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IDF: Core i7 Will Self Overclock

By , Tuan Nguyen - Source: Tom's Hardware | B 46 comments

Intel’s upcoming Core i7 processors will feature a turbo mode, as announced on Day 1 of IDF. Although not quite like the retro turbo mode button found on computers of the late 1980’s, the turbo mode on Core i7 will still result in increased single threaded performance. The technology is based on the idea of dynamically increasing the frequency of the CPU when not all the cores are in use, archiving higher single threaded performance when that is all that is required.

The technology is aided by the improved power management features found on Nehalem also announced at IDF. The Integrated Power Gate technology will shut off idle cores, reducing their voltage to zero, rather than just lowering the power provided to them. Not having as many cores on using power and producing heat, will allow other cores to use more power, increasing the performance of those cores, while still not exceeding the maximum TDP of the processor.

In the following scenario for example, if you are using a Core i7 with 4 cores, and the game you are using uses only a single core, the other three cores will turn off, reducing the heat produced by your processor, allowing the only running core to be automatically overclocked for higher performance. This new technology may be a compelling reason for many to no longer choose the faster clocked dual core processor over the slower quad core, as the quad core could offer now equal single threaded performance at the same price.

Exactly what type of improvement is expected form this turbo mode is yet to be seen, but early leaked demonstrations show at least a single stepping of improvement, 22 to 23 for example. What this Turbo Mode means for overclockers is also yet to be seen also. Some are saying overclocking on Nehalem will be very difficult if Intel so chooses to make it so however. Leaked information also indicates that production CPUs will self overclock by up to two speed bins — for example jumping from 3 GHz to 3.2 GHz or even 3.4 GHz.

With this kind of headroom, it will be interesting to see how far enthusiasts will be able to push Core i7 processors. Even Intel indicated to us in June that Core i7 silicon is extremely healthy. Our own tests revealed that Core i7 processors will have considerable amount of headroom in terms of clock speeds.

For those who remember, the original "turbo button" found on many PCs back in the day, was there not actually to speed up the CPU, but actually to slow it down. When activated, the CPU actually ran at full speed. With the turbo button switched off, the CPU would be underclocked to allow certain legacy applications to run at "normal" speeds instead of "too fast."

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  • 1 Hide
    JonathanDeane , August 20, 2008 12:16 AM
    I like it, I like it. As long as there are no technical teething pains this will be a great bit of kit :) 
  • -3 Hide
    JonathanDeane , August 20, 2008 12:25 AM
    Sorry for the double post but a thought occurs to me!!! I know I know an unusual occurance.... They need to share this tech with ATI and Nvidia, I think they could about go fanless in 2D mode :) 
  • 1 Hide
    RoadKillGrill , August 20, 2008 1:06 AM
    LOL a turbo mode, reminds me of the 386 days.
  • 2 Hide
    onearmedscissorb , August 20, 2008 1:07 AM
    Interesting idea for people who don't overclock, but much like SpeedStep, I imagine it will have to be shut off for overclocking. Most people would prefer to just run all the cores faster if they have to pick.

    And if that's all it does when it shuts off THREE cores, then there's probably very little real world advantage to the type of person who would be using one of these processors. At the VERY least, they'll probably be playing newer games that would at least use two cores, but probably more, and people who actually need that kind of power to do something more serious may very well be utilizing all the cores at all times. Somehow, I don't think one of these processors needs a speed boost for Half Life 2 to begin with, much less web surfing.
  • 0 Hide
    aevm , August 20, 2008 1:13 AM
    Finally, no more threads like "Q6600 vs E8400". Excellent job, Intel :) 
  • 0 Hide
    shadowthor , August 20, 2008 1:13 AM
    It is an interesting concept, if it truly works as good as it is mentioned in paper, there will be no reason to actually go to dual core nehalem and plus this will prevent the trolls from saying dual core is better for gaming. I wonder how overclocking will be, with the cores turning off when not in use.
  • 0 Hide
    jaragon13 , August 20, 2008 1:35 AM
    onearmedscissorbInteresting idea for people who don't overclock http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overclocking , but much like SpeedStep, I imagine it will have to be shut off for overclocking. Most people would prefer to just run all the cores faster if they have to pick. And if that's all it does when it shuts off THREE cores, then there's probably very little real world advantage to the type of person who would be using one of these processors. At the VERY least, they'll probably be playing newer games that would at least use two cores, but probably more, and people who actually need that kind of power to do something more serious may very well be utilizing all the cores at all times. Somehow, I don't think one of these processors needs a speed boost for Half Life http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3 2 to begin with, much less web surfing.

    Why not.
    I think 0 power going to cores when inactive is a brilliant idea.If you don't think that's a real world advantage to not use unused power,then I don't know what universe you are from.
  • 3 Hide
    scorpio9gm , August 20, 2008 1:43 AM
    First off over clocking is a win win for chip makers 1. it creates a cult following for their chips and gives people an avenue to learn more about their CPU and how it works and thus inspire the next generation of computer designers, engineers and technicians. 2. it allows users to squeeze a bit more performance out of their computer which is always good for the company. 3. Any time you can you reduce the 95 to 135 watt power draw that the processor is producing is a good thing, turning off cores when not needed and bumping up single threading performance is great. However for high end gamers this will probably be negligible due the the fact the most games and high end apps. such as 3DS Max, Maya, Photoshop, just to name a few are able to take advantage of multiple cores anyhow. Great so now when I fire up OpenOffice my computer will give it a boost. To me this just seems like a side note and I do not see this as some great leap in computer history. I'm more interested in Intel turning out a chip that I can dig into and get some real high end performance gains out of. This is 2008 and I'm past single threaded app. performance, if OpenOffice ran any quicker even I would not notice the difference. If Intel cripples over clocking for their i7 chips it would be a sad day for the over clocking community, and don't think for a minute that AMD would not step in to fill this gap. Intel is on top right now and on the right path I hope they don't lose there way and stray from the excellent work they have done and start giving us minor improvements for their next generation chips. This would be much more of an advantage for the Atom then performance for the i7, don't get me wrong this is a nice little enhancement for the i7, but for me and most high end users I would stress little. As a high end user I'm looking to Intel to give me a lot more then this.

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  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 20, 2008 2:26 AM
    Haha! I still have that pc case which had the turbo button. I'm not sure exactly what the button did, but the pc would run faster and you could enable "high" graphics in certain games (there was a football game at that time that had this ability). Those were the old DOS days tho, you can imagine 'graphics' from back then :) 
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , August 20, 2008 2:39 AM
    Terrible news for overclockers. Who knows which core is on and off, which core is stable or not? Hard to stability test for us overclockers who are overclocking - and will intel give us a stability guarantee? even when it's self overclocked by two speed bins? sounds like they're selling them badged underclocked so it can do it!
  • -2 Hide
    jimmysmitty , August 20, 2008 3:08 AM
    Woot Dynamic OCing just like I thought.
  • 3 Hide
    lopopo , August 20, 2008 3:24 AM
    haahahaTerrible news for overclockers. Who knows which core is on and off, which core is stable or not? Hard to stability test for us overclockers who are overclocking - and will intel give us a stability guarantee? even when it's self overclocked by two speed bins? sounds like they're selling them badged underclocked so it can do it!

    yea i hope they put options in the bios to turn this crap off/on
  • -4 Hide
    modtech , August 20, 2008 4:08 AM
    Singlethreaded? Once again I was tricked by the title. I gotta hand it to they staff at tom's, they know how to make a big headline out of nonissue.
  • 3 Hide
    addiktion , August 20, 2008 4:53 AM
    I think it's a good idea but like others I agree with turning it on/off. I personally prefer to have all my cores overclocked and running so even if 3 of them aren't in use they are available when I need them. Granted it would be a quick switch I'm sure from 1 to turning on all 4 but it's one less thing my CPU needs to do and one less possible problem with the cpu to begin with.

    Again I think it's a good idea for those who aren't into managing their own CPU's but for me I'll stick to overclocking all 4 cores.
  • 3 Hide
    stridervm , August 20, 2008 5:07 AM
    Wierd, I think.... By the way Windows currently uses multiple cores, I think this will very much either cause :

    - Negatively affect performance.
    - Lots of BSODs.
    - Will not work.

    So how will that work? Windows already does try to divide the single applications performance between cores. Which means every core will be active. Wierd.
  • 1 Hide
    JerryC , August 20, 2008 5:46 AM
    Trust me when I tell you that MB manufacturers will allow you to disaable that option. So the age of over clocking isn't dead, it just means that people that don't understand will be better off.
  • 2 Hide
    Jhonny , August 20, 2008 6:05 AM
    Well, i think that in that particular case one must take into account that there are lots of programs running in background while someone is playing a game, most of that stuff is normally handled by other cores, so shutting then down is not going to help as much.
  • 2 Hide
    ik_ool , August 20, 2008 8:31 AM
    I think all future applications will be designed to benefit from multiple cores - 12 core processors in 2 years. Therefore, I think this feature is useless.
  • -5 Hide
    Reynod , August 20, 2008 11:31 AM
    This ideas is another one stolen from AMD.

  • 1 Hide
    hawler , August 20, 2008 11:45 AM
    The real question is why wouldn't this work for a double threaded-or even triple threaded application? If the app was running two threads could you turn the others ones off and give each of the 2 running cores a speed boost, though smaller then the boost one core would get? I can't see why this wouldn't be possible. And then it would actually end up being kind of useful, since many games are only going to have 2 threads for a while.

    Also I too hope you can turn off the dynamic OCing of this chip for overclocking...but the 0 power to cores doing nothing needs to be able to stick around even with that feature turned off. Ideally actually would be the ability to OC your chip...and then have it OC a little more when only one core is being used...but I dont expect that
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