Final Words

Expecting a sequel to be a reincarnation of the original is just setting yourself up for disappointment. A good sequel will be able to stand on its own, independent of whatever may have come before it. Nehalem is Intel's Dark Knight, it lacks the reinvention that made Conroe so incredible, but it continues what was started in 2006.

The Core i7's general purpose performance is solid, you're looking at a 5 - 10% increase in general application performance at the same clock speeds as Penryn. Where Nehalem really succeeds however is in anything involving video encoding or 3D rendering, the performance gains there are easily in the 20 - 40% range. Part of the performance boost here is due to Hyper Threading, but the on-die memory controller and architectural tweaks are just as responsible for driving Intel's performance through the roof.

The iTunes results do paint a downside to Nehalem, there are going to be some situations where Intel's new architecture doesn't offer a performance advantage over its predecessor. If you're not doing a lot of 3D rendering or video encoding work and you already have a Core 2 Quad, the upgrade to Nehalem won't be worth it. If you're still stuck on a Pentium 4 or something similarly slow by today's standards, a jump to Nehalem would be warranted.

Gaming performance is actually better than expected for Nehalem, there were enough cases where the new architecture pulled ahead despite its very small L2 cache that I wouldn't mind recommending it for gamers. In most GPU limited situations however you won't see any performance improvement, at least with today's GPUs, over Penryn.

While posting some very impressive performance gains, Nehalem is nearly as much about efficiency. Hyper Threading alone delivers a 0 - 30% increase in performance at a 0 - 15% increase in power consumption; the problem is that Nehalem's efficiency is only as good as its performance and in those areas where Nehalem can't outperform Penryn, its power efficiency suffers.

I can't help but wonder if what we saw with the QX9770 is indicative of a larger Nehalem advantage, if Penryn's power consumption truly does increase dramatically as clock speed goes up, while Nehalem is able to reel it back in. If that is indeed the case, then Nehalem is even more important for the future of the Core microarchitecture than I originally thought. You could consider it the reverse-Prescott in that case, if its design choices are meant to keep power consumption under control as clock speed ramps up.

It seems odd debating over the usefulness of a processor that can easily offer a 20 - 40% increase in performance, the issue is that the advantages are very specific in their nature. While Conroe reset the entire board, Nehalem is very targeted in where it improves performance the most. That is one benefit of the tick-tock model however, if Intel was too aggressive (or conservative?) with this design then it only needs to last two years before it's replaced with something else. I am guessing that once Intel moves to 32nm however, L2 cache sizes will increase once more and perhaps bring greater performance to all applications.

Quite possibly the biggest threat to Nehalem is that, even at the low end, $284 is a good amount for a microprocessor these days. You can now purchase AMD's entire product line for less than $180 and the cost of entry to a Q9550 is going to be lower, at least at the start, than a Core i7 product. There's no denying that the Core i7 is the fastest thing to close out 2008, but you may find that it's not the most efficient use of money. The first X58 motherboards aren't going to be cheap and you're stuck using more expensive DDR3 memory. If you're running applications where Nehalem shines (e.g. video encoding, 3D rendering) then the ticket price is likely worth it, if you're not then the ~10% general performance improvement won't make financial sense.

It also remains to be seen what will happen to the Nehalem market once Intel introduces the LGA-1156 version next year for lower price points. By introducing a $284 part this early Intel appears to be courting the Q6600/Q9450/Q9550 buyers to the LGA-1366 platform, which would mean that the two-channel Nehalems are strictly value parts and perhaps there won't be much fragmentation in the market as a result.

Intel has two thirds of the perfect trifecta here. Nehalem brings the ability to work on more threads at a time, redefining video encoding and 3D rendering performance, its SSDs shook the storage world, that just leaves Larrabee...

Gaming Performance
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  • Spectator - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    that sht is totally logical.

    And Im proper impressed. I would do that.

    you can re-process your entire stock at whim to satisfy the current market. that sht deserves some praise, even more so when die shrinks happen. Its an apparently seemless transition. Unless world works it out and learns how to mod existing chips?

    Chukkle. but hey im drunk; and I dont care. I just thought that would be a logical step. Im still waiting for cheap SSD's :P

    Spectator.
    Reply
  • tential - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    We already knew nehalem wasn't going to be that much of a game changer. The blog posts you guys had up weeks ago said that because of the cache sizes and stuff not to expect huge gains in performance of games if any. However because of hyperthreading I think there also needs to be some tests to see how multi tasking goes. No doubt those gains will be huge. Virus scanning while playing games and other things should have extremely nice benefits you would think. Those tests would be most interesting although when I buy my PC nehalem will be mainstream. Reply
  • npp - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    I'm very curious to see some scientific results from the new CPUs, MATLAB and Mathematica benchmarks, and maybe some more. It's interesting to see if Core i7 can deliver something on these fronts, too. Reply
  • pervisanathema - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    I was afraid Nehalem was going to be a game changer. My wallet is grateful that its overall performance gains do not even come close to justifying dumping my entire platform. My x3350 @ 3.6GHz will be just fine for quite some time yet. :)

    Additionally, its relatively high price means that AMD can still be competitive in the budget to low mid range market which is good for my wallet as well. Intel needs competition.
    Reply
  • iwodo - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    Since there are virtually no performance lost when using Dual Channel. Hopefully we will see some high performance DDR3 with low Latency next year?
    And which means apart from having half the core, Desktop version doesn't look so bad.

    And since you state the Socket 1366 will be able to sit a Eight Core inside, i expect the 11xx socket will be able to suit a Quad Core as well?

    So why we dont just have 13xx Socket to fit it all? Is the cost really that high?
    Reply
  • QChronoD - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    How long are they going to utilize this new socket??
    $284 for the i7-920 isn't bad, but will it be worth the extra to buy a top end board that will appreciate a CPU upgrade 1-2 years later? Or is this going to be useless once Intel Ticks in '10?
    Reply
  • steveyballme - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    We worked side by side with Intel to be sure that Vista was optimised for running on this thing!

    http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com">http://fakesteveballmer.blogspot.com
    Reply
  • Strid - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    Great article. I enjoyed reading it. One thing I stumbled upon though.

    "The PS/2 keyboard port is a nod to the overclocking crowd as is the clear CMOS switch."

    What makes a PS/2 port good for overclockers? I see the use for the clear CMOS switch, but ...
    Reply
  • 3DoubleD - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    In my experience USB keyboards do not consistently allow input during the POST screen. If you are overclocking and want to enter the BIOS or cancel an overclock you need a keyboard that works immediately once the POST screen appears. I've been caught with only a USB keyboard and I got stuck with a bad overclock and had to reset the CMOS to gain control back because I couldn't cancel the overclock. Reply
  • Clauzii - Monday, November 3, 2008 - link

    I thought the "USB Legacy support" mode was for exactly that? So legacy mode is for when the PC are booted in DOS, but not during pre? Reply

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