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Chris Angelini: When this story was published on November 2, 2008, the results of our testing were reported accurately given the Intel platform available to Bert Toepelt, the author in our German lab. Since this piece went live, I have spent hours with different X58 platforms in an effort to help clarify the issues originally encountered in preparing for this story. As such, we’ve made changes to the piece, which you’ll find either in bold text or noted in the story itself.
Just as Intel’s Core 2 has firmly established itself in the market, it is already being replaced by a completely new architecture. Unlike the switch from the Pentium 4 / Pentium D to the Core2—where the new CPUs worked as drop-in replacements on existing boards due to the fact that the processors were pin-compatible—Intel’s newest chip requires a completely new "ecosystem." But this transformation represents nothing less than a milestone for Intel.
Here’s the short version. Intel is introducing the Core i7, the successor to the Core 2 processor, which features both improved performance and higher efficiency. In our benchmark suite, the Core i7 is 16% faster clock-for-clock than the Core 2. Although all standard models are equipped with an overclocking lock, most motherboards will give enthusiasts the means to circumvent this mechanism, which Intel claims is in place to protect notebooks, servers, and other environment highly sensitive to heat. Since Intel is re-introducing Hyper-Threading to its desktop CPUs in the Core i7 line, the new processors show a marked performance boost in many modern multi-threaded applications. However, the Nehalem platform will not offer improvements where power consumption is concerned.
Simultaneously switching to Socket 1366, the X58 chipset, and a tri-channel DDR3 interface, Intel is once again launching both a new generation of processors and an entirely new platform complete with a corresponding leap in performance. The last time we saw a performance improvement of this magnitude was when Intel moved from the Pentium 4/D line to the Core 2 architecture. The new integrated memory controller offers much higher throughput and is even superior to AMD’s solution on the desktop. The Core i7 is going to leave Intel’s rival AMD lagging even further behind.
As a result of the integration of the memory controller directly into the CPU, Intel’s Core i7 now also sports data links to the memory modules. Other links have been affected by Intel’s transition from a front side bus interface to the QuickPath Interconnect solution. Intel has increased the number of pin connections from 775 to 1366, necessitating a new socket aptly named LGA1366. The mounting mechanism continues to use the same design, though. A frame covers the CPU and presses it into the socket, locking it in place with a small lever. This design is larger than the Socket 775 version, and obviously has the pins in a different arrangement.
However, the new Socket 1366 also comes with one disadvantage: the spacing between the mounting holes for the coolers has increased, meaning you’ll need a larger cooler and a new mounting clip or retention module when you make the switch. As a result, no Core 2 CPU is compatible with any Core i7 boards and vice versa. On the plus side, a cooler is included with the boxed version of the processors.