Intel Core i7 980X Reviewccokeman - March 10, 2010
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Back in January, Intel let the first 32nm based processor out of the barn door with the introduction of the of the Core i5 6 series processors that featured an on chip integrated graphics processor. Sure it is a bundle of joy and overclocks like stink, but what if you need or want more performance than the current dual or quad core processors can deliver? Well you were pretty much out of luck unless overclocking took care of your performance needs and wants. Fast forward a couple of months and you have some hope on the horizon with the soon to be released Core i7 980X. This computing behemoth is part of the Extreme lineup and comes to the masses with a total of six cores and a clock speed of 3.33GHz mirroring the clock speed of the current top end processor from Intel the Core i7 975.
The Core i7 980X is built upon the 32nm manufacturing process and features six execution cores with hyperthreading supported giving you the power of 12 threads to work with as well as a total of 12MB of shared Smart Cache. Turbo boost technology is supported allowing a dynamic increase of the 980X depending on the processing load. Whats amazing is that Intel has kept the same socket 1366 footprint allowing the Core i7 980X to fit in and work with the existing base of X58 based motherboards with nothing but a BIOS update to get the board up and running with the 980X. With that, lets take a look at this processor to see if it can break new ground when it comes to performance in both real world applications as well as while gaming. Extreme? We shall see.
The Core i7 980X is the latest offering to come from Intel. It is based on the 32nm Nehalem micro-architecture code named Westmere. The 32nm process is a process technology change or die shrink with the next architecture change coming with Sandy Bridge For this processor Intel has bumped up the amount of physical cores by two to a total of six and upped the shared L3 Smart cache by 50% to 12MB. Both significant jumps that should pay some handsome rewards when it comes to the performance delivered. The Westmere series is a die shrink of the Nehalem architecture from 45nm to 32nm and still uses the High-k second generation manufacturing process. Intel has included a few new instruction sets on this series. AES-NI is a set of 12 new instructions that help boost data encryption and decryption. Also included is the full SSE4 instruction set. This processor supports Turbo Boost technology that allows the processor to dynamically increase the clock speeds from the as delivered 3.33 GHZ up to 3.6 GHz when under a light load and is Overclocking enabled for some additional fun. Hyperthreading is supported and allows you to run a total of 12 threads at one time to significantly increase the amount of work you are able to do in a set time frame. The memory controller still supports triple channel DDR3 memory configurations with all of this coming in the LGA 1366 socket. Looking at the die shot you can get an idea of how the cores and memory are laid out. Its amazing that Intel has been able to squeeze another two cores into the same socket size.
While the Core i7 980X looks to be a great chip on paper, the problem is how to cool down those additional two cores when the solution included for use with the quad core Nehalem processors was marginal at best under load? Even at stock speeds! It looks like Intel has taken cooling the latest Nehalem micro architecture seriously with the inclusion of their DBX-B cooling solution with the 980X. It is a tower design heatsink that uses four large heatpipes and that take the thermal load up to the aluminum fins to be dissipated via airflow from the fan.
Looking closer at the top of the DBX-B you can see a switch assembly that allows you to choose two different fan performance levels. These are labeled Q for Quiet and P for performance. Intes states the Maximum acoustics are 35dBA under load running at 1800 RPM and under 20 dBA at idle running at 800 RPM. A breath of fresh air is that Intel has chosen to design this piece as a bolt on cooling solution verses using push pins and is rated to withstand a 3 foot drop while installed in a system without breaking. The screws used to bolt the DBX-B to the board and backplate can be tightened by hand as a thumb screw or you can use a screwdriver if you need to get into a tight spot. The base is mirror finished for optimum contact with the 980X IHS.
Lets see just how much more performance the Core i7 980X delivers.