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Core i7-980X: Dialing In Efficiency With The Right Overclock

Core i7-980X: Dialing In Efficiency With The Right Overclock
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Despite the Core i7-980X's impressive performance and surprisingly high efficiency, we were disappointed that Intel didn't get more aggressive with Turbo Boost, the feature that increases core clock speeds within a given thermal envelope when more performance is needed. Fortunately, six-core "Gulftown" can overclock like a champ. The question is whether manually forcing this extra performance causes a big hit in the CPU's efficiency or not. And whether inside or beyond Turbo Boost's limits, is there a speed setting where the Core i7-980X displays optimal efficiency? That's what we're here to find out.

A perfect processor offers more than substantial multi-core performance. The new Core i7-980X delivers copious alacrity in applications that can take advantage of its six cores (or as many as 12 logical threads with Hyper-Threading enabled). However, this isn’t the fastest Intel processor when it comes to raw frequency. Turbo Boost allows the 3.33 GHz Gulftown to reach 3.60 GHz on a single core, but a $196 Core i5-66x offers similar speeds (and as a result, theoretically comparable single-thread performance). The Core i5-670 is even faster at 3.73 GHz and can technically overtake Intel’s $1,000 six-core flagship when it comes to single-threaded workloads.

Of course, there's some room for debate here, since the Extreme Edition chip's 12MB L3 cache can be allocated to a single task. So too can the Core i5's 4MB cache, but there's quite a bit of difference there. Nevertheless, in most single-threaded apps, clock rate is what determines performance.

We wanted to make a handful of alterations and squeeze more performance from of the six-core beast. Ultimately, Gulftown is a 32 nm processor, just like the Clarkdale-based Core i5s, which have shown amazing overclocking capabilities. Even with six cores, it should be possible to accelerate the i7-980X up to where it easily beats Intel's other offerings without consuming excessive power.

Platform: Intel DX58SO

Intel’s 5000 BIOS version supports the six-core Gulftown processor and offers very granular settings for the number of speed steppings available to various core counts under Turbo Boost.

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  • 12 Hide
    babybeluga , April 9, 2010 6:51 AM
    Not worth the time and money!


    ...yet
  • 10 Hide
    Sihastru , April 9, 2010 7:32 AM
    Looks like 32nm will be a gamechanger for Intel CPUs. What I'm missing though is temperature readings. It would be interesting to see how much higher they are when overclocking "efficiently".

    Still at ~$1000 a pop, most of us can just take this CPU as a hint of "things to come" and not really consider one for purchase any time soon.
Other Comments
  • 12 Hide
    babybeluga , April 9, 2010 6:51 AM
    Not worth the time and money!


    ...yet
  • 3 Hide
    dlochinski , April 9, 2010 7:11 AM
    What a beast
  • 0 Hide
    Lmeow , April 9, 2010 7:15 AM
    Just wondering, if Turbo Boost is enabled when you have overclocked your CPU, does TB add to your overclock? E.g., if you have an i7 900 @ 4Ghz, does it go to 4.133GHz w/TB?
  • 10 Hide
    Sihastru , April 9, 2010 7:32 AM
    Looks like 32nm will be a gamechanger for Intel CPUs. What I'm missing though is temperature readings. It would be interesting to see how much higher they are when overclocking "efficiently".

    Still at ~$1000 a pop, most of us can just take this CPU as a hint of "things to come" and not really consider one for purchase any time soon.
  • -2 Hide
    victomofreality , April 9, 2010 7:35 AM
    if cash wasn't an issue I would totally get one for bragging rights but not worth the cash.
  • -1 Hide
    jsowoc , April 9, 2010 7:38 AM
    After the intro mentioned the Core i5-670, I almost expected it to be part of the benchmark. With less cores, you should be able to push it further, and it might perform faster than the i7-980X on the single- or dual- core benchmarks. We need to know what (if any) is the difference between the $1000 beast and the $300 beauty.

    Is a Core i5-670 overclock article in the works?
  • -2 Hide
    evolve60 , April 9, 2010 8:01 AM
    http://www.juns.jp/980X.html

    They managed to get the 980X up to 5GHz with 1.688volts, but at that voltage the chip is bound to get fried sooner or later, but I just thought that this was worth mentioning seeing as how Toms emphasized on how Intel skimped out on the Turbo boost feature.
  • -6 Hide
    starralazn , April 9, 2010 8:38 AM
    LmeowJust wondering, if Turbo Boost is enabled when you have overclocked your CPU, does TB add to your overclock? E.g., if you have an i7 900 @ 4Ghz, does it go to 4.133GHz w/TB?

    you obviously have never overclocked a CPU with turbo boost.
    Once you reach a stable oc setting with turbo boost off, and try to turn it on, your setup probably won't make it past startup because that part will throttle up your CPU past the limit capable of your CPU
  • 1 Hide
    fusionlance , April 9, 2010 8:59 AM
    I so wanted this for Maya, 12 threads ought to cut 60% of the rendering time compared to the system I'm currently using.
  • 9 Hide
    Anonymous , April 9, 2010 9:41 AM
    Motherboard
    (Socket LGA 1156)

    I believe that is not right ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    Reynod , April 9, 2010 10:20 AM
    The tables were useful.

    I'd run one of these at 3.73 ... that seems the sweet spot and no worries about electromigration as long as you have a quality aftermarket cooler.

    Frying one od these would surely make the toughest overclocker weep real tears.

    Putting the stats in for an i5 and i7 reference cpu would also have been nice guys.

    Good work.
  • -2 Hide
    RazberyBandit , April 9, 2010 10:34 AM
    Aww. With those initial comments about an OC'd i5 potentially outperforming this thing in a single-threaded, I was hoping to actually see it happen.

    Very interesting how well it can OC at it's stock voltage, and how well it scales while doing so.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , April 9, 2010 10:44 AM
    How did you test stability? Did you use Linpack? I ask because there is a significant difference between what is stable in Linpack and what is stable for example in orthos. My i5 750 runs orthos small fft test just fine at 4.1GHz for 12h and crashes in Linpack at that frequency after 5 minutes. I can only achieve 24h stability in Linpack at 3.77GHz. As for dual core i5, you have to take into account that dual core i5 do not have IMC, thus they have much lower performance per clock then "true" Nehalems.
  • -3 Hide
    anamaniac , April 9, 2010 10:50 AM
    Cool, using the reference cooler and keeping HT/Turbo on, nice.

    Now, how about a better motherboard, a high end liquid setup, and turn HT and Turbo Boost off (HT is useless unless you actually need it, which most of us don't).

    You know you wanna. :D 
    For the sake of all Tom's devotees... RUN THAT MOTHA TILL IT BURSTS IN FLAMES!
  • 3 Hide
    Luscious , April 9, 2010 11:58 AM
    Very nice article, but some folks with dough to buy a $1000 CPU to OC will be running high-end water or phase-change.

    Time to do a follow-up article and get a Swiftech h2o kit in your labs alongside a phase-change unit. You guys do, after all, want to see how far this processor can go, right?
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , April 9, 2010 12:28 PM
    Anyone know how this chip compares to the i7-920XM (Extreme Calpella Clarksfield Processor 2.0-3.2GHz)? I mean if Turbo Boost will get this ship to 3.2 and the Gulftown to 3.6... on single cores would the 920 be competitive?
  • -1 Hide
    flyhiloone , April 9, 2010 1:28 PM
    I really appreciated this article. Just last week I picked up one of these bad boys for my business (video editing) and have really noticed a difference in the amount of time it takes to process/edit my work. I can't wait to go home and try some of these overclock settings.
  • 0 Hide
    whiz , April 9, 2010 1:34 PM
    Damn i like how old-school intel MBs always look like - i bet the guy responsible for the cooling solutions is a 60yr. old guy who's been working at intel since they opened =)
  • 1 Hide
    Ogdin , April 9, 2010 1:54 PM
    Worrying about power efficiency with a $1000.00 cpu.........that makes a lot of sense lol.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , April 9, 2010 2:53 PM
    Wow... 3.86 ghz..

    6 cores, 12 threads, HT on, TB one... all at stock voltage....

    I guess we can say that the 32 nano process is up and running, couple steppings and this thing will we deep into the 4 ghz range.

    Makes you wonder why Nehalem EX is still at 45 nano's. If ever their was a chip that cried of for all this 32 nano goodness that would be the one.
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