I ran into an old friend of mine who happens to work for Intel at an industry event last month. We were naturally talking about Intel when he pointed out that the company was doing very well. I agreed, but argued that Intel’s progress was being artificially limited by the fact that it wasn’t facing much competition at the high end.

It’s true. AMD’s entire desktop product line exists below $300, and we won’t see a real push for the high end crown until next year with Bulldozer. Until then, the real competition happens at lower (and arguably more interesting) price points where AMD gives you more cores for less, while Intel offers lower power consumption and better single threaded performance.

The ultra high end is still alive and well, despite the lack of competition in the market. Apple just announced its own dual-socket, 12-core monster that will begin shipping next month. Even Intel will tell you that it’s seeing more interest in the Core i7 980X than any previous Extreme Edition part. And the interest isn’t misplaced.

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As the first 6-core desktop CPU based on Intel’s 32nm Gulftown core, the Core i7 980X was the first Extreme Edition in years to offer more than just a clock speed advantage. You got more cores, a larger L3 cache and virtually the highest clock speeds Intel has to offer. If you run highly threaded workloads, you can’t do any better on the desktop today. Thanks to its turbo modes, you don’t even give up performance in lightly threaded apps either.

The 980X of course carried an extreme price tag at $999. With more competition at the high end we might’ve seen derivative parts offered at lower clock speeds and lower price points. But until AMD delivers Bulldozer the impetus just isn’t there. Instead what we’re left with is a slow moving waterfall.

Early next year (Q1) Intel will introduce the Core i7 990X, a clock bumped version of the 980X. Presumably the 990X will run at 3.46GHz by default, but have the ability to turbo up even higher. The roadmap calls for another clock bump in Q2 depending on what AMD does.

Below the 980X there’s only a single 6-core desktop part for at least the next 6 months: the Core i7 970.

Its unassuming name implies little more than just a faster Core i7, however its $885 (1000 unit quantities) pricetag says otherwise. While the rest of the desktop Core i7 line is made up of 45nm quad-core Bloomfield and Lynnfield processors, the Core i7 970 is a 32nm 6-core Gulftown.

Processor Core Clock Cores / Threads L3 Cache Max Turbo TDP Price
Intel Core i7 980X 3.33GHz 6 / 12 12MB 3.60GHz 130W $999
Intel Core i7 975 3.33GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.60GHz 130W $999
Intel Core i7 970 3.20GHz 6 / 12 12MB 3.46GHz 130W $885
Intel Core i7 960 3.20GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.46GHz 130W $562
Intel Core i7 930 2.80GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.06GHz 130W $284
Intel Core i7 880 3.06GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.73GHz 95W $583
Intel Core i7 875K 2.93GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.60GHz 95W $342
Intel Core i7 870 2.93GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.60GHz 95W $294
Intel Core i7 860 2.80GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.46GHz 95W $284
Intel Core i5 760 2.80GHz 4 / 4 8MB 3.33GHz 95W $205
Intel Core i5 750 2.66GHz 4 / 4 8MB 3.20GHz 95W $196
Intel Core i5 670 3.46GHz 2 / 4 4MB 3.73GHz 73W $284
Intel Core i5 661 3.33GHz 2 / 4 4MB 3.60GHz 87W $196
Intel Core i5 660 3.33GHz 2 / 4 4MB 3.60GHz 73W $196
Intel Core i5 650 3.20GHz 2 / 4 4MB 3.46GHz 73W $176
Intel Core i3 540 3.06GHz 2 / 4 4MB N/A 73W $133
Intel Core i3 530 2.93GHz 2 / 4 4MB N/A 73W $113
Intel Pentium G9650 2.80GHz 2 / 2 3MB N/A 73W $87

Like the 980X, the Core i7 970 has a 12MB L3 cache that’s shared by all six cores, all on a single 240mm2 die. The 1.17 billion transistor chip runs at a stock speed of 3.2GHz but can turbo up to 3.46GHz if two or fewer cores are active. With more than two active, and assuming no thermal or current limits are exceeded, the chip can run at 3.33GHz. For around $100 off the price of a 980X you’re not giving up much in terms of clock speed.

The uncore (everything outside of the CPU cores + L2 caches) also remains mostly unchanged. The 970 runs its uncore at 2.66GHz (identical to the 980X) but the QPI bus is stuck at 4.8GT/s vs. 6.4GT/s. The difference isn’t something that will appear in real world performance however.

CPU Codename Manufacturing Process Cores Transistor Count Die Size
Westmere 6C Gulftown 32nm 6 1.17B 240mm2
Nehalem 4C Bloomfield 45nm 4 731M 263mm2
Nehalem 4C Lynnfield 45nm 4 774M 296mm2
Westmere 2C Clarkdale 32nm 2 384M 81mm2
AMD Phenom II X6 Thuban 45nm 6 904M 346mm2
AMD Phenom II X4 Deneb 45nm 4 758M 258mm2

Overall expect to see very close to 980X performance for $100 less. You lose the unlocked multiplier, which may have some overclocking implications, but that’s about it.

The rest of the Gulftown enhancements still apply. We finally get uncore power gating and AES-NI. The former gives us power consumption equal to 45nm quad-core Bloomfield i7s, while the latter improves encryption performance. Both of which we’ve demonstrated in the past.

BIOS Support and The Test

Any X58 motherboard with Gulftown support should work with the 970. As was the case with the original 980X launch, you’ll almost definitely need an updated BIOS to make this work.

Even Intel’s own DX58SO motherboard using the BIOS that originally enabled 980X support needed an update to work with the Core i7 970. Unfortunately you need to do this update before you install the CPU so make sure your board is up to date.

We’ve added the Core i7 970 results to Bench, our benchmark database. The graphs that follow are a subset of those results to keep the article reasonably sized.

Motherboard: ASUS P7H57DV- EVO (Intel H57)
Intel DP55KG (Intel P55)
Intel DX58SO (Intel X58)
Intel DX48BT2 (Intel X48)
Gigabyte GA-MA790FX-UD5P (AMD 790FX)
MSI 890FXA-GD70 (AMD 890FX)
Chipset Drivers: Intel (Intel)
AMD Catalyst 8.12
Hard Disk: Intel X25-M SSD (80GB)
Memory: Corsair DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Corsair DDR3-1333 2 x 2GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 280 (Vista 64)
ATI Radeon HD 5870 (Windows 7)
Video Drivers: ATI Catalyst 9.12 (Windows 7)
NVIDIA ForceWare 180.43 (Vista64)
NVIDIA ForceWare 178.24 (Vista32)
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit (for SYSMark)
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit
Windows 7 x64
General, Imaging & Video Encoding Performance
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  • cantpost - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    Good sample dunno.

    I've got mine at 4 gig with 1.2 vcore but with load line calibration enabled. Otherwise the vcore drops by 0.1v and bsod time.

    Reckon better overclockers than me could probably get 4.2 ghz out of it but I'm waiting for some hot weather too how it does when my room gets to 30C
  • jonny30 - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    - until Intel provides a better ratio when we talk about price/performance I will not be impressed.........and I will not buy, off-course...........
    - and I am an owner of Q6600............
    - SO, I am sorry Intel, but you do not impress ME, at least..........
    - only disappoint ME, to be frankly............
    - for the price of a single CPU that is shown-ed today, I can buy a WHOLE PC, when we talk about AMD X6...........
    - and that so call performance of you new CPU, is only effective in tests, and in to a VERY small amount of applications...........
    - in every day usage, not even the 920 - that belongs to a very good friend of mine - shows that is up to the price...........
    - not these new versions of CPU...........
    - so............what can I say more?
  • jlazzaro - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    ....................... ..... . .. what? .................................

    .................... ...........
  • ClagMaster - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    I agree.

    I too have a Q6600 that I bought for $200 using a DG965WH motherboard. It was excellent for its time.

    Unless Intel or AMD markets a replacement processor that is 2x as capable than the Q6600 for $200 - $250 then I am not interested in upgrading.

    Even the i7 920 or i5 760 does not provides that kind of cost/power normalized performance.

    If my Q6600/DG965WH were to drop dead tomorrow, I would purchase a 95W Phenom II X4 955 Black with an ASUS 890G/SB850 chipset (for the ECC memory) because this provides the best value and connectivity for the dollar. I do not have applications that really need six cores. However, I can fully utilize four cores with media encoding and MNPC analysis.

    AMD may not be first rate in processor performance, but this highly competent company and its partners offer excellent value parts.
  • bupkus - Friday, July 30, 2010 - link

    If you're like most people then you're busy pricing the hard drive and memory size you need first. From there you look for an affordable combination of cpu and motherboard. If you really could use a better cpu lets say for your work but the funds aren't available you compromise as best as you can.
    However, if you're not from Main Street but instead from Wall Street the chances are you buy the best available. It is for this class of customers that Intel offers their Gulftown series. If not for these customers Intel would not have a $1k desktop processor.
    I'm not saying Intel is involved with the progressive redistribution of wealth to the top 1%, but I feel confident that marketers will be targeting the customers with the most money first and let second tier builders like AMD pick up the rest of us where the less attractive profit margins are found.
    This is not a moral statement, just a practical one related to what is brought to the market. Don't get me wrong, I could get moral, but this is after all a technical site.
  • cauchy2k - Saturday, July 31, 2010 - link

    If i get to buy an around $1000 cpu I'd go with the 980x,simply because it's the best and its next lower cpu is only $100 cheaper.When you get to spend around $1000 in a cpu $100 it's no big deal when you can get more advantadges.
  • Mensinnylopard - Monday, August 2, 2010 - link

    That's good software and I suggest to you please read care fully and take more information...
  • mapesdhs - Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - link

    The rendering page intrigued me, 25505 for the 970. Just for reference, my i7 860 oc'd to
    4GHz gives 19140, enough to outpace a stock 1090T and come close to a 975. Of course,
    these can be oc'd aswell, but just thought I'd mention since people were commenting on
    how the lesser CPUs oc'd would compare.

    What is especially interesting though is the result for an i7 930 system I found while trawling
    for Cinebench data, namely 24972 at 4.3GHz - not that much less than the 970 (by comparison,
    a stock 930 gives about 17200).

    As the author says, as long as there's no competition from AMD, Intel can charge what it likes and
    that part of the market will happily pay. Heck, if money really wasn't an issue, I'd buy them. :D But
    then again, for rendering, if money really wasn't an issue I'd buy a 256-CPU Altix UV 1000, hehe...

  • bustermk2 - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    I do 3d for a living and this is actually a cost effective replacement for my aging xeon rig.

    It is the 6 cores that won me over plus the fact that there probably won't be anything better coming out until late next year.

    Having said that I wouldn't buy it for a home rig.

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