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Efficiency Explored: Core i7-980X Versus Core i7-975

Efficiency Explored: Core i7-980X Versus Core i7-975
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Although we know AMD has its own plans to launch a six-core Phenom II X6, Intel gets the jump by demonstrating its own hexa-core model ahead of AMD's plans. The Core i7-980X, formerly referred to as Gulftown, will soon be available for LGA 1366 systems, and it promises new levels of performance in threaded apps able to take advantage of its increased parallelism and on-die shared L3 cache.

Thanks to the new six-core part being based on a 32nm lithography process, it reaches the same 3.33 GHz clock speed as the quad-core Core i7-975 Extreme Edition at the same 130W power envelope. Does this guarantee more performance per watt? It's hard to say without a more in-depth benchmark analysis. After all, the 1.17 billion transistor chip even fits onto a smaller die than its predecessor.

We were a bit skeptical, as Intel's first-place position seems to be resulting in specs better suited to its bottom line than platform performance. There's the lack of PCI Express 2.0 signaling in its platform controller hubs, despite advertising the links as PCIe 2.0-class. There's the fact that Clarkdale CPUs can't have their 16 lanes of PCIe 2.0 split into x8 links in H55/H57, while they can in P55. And then there's the power-saving Core i5-750S processor. Though it does indeed save power, it also gives up performance (at a higher price point, no less), which means that it actually sacrifices performance per watt. Thus, we’ll be paying particularly close attention to how Gulftown behaves with regard to efficiency.

Reviving The LGA 1366 Interface

Finally, there is a clearer reason to buy Intel’s X58 Express enthusiast platform. It has a palpable upgrade path that wasn't particularly clear when it launched back in 2008! X58's dual x16 PCI Express 2.0 capabilities are only important for graphics enthusiasts, but it's clear that Intel doesn’t plan to introduce six-core CPUs for its mainstream LGA 1156 interface any time soon. The Core i7-980X gives the LGA 1366 platform fresh legs within a more attractive price band than the one we saw more than a year ago. Back then, $350 motherboards were reasonable. Now, X58 can be had on a $150 board. You could consider purchasing an affordable Core i7 quad-core CPU today and upgrade to six-core in a year or so.

With only minor exceptions, most motherboard makers aren’t revising their existing LGA 1366 products. But as a general rule, you can look for an updated BIOS version with Gulftown support, flash it, and install the new $1,000 six-core monster.

Performance vs. Efficiency

Chris Angelini already reported on performance and overclocking results. Gulftown shows significant performance advantages on thread-optimized software, and the new Core i7-980X seems to run fine at up to 4.13 GHz nominal speed. Check out our Gulftown review for details. Now, let's get to analyzing power efficiency.

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  • 27 Hide
    bobfrys , March 12, 2010 5:35 AM
    Now that you have that i7 Hexacore, why aren't you doing multi-tasking benchmarks. Like running a game and a anti virus, or a game and a browser, or a game, a browser, while doing a anti-virus scan. Or the highly impractical and improbable test of 2 games at once. Seeing as its a hexicore, it should really "shine" during multi-tasking, so why not show us how good it is at that.
  • 18 Hide
    Sihastru , March 12, 2010 6:38 AM
    game + antivirus = choppy performance, antivirus accesses HDD most of the time, causing hangups

    game + browser = highly improbable scenario, when you are gaming the browser will just be in idle, when you're browsing, even if the game suffers, you don't care, your focus is elswhere

    game + game = whaaaaaaaaat?

    The idea is, there are more components in a system, and the CPU is no longer the most important one if you need performance, you really need to speed up I/O (starting with the HDD/SDD). Complex things use the entire system, not just the CPU.
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    cruiseoveride , March 12, 2010 5:24 AM
    We had single core, then dual core, then quad core, feels like 8 cores should be the next big thing.
  • 7 Hide
    duk3 , March 12, 2010 5:27 AM
    ^6 cores is just another step in that direction of octocores.
  • 0 Hide
    micky_lund , March 12, 2010 5:33 AM
    wow...doesn't even use up the local power grid back home....
    what r u doing wrong intel? :p 
    good to see it can overclock nicely tho
  • 27 Hide
    bobfrys , March 12, 2010 5:35 AM
    Now that you have that i7 Hexacore, why aren't you doing multi-tasking benchmarks. Like running a game and a anti virus, or a game and a browser, or a game, a browser, while doing a anti-virus scan. Or the highly impractical and improbable test of 2 games at once. Seeing as its a hexicore, it should really "shine" during multi-tasking, so why not show us how good it is at that.
  • 4 Hide
    shubham1401 , March 12, 2010 6:22 AM
    +1 to bobfrys

    Would really like to see how good this chip can multi-task.
  • 3 Hide
    archange , March 12, 2010 6:31 AM
    I was really expecting AMD to hit 1st with a hexa, given their good server record. That said, this is more of a paper launch than anything else right now. Performance-wise, the chip sits right where I expected it to sit, so no surprises here.

    Right now, there's no incentive for me to swap my i7 920 running at 4 GHz. Sure, as Chris said, i would have loved something along the lines of the afore-mentioned 920, built at the 32 nm node.

    Come octocores - I may consider the upgrade. Until then, my fingers are crossed in the direction of AMD - we really need them to keep up, for the sake of a healthy competition.
  • 18 Hide
    Sihastru , March 12, 2010 6:38 AM
    game + antivirus = choppy performance, antivirus accesses HDD most of the time, causing hangups

    game + browser = highly improbable scenario, when you are gaming the browser will just be in idle, when you're browsing, even if the game suffers, you don't care, your focus is elswhere

    game + game = whaaaaaaaaat?

    The idea is, there are more components in a system, and the CPU is no longer the most important one if you need performance, you really need to speed up I/O (starting with the HDD/SDD). Complex things use the entire system, not just the CPU.
  • 0 Hide
    frozenlead , March 12, 2010 6:47 AM
    Adding additional programs at once into the equation would probably do more harm than good for the data. In addition to what sihastru said, you could also run into potential program conflicts - even though they may be running in what appears to be the same way every time to you, the user, they probably aren't on the computing side. For one program, the difference is negligible, but that would grow for every program you run. Also, say the programs run at different speeds on different CPUs, where they both need some critical system resource at the same time - then the more powerful CPU would mistakenly look worse, simply because it was faster in the first place.

    It is nice to see that several programs can take advantage of 6 cores, even if it's weak. Hardware these days is phenomenal...but humans can still be pretty lazy writing software.
  • 0 Hide
    manitoublack , March 12, 2010 7:47 AM
    I'll be waiting for octocores as my 920 is still more than fast enough for me. Keep up the good work engineers at intel.
  • 2 Hide
    Tomtompiper , March 12, 2010 8:23 AM
    In the majority of these tests there is little or no difference in speed, and the time it would take for the extra efficiency to pay for the price difference, would exceed the lifetime of the chip by many years. Keep the extra cash and buy a SSD this will provide a much higher performance gain and efficiency savings.
  • -2 Hide
    sohei , March 12, 2010 8:40 AM
    i7 975 vs i7 980?? what is to demonstrate??
    i think dual socket 17 920 platform vs i7 980 is more appropriate review

    because dual socket i7 920 is more powerful and cheap ...and yes regarding power consumption ...the dual socket i7 920 is more efficient...why? because 2 i7 920 must work in full load 4 years to consume enough power(money) to pass the initial cost of i7 980
  • -3 Hide
    cj_online , March 12, 2010 8:47 AM
    cruiseoverideWe had single core, then dual core, then quad core, feels like 8 cores should be the next big thing.

    You forgot about triple cores.. 6 core makes sense... next is 8 cores.. then 12 and then 16...
  • 0 Hide
    Tomtompiper , March 12, 2010 8:52 AM
    archangeI was really expecting AMD to hit 1st with a hexa, given their good server record. That said, this is more of a paper launch than anything else right now. Performance-wise, the chip sits right where I expected it to sit, so no surprises here.Right now, there's no incentive for me to swap my i7 920 running at 4 GHz. Sure, as Chris said, i would have loved something along the lines of the afore-mentioned 920, built at the 32 nm node.Come octocores - I may consider the upgrade. Until then, my fingers are crossed in the direction of AMD - we really need them to keep up, for the sake of a healthy competition.


    Did you miss the post on the 12 core AMD? They are running a competition to win a 48 core system.

    http://www.tomshardware.com/news/amd-opteron-48-core-contest,9810.html?xtmc=48_cores&xtcr=1
  • -4 Hide
    urlsen , March 12, 2010 9:17 AM
    Looking forward to the time where you can buy a 3 core amd and unlock the potential of a 6 core :) 
    Altho i doubt it will ever happen maby with 5 cores turning into 6 cores, picture a lanbox/HTPC when gaming lan unlock the cores, when idle watching movies or playing music remove some of the cores for heat reduction...

    Or have i misunderstood something in my equation?
  • 0 Hide
    obarthelemy , March 12, 2010 9:49 AM
    @bobfrys: I can understand game + AV... but game + browsing ? I know plenty of cores makes for a nice epeen, but do we really have to contrive tests so much to pretend and find them any actual use ?
  • 0 Hide
    d70guy , March 12, 2010 11:16 AM
    @bobfrys -- I agree

    There are many activities which can happen on a daily basis which would benefit from having multiple cores. An example might be number crunching + productivity, I for one do not walk away from my machine while it is encoding, batch processing photos, transcoding, or rendering. It is important that the system remain usable while it is doing heavy crunching in the background. I would even argue that gaming while doing something else is important. For instance measuring broadband performance while gaming, defraging (a different disk) or whatever. The point is that with additional cores, all of these combined activities should become less visible to the operator. Since I switched my personal systems so SSDs I know it has had a huge impact on anything disk related and I can viably have disk activity running int he background while gaming (without impact). This will become even more important as we move forward as there will be a limit to the natural parallelism of some applications and the goal is to multitask. It would be nice to see a multitasking benchmark.

    @archange: A paper launch is when someone launches something but does not deliver immediately. I have two gulftowns and four Xeon 5680s sitting in front of me. I have 100 unit quantities of the Xeons on order for the systems we build and expect delivery this month. Hardly a paper launch. The problem with the current set of benchmarks is that very few of the applications used scale well, I am in fact surprised at how poorly Mainconcept scales given the problem it is tackling. For our own use we see 50% scaling with the additional cores so the fact that we get more power efficiency, lower heat, and more tangible performance at the SAME price as the CPU it is replacing is a huge, tangible benefit.

    I know that this article was about the extreme edition but I am even more excited about the westmere low power parts which have even lower power consumption and greater turbo capabilities.

    Another article I would like to see is the impact of thermal management with respect to the new turbo capabilities of the chips.


  • -4 Hide
    d70guy , March 12, 2010 11:17 AM
    @bobfrys -- I agree

    There are many activities which can happen on a daily basis which would benefit from having multiple cores. An example might be number crunching + productivity, I for one do not walk away from my machine while it is encoding, batch processing photos, transcoding, or rendering. It is important that the system remain usable while it is doing heavy crunching in the background. I would even argue that gaming while doing something else is important. For instance measuring broadband performance while gaming, defraging (a different disk) or whatever. The point is that with additional cores, all of these combined activities should become less visible to the operator. Since I switched my personal systems so SSDs I know it has had a huge impact on anything disk related and I can viably have disk activity running int he background while gaming (without impact). This will become even more important as we move forward as there will be a limit to the natural parallelism of some applications and the goal is to multitask. It would be nice to see a multitasking benchmark.

    @archange: A paper launch is when someone launches something but does not deliver immediately. I have two gulftowns and four Xeon 5680s sitting in front of me. I have 100 unit quantities of the Xeons on order for the systems we build and expect delivery this month. Hardly a paper launch. The problem with the current set of benchmarks is that very few of the applications used scale well, I am in fact surprised at how poorly Mainconcept scales given the problem it is tackling. For our own use we see 50% scaling with the additional cores so the fact that we get more power efficiency, lower heat, and more tangible performance at the SAME price as the CPU it is replacing is a huge, tangible benefit.

    I know that this article was about the extreme edition but I am even more excited about the westmere low power parts which have even lower power consumption and greater turbo capabilities.

    Another article I would like to see is the impact of thermal management with respect to the new turbo capabilities of the chips.
  • 1 Hide
    requiemsallure , March 12, 2010 11:18 AM
    to be completely honest people that buy this processor, or the 975 more than likely are not going to care about power efficiency, or consumption.

    though i have to say, it is interesting to know.
  • 0 Hide
    jlyu , March 12, 2010 11:44 AM
    @tomtompiper

    if you're talking about why buying a 980x over a 975, it has more cores and its priced at the same $999 probably?
  • -1 Hide
    Tomtompiper , March 12, 2010 12:08 PM
    JLyu@tomtompiperif you're talking about why buying a 980x over a 975, it has more cores and its priced at the same $999 probably?


    You really expect the price of the 975 to stay as is once the 980x is available?
    If as I suspect it drops by around $300.00 the SSD is still the better option.
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