What to Buy: Mainsteam vs. High End Nehalem

With two sockets targeted at desktops, how will the Core i7s that launched this month stack up to the mainstream Lynnfield and Havendale parts?

The absolute highest frequencies will only be available in LGA-1366 packages and I’d expect this is where we’d see 8-core/16-thread Nehalem parts first (if not exclusively). We’ve already shown that the three DDR3 channels don’t really help for most desktop applications, but this could change when Nehalem moves to 8 cores. Overclockability may also be better on LGA-1366 as the CPUs themselves will be higher bins.

Intel’s roadmaps show three pricepoints of Lynnfield processors in 2009. The top end Lynnfield part looks to be something that’s similar in price/frequency to the i7-940 (or whatever replaces it in Q3 2009). If I were to guess I’d say that’d be a $562 3GHz+ Lynnfield with performance somewhere in between an i7-940 and i7-965.

There will be a midrange Lynnfield, most likely priced/clocked similarly to the i7-920 or its eventual replacement. I’d guess a 2.66GHz - 2.93GHz CPU priced at around $284. Finally the low-end Lynnfield will be somewhere near $200 and probably weigh in at 2.4/2.53GHz. With Havendale not arriving until 2010, it’s currently absent from all Intel roadmaps.

Intel is going to support both platforms, LGA-1366 and LGA-1156 for the long term, the difference will be in the type of processors enabled. LGA-1366 may end up being more of a high end enthusiast play, Intel indicated that LGA-1366 CPUs would be binned higher so you can expect higher overclocks and obviously higher top end frequencies.

At the same time you should be able to get pretty far with LGA-1156, simple 500MHz overclocks shouldn’t be a problem but the 1GHz+ overclocks we’re used to on LGA-1366 and LGA-775 may not be as possible - at least not at 45nm.

Intel isn’t going to do anything to limit overclocking on LGA-1156 platforms, the same current limit bypass that’s on LGA-1366 boards will be optional on 1156 boards should the motherboard manufacturer choose to support it.

The breakdown seems pretty simple: if you’re the type of person who bought the Q6600/Q9300, then Lynnfield may be the Nehalem for you. If you spent a bit more on your CPU or are more of an enthusiast overclocker, the current Core i7 seems like the path Intel wants you to take.

The issue with Lynnfield is that it’s a good 6+ months away, and if Core i7 can speedup your workloads a lot today then you’ll be tempted to make the upgrade now. In notebooks we’ll see Lynnfield in the larger machines and Havendale in most of the platforms.

Without mainstream mobile Nehalem until Q1 2010, next year will be a very long wait for a serious mobile upgrade. But if you can wait it out, or buy something cheaper today, the time to upgrade will be in Q1 2010. I’m going to go ahead and revise my Apple notebook recommendation given that we probably won’t see a Nehalem based MacBook until 2010. Buy the cheapest MacBook you can today and make it last, upgrade again in 2010. Ooh, that rhymes.

Mainstream Nehalem: On-chip GPU and On-chip PCIe What’s Next: A Preview of Westmere and Sandy Bridge


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  • SiliconDoc - Saturday, December 27, 2008 - link

    " The move to multi-core chip designs meant that the focus was no longer on feeding the individual core, but making sure all of the cores on the chip were taken care of. It’s all so very socialist (oh no! ;) ). "
    Umm... wouldn't socialist be more like feeding one or two of the four cores, and all you get back is cache misses, or a stalled pipeline anyway ? I mean, if you're feeding the core, it is expected to do some work. So this is clearly not socialist.
    Maybe you meant it's socialist in the sense that all 4 cores can't be kept fed and therefore working, so most the time they're standing around with the shovel, because yeah they are "on the job", but they ain't doing much, but the clock keeps ticking and ticking... gosh when is the city street core gonna move that and+ sign, and why does it take 5cas to get it done...look at that the bueaucratic core keeps pushing through dirty bits paper and asking for another copy...
    Yes, making the 256k cache work properly to "feed" all the cores and keep them working is the exact opposite of socialism. The exact opposite.
  • JonnyDough - Friday, November 21, 2008 - link

    I think it's pretty obvious what's happening here. Intel is pedaling slowly, waiting for AMD to catch up. It's obvious to everyone that more cache would feed the cores better, but with nothing from AMD to answer - there's no need to make huge gains. They'd prefer to milk the market with incremental advances and sell us the same architecture more times, increasing cache as they will. Reply
  • Bullfrog2099 - Friday, November 21, 2008 - link

    Theres one more thing that Intel needs to be grilled about.
    Will Bloomsfield and Westmere run on the same motherboard since they both use the same socket? Or will you have to buy a new mb if you want to upgrade to 32nm?
  • USSSkipjack - Thursday, November 20, 2008 - link

    I am also very concerned about the cache sizes in the Nehalem architecture. We are doing interactive realtime software volume rendering and that has naturally a very high demand on the CPU. A current Q9450 is actually doing quite well due to its large cache (12 MB) it is also quite inexpensive for its power. Actually we need pure FP power and the ability to feed large amounts of data to the CPU in a short time. Just imagine gigabytes of data that need to be processed in realtime.
    Of course faster is always better and due to the nature of our renderer it also scales very nicely with additional cores. So we were hoping for the release of an affordable 8 core (single package or die) product before the first quarter of next year. Instead we get Nehalem which seems to be inferior for our cause due to its smaller (and slower) cache. Hyperthreading wont help us much, due to the FP nature of almost everything we do.
    Still I am somewhat encouraged by the rather good benchmarks we have seen so far. So my question is, in a direct comparison how does a very cache dependent application do in a Nehalem CPU versus a Q9750 or simillar current quad core?
    Anyone got any benchmarks that shed light on that?
  • bollux78 - Thursday, November 20, 2008 - link

    MAY BE with current knowledge (or lack of) about general physics and stuff that overcome any industrial attempt, there is nothing very exciting to do about processors. We REALLY should stop thinking stuff will go faster and faster and start to look back at real programmers that made miracles on insignificant hardware, like the amiga, lots of jap PCs etc. Video games should not be even commented, because their hardware is un-upgradeable, and yet, the guys make things run on them no matter what. see PS2 as an outrageous example. they made all NFS series on n and more, and nobody put more than 32mb of ram. I´m sorry guys (ans gals where applicable) but this is all bull, people wanting to tease all of us with new unncessary hardware, lots of useless modifications that make no sense for the end user etc. There should be more programmers and soft engineers and less wall street bastards. Reply
  • mutarasector - Monday, November 24, 2008 - link

    "We REALLY should stop thinking stuff will go faster and faster and start to look back at real programmers that made miracles on insignificant hardware, like the amiga, lots of jap PCs etc."

    As a former Amiga software developer, I tend to agree with this statement. While I wouldn't go quite so far as to say we shouldn't expect to see hardware speed improvements, I would modify that expectation in that future hardware R&D shouldn't be oriented towards 'brute force' speed enhancements, but should be more granular refinements. To be sure, I think we are indeed seeing this from both AMD and Intel, particularly with cache structuring and power optimizations.

    The *real* problem here is that hardware development is still largely driven by an agenda with an eye towards favoring Microsoft bloatware on monolithic architectures by AMD and Intel. This is ultimately a dead-end as it still fails to address the fundamental mindset changes required to push computing technologies forward in the long term. The first (and most important) change is to get OS and application development moving towards more tightly handcrafted/refined coding that assumes more responsibility for things currently implemented in silicon rather than contiuing down the path of "how can continue to take it up the whazoo endlessly refining our silicon to satisfy Microsoft bloatware requirements".

    Microsoft and Google are racing towards iOS dominance (even though
    at times I think M$ forgets this race is even on), but of the two, Google is clearly the leader here. What would be cool is if Google would get guys like Carl Sassenrath (Amiga Exec/OS developer) to glue it's Google apps together on Carl's REBOL platform.

  • Shmak - Friday, November 21, 2008 - link

    While I follow your reasoning with newer, better, faster, and smaller being crammed down our throats, but speed issues cannot be resolved as easily through the software side of things. The software industry has come to rely on the current cycle of ever speedier hardware.

    And rightfully so, as nobody wants to have to translate millions of lines of C into Assembler for better efficiency than compliers do. Not to mention the fact that every piece of software with a decent budget uses 3rd party platforms like Direct X. Sure somebody could probably write something more efficient for the specific aims of their game or whatever, but it would probably take them far longer than just integrating the platform as is. Not to mention the fact that many of these things are like "black boxes" that have to be opened up and figured out in order to be improved upon, and people generally don't like messing with code that isn't their own. Yet these 3rd party bits are necessary in the end.

    The final thing is that when you program anything decent sized for a PC, you are depending on other people's code. The drivers, the OS, Open CL, whatever, all these things make it possible for consumers to use a variety of hardware. Game consoles and the Amiga could be fine tuned because the developers knew the machine they were testing on was EXACTLY the same as the one that was sitting in your office/living room however many years ago.
  • USSSkipjack - Thursday, November 20, 2008 - link

    Yes, but... physics also limit the amount of data that a current CPU can process either way you see it. One can of course fake things, but there are applications (like ours) where this is not an option. Faking and smoke and mirrors and optimizations are something that works very well for games and even for movie effects work, but we can not do that.
    It is already a miracle that we do the stuff we do with the current hardware (most others try to use GPUs or even expensive special purpose hardware for that, with all the issues that come with this).
    The advantage of using the CPU is scalability. We do fine on a current Q9450, now imagine what we can do on two?
    My issue is whether we should do that, or whether Nehalem will indeed bring benefits even for us, even it has a smaller cache. Maybe the new cache configuration and the architecture outdo the lack of cache. This is why I would like to see a direct comparison of Nehalem CPU with a Q9750 in apps that are particularily benefited by larger caches and/or that process a lot of data.
    Also, does anyone know when the 8-core Nehalems will come to market?
  • chizow - Thursday, November 20, 2008 - link

    Glad you grilled them about Nehalem's lack of L2 Anand. Lots of good info there, but you should've asked him point-blank if he knew Nehalem didn't show any improvement and in many cases, was slower than Penryn in games. It would've been interesting to hear Ronak's response to that. There's the Guru3D article that shows significant gains in Tri-SLI with an i7 but I haven't seen any other reviews that show nearly as much gain. Hopefully the L3 latency tweaks in Westmere improve gaming performance, but for now there doesn't seem to be much reason for gamers to upgrade from Core 2. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Thursday, November 20, 2008 - link

    Does having a L3 cache inherently impose a latency constraint on the L2 cache? Afterall, the last time Intel had an independent L2 cache it was on Dothan which was 2MB with 10 cycle latency. Now Nehalem's independent L2 cache is only 256k at 10 cycles and they say going to 512k would have made it 12 cycle.

    So Westmere is really just going to be a die shrink? I was hoping it'll be something like Penryn, which even though it didn't change that much, I believe it still outperformed Conroe by 5-10% on average. I believe there are some more SSE instructions coming for Westmere for AES and other things.

    Supposedly the OpenCL spec has been completed in record time thanks to pressure from Apple to get it out in time for Snow Leopard. It's only awaiting lawyer IP approval. Any chance of getting the details?

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