It’s rare that anything we review has the longevity that Intel’s Core i7 Bloomfield platform has enjoyed. If you were one of the fortunate few to buy a Core i7 920, 940 or 965 back in November 2008, you’d still have one of the fastest desktop CPUs today in March 2010.


Lynnfield was introduced in 2009, but still couldn't dethrone Bloomfield.

In fact, other than a few minor speed bumps, Intel hasn’t done much with its LGA-1366 platform in the past 15 months. Last year Intel introduced Nehalem for the rest of us with its LGA-1156 socket and in January we got the first dual-core derivatives.

Now it’s finally time to take care of the folks who invested in Nehalem and Core i7 early on. In the coming weeks Intel will be shipping its first 6-core desktop processor, built using the same 32nm process used in the Clarkdale Core i3/i5 CPUs. It’s codenamed Gulftown but today we can call it the Core i7 980X. Did I mention that with a BIOS update it’s fully compatible with all X58 motherboards? That’s right, even if you bought a board in November 2008 - you can upgrade directly to 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 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 870 2.93GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.60GHz 95W $562
Intel Core i7 860 2.80GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.46GHz 95W $284
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

The Entire 2010 Nehalem/Westmere lineup

 

In fact, that’s exactly what I did for today’s review. This is Intel’s DX58SO motherboard I used in my original Core i7 review in November 2008:

It’s the same exact board, but updated to the 5020 BIOS that’s currently available on Intel’s site. Intel was sneaky and actually enabled Gulftown support in its motherboards a few weeks ago.

And here we have the result:

Intel’s Core i7 980X, running at 3.33GHz with 6 cores, 12 threads and a massive 12MB L3 cache all running on a motherboard that shipped a year and a half ago.

The old board works mostly fine with the 980X but with some odd bugs and quirks that I ran into. I found that my older DDR3-1066 memory wouldn't overclock to 1333MHz with Gulftown, although it did just fine with Bloomfield for some reason.

It’s not just Intel enabling support either. All motherboard manufacturers either have or are expected to have BIOSes with Gulftown support by the time this chip ships in the coming weeks. ASRock sent over its X58 Extreme, which worked perfectly with the new chip:

It’s Extreme

The coolest part of Gulftown is that by building it on Intel’s 32nm process it’s actually smaller than both Bloomfield and Lynnfield, despite having 50% more cores and L3 cache:

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 X4 Deneb 45nm 4 758M 258mm2


At 1.17 billion transistors, it’s a beefy chip but the monolithic die only measures 240mm^2. It’s even smaller than an AMD Phenom II X4. Not only does it have a smaller die than all quad-core Nehalem processors, but it also has the same TDP.

The 130W chip runs at 3.33GHz, but because of the high TDP it can only turbo up to 3.46GHz with more than two cores active. If only one or two cores are active, the chip can turbo up to 3.60GHz. With up to 6 cores running at 3.46GHz, Gulftown is not only the fastest CPU in Intel’s lineup, it’s also the fastest quad-core Intel makes. Only the Core i5 670 can run at a higher frequency with a single core active (3.73GHz vs 3.60GHz).

The downside to all of this is the price tag. The Core i7 980X is an Extreme Edition processor, meaning it’s introduced at the $999 price point. And currently it’s the only way to get 6-cores in a Core i7.  Currently Intel doesn't have any plans to introduce 4-core versions of Gulftown on the desktop, although we will see some 32nm quad-core Xeons later this year.


Bloomfield (left) vs. Gulftown (right)

This isn’t the first time that the $999 price tag comes with some exclusive features. The first Pentium 4 Extreme Edition was the very first to wear the EE brand. While all regular Pentium 4s at the time had a 512KB L2, the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition added a 2MB L3 cache - a feature that never trickled down to the mainstream P4s.

Since then, most Extreme Edition parts have just been higher clocked CPUs. Despite that, they do sell well enough for Intel to continue the practice. Given that this time around, the Core i7 980X will not only give you clock speed but more cores and cache, Intel will probably end up selling more of these than they ever have.

A 12MB L3 Cache: 50% Larger, 14% Higher Latency
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  • JumpingJack - Monday, March 15, 2010 - link

    THG's power numbers are often screwed up, I would not trust them.

    Good sites for power numbers include this, TR, Xbitlabs, and lost circuits. I have never been able to come close to any of Tom's numbers even with identical HW.
    Reply
  • OBLAMA2009 - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    how come anand says he's excited about it and then later he says he'd never spend money on it

    personally i wouldnt spend that much on a cpu but i think this thing would be a good chip for so long that if you did it wouldnt be a bad deal even at 1000. itll probably be the close to the fastest chip for the two years
    Reply
  • Paladin1211 - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    I can't figure out why the i7 870 only gets 70.6 fps in WoW while the i7 920 gets 85.5 fps. Higher clock, higher turbo, same hyper threading, integrated PCIe lanes... yet the 920 is 21% faster.

    Someone enlightens me please :(
    Reply
  • JumpingJack - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    That's a good question .... it shouldn't. Reply
  • p05esto - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    I'm going through withdrawl. I've had my Core i7 920 since the day they were released and really want to upgrade, like yesterday. But I'm not spending $1k on a CPU, maybe $400 could work :) if they came out with something decent and overclockable to get near the extreme version. I feel like I'm stuck at the moment....I feel the need, the need for speed!!! Reply
  • bludragon - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    Well it's a beast, no doubt about that. But the most interesting info here is that sandy bride is debuting as a mainstream part. Has this ever happened with a new cpu before? Is this just because they are going to start with less cores, or have they taken some other architectural departure? Reply
  • RamarC - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    btw, i'm trademarking "sexycore" Reply
  • Lazlo Panaflex - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    "I wonder where Intel will price the Core i7 970, allegedly also a 6-core Gulftown derivative"

    Hey Anand, if history is any indication, and there's no competition from AMD, I'll bet you a dollar that the 970 will retail for around $850 - the same price of the venerable mainstream Q6600 that was released a few months after the $999 QX6700... ;)
    Reply
  • aigomorla - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    i heard it was gonna be near the 600 mark.

    It wont be cheaper then the 960, and it wont be more expensive then a 980X.

    Reply
  • Robear - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    You start by saying, "I have to say that Intel's Core i7 980X is the first Extreme Edition CPU that I've ever gotten excited about. ... The 980X gives you its best regardless of what you throw at it. ... If money were no object, the Core i7 980X is clearly the best you can get."

    But then you conclude with a much more somber, "The Core i7 980X is such a difficult processor to recommend."

    What really threw me for a loop, though, was this comment: "You could pick up a dual-socket Xeon board and a pair of quad-core Nehalem Xeons for a bit more than a X58 + 980X"

    There are so many problems with that statement :( It's very un-anand-like.

    Foregoing any assumptions about what you mean specifically, I haven't seen any 3.0+ GHz XEONs sub $1,000. Even then, I'm not convinced a dual-quad would even outperform the 980 unless you went with a couple of EPs, and that's way off the price mark. Your conclusion ends with a mild suggestion towards a platform you didn't benchmark. The 980 can put you at 3.6 GHz in a single-threaded app which you can't get from a dual-XEON.

    The 980 truly is the best of both worlds, as you initially indicated.

    Given that that the 960 is 3.2 GHz @ 4 cores is running ~$600, you can snag a whole 2 more cores, a speed boost, AND other 980-only perks for an extra $400. Think back to what the EE got you at its debut - another 10%-20% clock and an unlocked multiplier for something like a 100% markup over the next highest model.

    This chip really seems like a bargain, but that's my opinion. I'm considering the 980X over a new 930 build just for the longevity it provides. It's just SO much power for the money. The simple fact that it puts it in the same league as a dual-quad XEON raises the hair on the back of my neck :)

    Can you elaborate on a XEON system that would be comparable in performance and price to the 980? Maybe that would be a good article. I wonder what kind of performance hit you take with the QPI between two chips versus what you get with the 980. Skilltrail did okay, but the FB-DIMMs really hurt gaming. I think a 980 v. XEON would be a great article.
    Reply

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