Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/2379

Updated: We're working with Intel on the source of the thermal problems we mentioned in this review, it looks like the culprit was our ASUS P5E3 Deluxe motherboard. ASUS has since released an updated BIOS intended to address the power consumption issues we faced, you can read more about it here while we continue with our testing.

Intel plays dirty.

The closer I got to receiving a Phenom from AMD, the more Intel started dropping hints that it would be sending me something new. One day a box arrived, inside it was this chip:

What you're looking at is an Intel CPU that won't be out until Q1 next year, it's the Core 2 Extreme QX9770. We received it within a matter of weeks of us publishing our last Core 2 Extreme review.

You have to understand Intel's motivation for this launch, because the old Intel would never have sent these chips out. The old Intel would've worried about cannibalizing current Core 2 Extreme sales by talking about a new processor this soon after a launch. The new Intel though, that's a different story.

Today is supposed to be AMD's Phenom launch, which it is, but it's just not a very strong one. AMD is still struggling with low clock speeds, and the release simply wasn't the bang you'd expect from the first real successor to the almighty K8. Rather than give AMD even a moment to regain composure, Intel attempted to disrupt the Phenom launch by sampling the QX9770.

Literally within days of AMD telling me when the Phenom NDA would lift, Intel told me the NDA date of the QX9770 previews - and what a coincidence that was.

To AMD's benefit, the QX9770 doesn't compete even remotely in the same price range as any of its Phenom processors we talked about today. To avoid hurting QX9650 sales, the QX9770 will actually carry a price tag greater than $1000 when it arrives in Q1 2008.

Like its cheaper sibling, the QX9770 is based on Intel's new 45nm Penryn core. The quad-core chip is virtually identical to the QX9650 we reviewed last month with two major exceptions: it runs at 3.2GHz and it uses a 1600MHz FSB.

The 3.2GHz speed bump is nothing earth shattering, it's a 6.7% increase in clock speed over the QX9650, but the 1600MHz FSB on the other hand is a big deal. The FSB frequency increase itself isn't even the important part, what's key here is that Intel doesn't have any chipsets out officially with 1600MHz FSB support, yet it's sampling QX9770s to reviewers.

The old Intel would've waited for the X48 chipset, which will bring official 1600MHz FSB support. The old Intel wouldn't have even recognized the QX9770 as existing on its roadmap. The new Intel not only pre-announced the chip, but it also encouraged reviewers to overclock X38 chipsets to support the 1600MHz FSB required by the QX9770.

Our QX9770 testbed, an overclocked X38 motherboard

If I'm working at AMD today I'm not worried about the specs of the QX9770, I'm worried that Intel sent these things out for review.

We've already looked at what Penryn can offer in our QX9650 review and our Wolfdale Preview. If you want to understand the architecture behind Intel's new 45nm chips be sure to read some of our earlier articles.

Um, Hot?

Not since the Pentium 4 days have we been worried about processors throttling and overheating, but this QX9770 is one hot chip. These four data-hungry cores running at 3.2GHz have given us more problems than any other Core 2 processor, including the QX9650 we recently reviewed.

Gary's QX9770 wouldn't complete 3DMark '06 without switching to a third-party heatsink. Mine wouldn't run through POV-Ray or 3dsmax without giving me lower scores than the QX9650 due the processor's internal temperature protection reducing its clock speed during the benchmarks.

These chips are early silicon and Intel had better solve these issues by the time they ship (after all, people who spend more than $1K on a processor have the right to expect stability), but our chips were definitely the most finicky we've gotten out of Intel since the Core 2 launch.

We're not entirely sure the problem lies with the CPUs or the motherboards or a combination of both, since the heatsinks never actually felt all that hot and we didn't have these problems with the QX9650.

The problems do seem related to heat though, a fresh layer of thermal compound and switching to a newer Intel retail heatsink/fan fixed my issues well enough for me to run through all the tests.

Hello Global Warming

We were curious to see if testing power consumption would confirm our suspicions of the QX9770 running significantly hotter than the QX9650. See for yourself:

Power Consumption - Idle

At idle this thing is a beast, with the system consuming over 200W while the QX9650 pulled just over 150. It's almost as if EIST isn't functioning properly on the chip (CPU-Z confirmed that it was however).

Power Consumption - Load 

Under load the power gap is even more ridiculous, no wonder we had so many cooling issues with the QX9770.

Is 3.2GHz Faster than 3.0GHz?

As you've undoubtedly seen by now, Intel still remains unchallenged in the high end processor market, especially when it comes to quad-core CPUs. AMD's Phenom will only ship at a maximum of 2.3GHz this year, and 3.0GHz won't happen until after the QX9770 launches next year in all likelihood.

With no real competition from AMD, the biggest challenge the QX9770 faces comes from Intel. The graph below should give you a quick idea of how obsolete the QX9770 will make the QX9650 (we used the same test configuration from our Phenom article for these numbers):

The performance gains are impressive, given that we're only looking at a 6.6% increase in clock speed. The 1600MHz FSB does seem to do a bit, giving us 7 - 8% performance boosts in a couple of instances.

Without knowing the price of the QX9770 it's tough to say whether or not you're getting what you pay for. Generally these Extreme parts aren't worth their asking prices, but if you're wondering where peak performance will be early next year, the QX9770 should give you a good indication.

Final Words

The Core 2 Extreme QX9770 is faster than the QX9650, it doesn't take a lot of thinking to really come up with that one. The 1600MHz FSB is an interesting jump for Intel, and it'll quite possibly be the last FSB bump on the desktop before Nehalem, which should do away with the FSB altogether.

The power consumption numbers are particularly frightening, we're not exactly sure why a meager 6.7% increase in clock speed resulted in an almost 40% increase in total system power consumption, but if that's the case in the shipping product then we know now to stay away from it.

We'll obviously revisit the QX9770 once we have production silicon, hopefully Intel will have some answers to us before then. The QX9770 is absolutely not an acceptable part if it does indeed come with a > $1000 price tag and these thermal issues.

We can't help but reiterate though, the biggest take away of today's preview has nothing to do with the product itself. Intel's reaction to Phenom, particularly how quickly it reacted, is truly unusual for the company.

It's also worth pointing out that had Phenom actually launched at 3.0GHz (or close to it), Intel may have re-thunk its pricing strategy with the QX9770. We might be looking at a $1000 part instead of one that will be priced above that mark.

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