Introduction

Intel has once again re-energized the overclocking community with the recent release of the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quad-core processor, the first of many new mobile, desktop, and server CPUs fabricated using their radically new 45nm process technology. Early results have highlighted Intel's extremely conservative approach in assigning processor power specifications and because of this, users looking to push their systems beyond rated speeds are finding they have a lot more headroom than normally expected. Our overclocking trials have met with great success, as exploiting this processor's hidden performance margin is easier than ever imagined.

The last seven generations of Intel processors have utilized traditional metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) materials, namely silicon dioxide (SiO2) and other polysilicates. This has spanned a period starting with the Pentium, originally built on 0.6 micron (600nm) node technology, all the way to Core 2 Duo/Quad parts built on 65nm. However, for the first time in over 40 years, Intel has significantly changed some of the basic components used in transistor fabrication. Hafnium dioxide (HfO2) has replaced SiO2 as the gate dielectric material, along with other carefully chosen new metals, for use in the formation of gate electrodes in both PMOS and NMOS transistors. These new materials, along with the right process recipe, have cut gate leakage by a factor of more than 10x while simultaneously delivering an astonishing 30% decrease in transistor switching energy. The result is a cooler running, more energy efficient, and high-performance processing powerhouse.



Intel's Core 2 Extreme QX9650 in the classic LGA775 package

Moving to a smaller node process technology allows for the potential of two things to happen. The first is the ability to make smaller production dies, reducing manufacturing costs, and ultimately making products more affordable to the consumer. Alternatively, designers can take advantage of the increased transistor density made possible by the new process and develop next-generation solutions that pack even more transistors into the same space as before. Smaller transistors also allow Intel to take advantage of lower switching energies up to a limit. This is true until smaller and smaller transistor gate dielectric boundary layers create conditions in which power leakage - even with the transistors in the "off" state - become excessive. From this point on something will have to change if Moore's "Law" is going to continue.

With much fanfare, Intel released the highly anticipated Core 2 Extreme QX9650 Processor just a few shorts weeks ago, knowing that the high price would be little more than a speed bump for high-performance enthusiasts. More practical-minded users will have to wait until early 2008 before experiencing the mainstream release. Naturally, we wasted no time in bringing you this first-hand look at the QX9650's expansive overclocking potential. Although our experience has not been entirely without problems - we will cover the good and bad later in more detail - we must commend Intel on the development of another great product. Without a doubt, the QX9650 has taken its rightful place in the winner's circle.



Our maximum overclock on water is nothing short of impressive

Until now, achieving this level of overclock with water-cooling alone was unheard of and we find ourselves feeling punch drunk with the speed. Indeed, finding applications that make practical use of this ridiculous amount of processing power is exceedingly difficult - few programs these days efficiently utilize two cores, let alone four. Obviously, scenarios that make intelligent use of the QX9650's exceptional parallel processing capabilities stand to benefit the most. Good examples are video (and to a lesser extent audio) editing, rendering, ray tracing, 3D modeling, DivX/Xvid encoding operations, and of course gaming (when properly coded and without GPU limitations).

We hope our in-depth look at QX9650 overclocking will provide new information even for those who have been into the overclocking scene for some time. Others, looking for the right opportunity to try their hand at voiding their processor's warranty, should find just about everything they need get started down the long path towards an overclocking addiction. Strap on your heatsinks, tweak your voltages, and join us as we see exactly what Penryn and 45nm brings to the overclocking party.

Will the Real QX9650 Power Consumption Please Stand Up?
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  • Kougar - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    This was the exact type of article I love to sit down and read through. It doesn't matter if portions of it are above my head, it just gets me to rise up another level to grab at them. Your article was a great read and I very much hope to see many more like this one in the future!

    Regarding the P5E3, I am somewhat surprised that 0.81v was the lowest you could set. Even the budget board P31-DS3L offers 0.51v as an option, my personal P35-DQ6 has 0.50v as a vCore option. I found your commentary regarding Load Line Calibration to be illuminating... this is exactly what enthusiasts like myself and others need to know.

    Lastly, I hate to ask here but Google was no help, Intel's ARK database didn't cover it, and Intel's datasheet didn't mention that I could see... what exactly is P35's process size and default vCore? The same as X38's...? As much as I love Gigabyte they are notorious for their lack of system voltage info...
    Reply
  • kjboughton - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    The P35 and X38 chipsets are both made using Intel's standard 90nm process technology. It's not uncommon for chipset's to lag behind current CPU offerings by a whole process generation or more. With that being said, Intel's upcoming P45 chipset, the last of it's kind (recall that all future CPU technologies will make use of an onboard memory controllers) will be made on the 65nm process -- something even the X48 won't have. In fact, this reduction in process size may have considerable benefits for P45 when it comes to the reduction in power consumption and increased performance headroom, particularlly when overclocking. The P45 default Vmch is 1.15V, X38 is slightly higer at 1.25V. Based on this I would expect to see the P45 come in around 1.05V or possibly even lower. Reply
  • myocardia - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    Kris, great article. But, when did $400-500 worth of watercooling equipment become so commonplace, as to be putting the one (or is that two?) companies who make phase-change units out of business? If freon is no longer needed for extreme CPU cooling, couldn't Vapochill just start making even more expensive, higher-end watercooling? Reply
  • spamme33 - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    I have been overclocking since my first computer build years and years ago, rarely do I learn that much from one article. Very well written, informative, and timely! Reply
  • kilkennycat - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    The documentation accompanying the BIOS settings of almost all enthusiast motherboards is frequently obscure and incomplete - probably because it is printed many months before the board/BIOS is released, plus the leading manufacturers never bother to update BIOS user-documentation when they update the BIOS. Also, it does seem that the documentation authors have a uniformly poor grasp of the English language and prefer to keep descriptions of all BIOS settings as vague and incomprehensible as possible. It is also so common to find sundry BIOS entries not documented AT ALL anywhere in the motherboard manual, even the (so-called) latest on-line version.

    So I have a request on behalf of those like myself desperately trying to understand each entry in the BIOS of that brand-new and very expensive enthusiastic motherboard that I have just purchased, with that abysmal so-called user-manual and pathetic in-BIOS "Help" Function-key :-

    Would it be possible for you or other at Anandtech to fully document/explain all the terms used in the text of the CPU and memory BIOS settings of the most popular enthusiast motherboards?
    To keep such an exercise manageable, I suggest confining the exercise initially to existing and upcoming enthusiast desktop motherboards that are fully compatible with Penryn and Phenom. At present, X48, nVidia 780i, AMD 790FX.....
    Reply
  • poohbear - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    thank you very much for such an informative and detailed article. very much appreciated for us overclockers and the future looks fantabulous w/ these cpus. Reply
  • wyemarn - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    Thank you very much for this great article. What a wonderful Christmas gift from Anandtech! This is one the most complete article I have ever read. CPU performance, overclocking, mobo settings, power consumption all in one article. What a joy to read. Reply
  • akaevile - Thursday, December 20, 2007 - link

    Thank you for the detailed information. One has to be a little nervous however for the implications in what your work has found. Will Intel's improvements in refining 45nm technology push the line or has it been drawn in the sand?? Reply
  • n7 - Wednesday, December 19, 2007 - link

    Really superb article.

    Possibly the best i've ever seen on AT!

    Thanx for the indepth info!
    Reply
  • Bozo Galora - Wednesday, December 19, 2007 - link

    looks like not only the X48, but three 45nm quads also will be delayed - due to AMD incompetence.
    http://www.digitimes.com/mobos/a20071218PD212.html">http://www.digitimes.com/mobos/a20071218PD212.html
    Reply

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