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We've already seen Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture offer compelling performance gains on the desktop. But can the fastest second-gen Core i7 beat Intel's 130 W desktop-oriented six-core Core i7-980X in games? We set up a couple systems to find out.
Industry analysts have predicted the demise of the desktop PC almost every year since notebooks first started shipping with color screens. But extra room for power and cooling continues to push desktop performance at least two steps ahead of notebook counterparts. That performance disparity keeps a slowly-shrinking enthusiast PC market alive, even as improved notebooks all but consume other segments.
Enthusiasts alone can’t sustain the large manufacturing infrastructure left over from the desktop’s heyday, and we watch in despair as component firms either die or change targets. As we continue pushing new blood into the desktop market's veins, Intel is driving nails into its coffin with an architecture that delivers very compelling speed on a power budget.
Enthusiasts could view the company's so-called “second-generation Core architecture” as a performance upgrade or a compatibility killer, but reduced power consumption appears to be the real reason behind a broad range of evolutionary changes beyond Intel's Nehalem-based CPUs. The architecture's vastly-improved HD Graphics 3000, for example, isn’t designed to thrill value-seekers as much as to encourage them not to use power-hungry discrete cards, with its related Quick Sync function disabled whenever another GPU is added. Desktop buyers even have to pay a premium to get the full feature set in the form of a K-series processor, while notebook customers can take it for granted, since all mobile Sandy Bridge chips include 12 execution units.
The result of Intel’s efficiency push is a notebook processor that, with its high IPC and GPU-related killer app, could push everyone but gamers towards its notebook portfolio. Yet, that same ultra-efficient design and power-friendly thermals may combine to create a notebook CPU that can take on Intel's best desktop rival in games. The Core i7-2920XM can ramp up to a super-high 3.50 GHz under load, thanks to a wide range of Turbo Boost multipliers.
Of course the i7-980X has six cores (rather than four) and a 100 MHz higher Turbo Boosted frequency. But those are just the complications needed to make this an interesting comparison.