The Intel Core i7-990X Extreme Edition Processor Review

Overclocking

Intel’s Core i7-990X, -980X, and -2600K are all fairly unique in the company’s lineup for their unlocked multipliers. The feature’s a boon to overclocking the two Gulftown-based chips, since you don’t have to screw around with the 133 MHz BCLK. However, it’s an absolute necessity on the Sandy Bridge-based processors because you can’t screw around with its 100 MHz BCLK.

On the left: what you get with Core i5-2500K; on the right: what you get with Core i7-990XOn the left: what you get with Core i5-2500K; on the right: what you get with Core i7-990X

Here’s the thing, though. Intel bundles its Extreme Edition parts with a big, beefy DBX-B thermal solution for enhanced overclocking. But it includes a much dinkier heatsink/fan combo with the K-series SKUs.

Using Intel’s retail DBX-B, I was able to push the Core i7-990X to 4.4 GHz at stock voltage.

Using the same cooler, I pushed the Core i7-980X to 4.26 GHz at its stock voltage.

Armed with the cooler bundled with Intel’s Core i7-2600K, I was barely able to push 4 GHz at the chip’s stock voltage before bouncing off 80 degrees Celsius (I don’t like operating in excess of 80 degrees for extended periods of time). Swapping out for a Thermalright MUX-120, I was able to sit comfortably at 4.3 GHz at stock voltage. Any faster than that and the Core i7-2600K would crash, needing more voltage, which you could comfortably give it, since the hottest core was only hovering around 60 degrees. In essence, if you want to overclock a K-series chip with any real seriousness, add $50 or $60 to your budget for more capable aftermarket cooling.

We of course know that all three processors could go faster—but their relative performance won’t change much. The real purpose of overclocking at all was simply to show that both Gulftown processors and the Sandy Bridge CPU have headroom in them, and the conclusions drawn at stock frequencies apply here, too. In the applications where the -990X was faster, it remains faster. Anything that prefers the -2600K’s more efficient architecture continues to.


Core i7-990X
Core i7-980X
Core i7-2600K
3ds Max 2010
1:45
1:48
2:12
Adobe Photoshop CS5
:57
:59
1:15
Adobe Premiere Pro CS5
12:15
12:15
16:40
ABBYY FineReader 10
1:05
1:06
1:19
Create a new thread in the US Reviews comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
116 comments
    Your comment
  • kikireeki
    Chris, I think your first conclusion still valid.
    2
  • binoyski
    Darn, the contest should be open to all Tom's Hardware registered users even from a different country!
    9
  • Saljen
    My friend just built a new gaming rig with the 980x as the processor... He plays Age of Conan. I busted up laughing when he said he spent $1k on a processor that he'll only use to 1/10th of its potential. Told him he should have gotten an i5, now I'll send him this article as further proof.
    5
  • HansVonOhain
    This is just a ripoff by intel on those who are not knowledgeable enough that more expensive does not always mean better.
    -2
  • cangelini
    kikireekiChris, I think your first conclusion still valid.


    Which one was that? :)
    3
  • adamboy64
    Well, some people just want the best when they buy a PC, regardless of cost efficiency, can't blame 'em. There'll always be that market.
    3
  • cangelini
    binoyskiDarn, the contest should be open to all Tom's Hardware registered users even from a different country!


    Really wish it could be binoyski. We have specific tax laws, unfortunately, that prevent it. Same reason the folks in RI can't enter :-/
    4
  • joytech22
    Wow AMD's CPU is just getting plain-ol decimated in this review.

    Still, it does hold it's ground even though the architecture is like 4 years old, using the same technology that was around back when the C2Q's we're the high-end (the same as the original phenoms on a die shrink).

    Because of this, I can almost guarantee AMD's success with their future CPU's, just like I predicted the 2600K would be faster in most cases than the 980X.

    That doesn't mean I'm saying that Bulldozer will outperform the i7's or upcoming 8-core Intel CPU's I'm just saying that there's going to be some serious decisions for upgraders this year.

    I mean look at Magny corus 12 core (2.2GHz) vs i7 980x, it's almost as fast and 1GHz slower (but 12 physical cores) and cost's the same.
    4
  • iam2thecrowe
    joytech22Wow AMD's CPU is just getting plain-ol decimated in this review.

    i wouldnt say decimated, and its cheaper also. That benchmark of metro 2033 is interesting, particularly the better lowfps the AMD chip managed. But i agree they have flogged this horse as far as it will go and they need bulldozer ASAP to be competitive.
    5
  • haplo602
    HansVonOhainThis is just a ripoff by intel on those who are not knowledgeable enough that more expensive does not always mean better.


    I thought that's what Intel is doing with all of their CPUs :-)
    1
  • curtis_87
    binoyskiDarn, the contest should be open to all Tom's Hardware registered users even from a different country!


    I agree, an think of the publicity Toms, spotty 17yr old kid in africa wins 2 x Combo Intel Core i7-990X and Intel DX58SO2 Motherboard: Value of $1261...

    In this age of globalisation and almost non-existent boundaries on the net to your customers...I think you could afford to encompass anyone any where..
    -4
  • Travis Beane
    I have a reason to stay with a LGA 1336 chip instead of upgrading.
    My feature rich motherboard cost me $300. :)

    I know it's the nature for electronics to evolve, but going from my 2.66GHz i7 quadcore to looking at a 3.46 sexacore at the same TDP, I find it impressive.

    I'm waiting for LGA 2011 to upgrade again, thank you.
    2
  • kashifme21
    I purchased the I7 920 at launch, 2 years on in 2010 i was looking for a upgrade even though it wasnt really needed. So it was either waiting for sandy bridge getting a new motherboard and CPU or going for the I7 980x.

    New mother board and CPU would end up costing me 700usd anyways, so i decided to go for the I7 980x. Oced it to 4.5ghz, i think i will stick with this setup until a game actually comes up and needs more, i dont see that happening for the next few years atleast or atleast until next consoles turn up.
    0
  • silky salamandr
    AMD gettin the business like always.

    I check probably 10 times a day hoping that the egg gets 1155 back online. They activated the procs last week so they should be getting the mobos back in soon I hope!
    0
  • kikireeki
    cangeliniWhich one was that?


    Two months ago, when I finished testing Intel’s Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K, I came to the conclusion that you’d have to be battier than Charlie Sheen with a suitcase of blow to spend $1000 on a Core i7-980X Extreme Edition in the face of Sandy Bridge-based CPUs. I was so convinced, in fact, that I didn’t bother benchmarking the super-exclusive chip, and instead focused on drilling deep into Quick Sync and Intel’s HD Graphics engines.
    1
  • JohnnyLucky
    YIPES! The cpu costs more than the pc's I build.
    1
  • killerclick
    I'll get the 990x just because I can and I'll use it for web browsing and e-mail.
    4
  • dww
    So 6 cores are sometimes better than 4, and Intel might still be able to sell their stock of i7-9x0X's, especially where people already have LGA 1366 motherboards.

    I do database work which DOES benefit from extra cores, but I think I'll wait until they bring out 6 or 8 core Sandy Bridge chips.
    1
  • jimishtar
    cangeliniReally wish it could be binoyski. We have specific tax laws, unfortunately, that prevent it. Same reason the folks in RI can't enter :-/

    What tax? U get all hardware for free, right? Anyway, I am more than willing to pay for all the tax + delivery expenses, you just send the combo, np. Or don't giveaway at all, cause this is just pure discrimination.
    -3
  • lostandwandering
    Good performance numbers for the 990x in certain situations. Though the 2600K was never far enough behind to make the 990x all that relevant. Especially, not to someone upgrading from an older Core2 or Athlon X2 system. Sure wouldn't mind getting one for free though....
    0