects, and ending with a big explosion in front of Dupont Circle. First we tried to run this program at 1440x900 with all image quality settings at “low” with the motherboard on-board video enabled. Only AMD785G could run this program (achieving 20.35 frames per second); Intel G45 could not run Fallout 3. Then we installed a GeForce 9600 GT and ran this program with image quality set to “high.” The results for this scenario are presented below.

Core i7-980X

The performance achieved by all CPUs was within the same level; there is no statistically significant difference between Core i7-980X and the other CPUs included in this review on this game.

Crysis Warhead

Crysis Warhead is a DirectX 10 game based on the same engine as the original Crysis, but optimized (it runs under DirectX 9.0c when installed on Windows XP). We ran this game under 1920 x 1200 resolution, setting image quality to “high” and disabling both anisotropic filtering and anti-aliasing using the Airfield demo. The results below are the number of frames per second achieved by each processor.

Core i7-980X

On Crysis Warhead Core i7-980X, Core i7-965 and Core i7-870 achieved exactly the same performance, being 9% faster than Phenom II X4 965 and Core i6-750.

Far Cry 2

Far Cry 2 is based on an entirely new game engine called Dunia, which is DirectX 10 when played under Windows 7 or Windows Vista with a DirectX 10-compatible video card. We used the benchmarking utility that comes with this game, setting video resolution to 1920 x 1200, image quality to “high,” disabling both anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering, and running the “Ranch Long” demo. The results below are expressed in frames per second.

Core i7-980X

On Far Cry 2 Core i7-980X and Core i7-965 achieved the same performance level, with the reviewed CPU being 4% faster than Core i7-870, 6% faster than Core i5-750 and 8% faster than Phenom II X4 965.

Conclusions

The forthcoming Core i7-980X will be, without any doubt, the fastest CPU for personal computers available on the market (until Intel comes up with an even faster product).

From our tests we could clearly see that the user that will benefit the most from this new monster will be the professional running applications that can recognize the extra cores provided by it, namely video editing, image rendering and similar applications. For this kind of user, the price won’t probably be an issue: since the professional will be able to finish jobs faster, more money can potentially be made. In other words, it is an investment that pays itself.

The regular user, however, will be better off with a more affordable CPU. We ran four different games and we didn’t see any significant performance increase, meaning that for high-end gaming you are better off spending on an expensive video card than on an expensive CPU. Translation: buy a cheaper CPU and the most expensive video card you can afford.

Unless, of course, you are Richie Rich and want to impress all your nerd friends.

Originally at http://www.hardwaresecrets.com/article/Core-i7-980X-CPU-Review/944


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