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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  • Meghan54 - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    [QUOTE]where are you getting your xeon pricing info from?

    all i can find from any solid source is the current xeon quad core processors which are running about $2000 on newegg at the moment. [/QUOTE]

    Well, I question your search skills at Newegg, then, if that's all you can find there.

    Just an FYI, Newegg has MANY, MANY sub-$700 Xeon processors for socket 1366, like the W3520, a Bloomfield, for $310, or the W3550 for $600--both Bloomfield quad-core cpus.

    Learn to use search, (ps....main page, cpu/processors, processors-servers, power search, check box socket 1366, look at results. I'm hoping you do understand that there are mouse clicks between step.)
    Reply
  • formulav8 - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    grow up... Reply
  • softdrinkviking - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    no, i saw all of that stuff. i was looking at the six core chips and i typed quad instead.

    but thanks for getting all nasty and sarcastic anyway.
    i'll try to remember about those mouse clicks next time.

    the point i was trying to make is that the xeon line is going to be more expensive than the comparable home desktop CPUs and that it won't be a simple matter of non-server customers just buying xeons that will outclass the current i7 line-up. (specifically to compete against the 6 core model that this review is about)



    Reply
  • Drag0nFire - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    I think the point was that you could get 2x cheap quad core Xeons, and run with 8 cores (16 threads) at a small price premium over the $1000 Gulftown. Reply
  • vol7ron - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    I will keep my eyes open for the Xeon, but for some reason, those typically are quite pricey. This $1k price will fall, hopefully sooner, rather than later.

    I am looking forward to both.


    Thanks for the read, Anand,
    vol7ron
    Reply
  • DrMrLordX - Friday, March 12, 2010 - link

    Here's a list of Gulftown quads for LGA1366:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_future_Intel_...">http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fu...rocessor...

    The information isn't complete, but you should be able to do searches on the part that interests you most and get the information that you want.
    Reply
  • iamezza - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - link

    it won't be dropping in price any time soon. Check the chart on Pg 3 - this is the top intel CPU until 2011 and I can't see AMD releasing a CPU that will compete performance wise with it before then. Reply
  • DarkUltra - Monday, May 03, 2010 - link

    I also miss memory and cache performance tests, and memory overclock results. Reply
  • Kn0xx - Monday, May 17, 2010 - link

    well, this new 6 core comer, will be ( probably ) the entry design for 128 -bit processors that Intel are already working on it.

    128 bit need new multi-core structures. so ..980X is an example of how can a 128-bit core would be =)
    Reply
  • unmaskedtruth - Sunday, May 23, 2010 - link

    does anyone know if protools le 8.0 is multi-threaded? for recording pro music, is it going to be able to take advantage of "6cores" if i was to go i7-980x route? or is quad-core more than sufficient? cause there is i7-930 which is cost like 80% less than the 980x. what do you guys suggest? Reply

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