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Hardware Enthusiast’s Paradise

Core i7: 4-Way CrossFire, 3-way SLI, Paradise?
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If you’re a fan of high-end hardware, insane graphics configurations, and equatorial heat, you’re going to love the platforms we set up in order to test Core i7’s gaming alacrity.

We’ve lined up the three fastest desktop platforms currently available—Intel’s Core i7 965 Extreme, Intel’s Core 2 Extreme QX9770, and AMD’s Phenom X4 9950. As we know, Core i7’s X58 chipset supports CrossFireX and SLI, so one board is able to yield numbers for all of our graphics configurations with this CPU. We used X48 for CrossFireX and Core 2 Extreme, swapping out for nForce 790i SLI Ultra when it came time to test SLI and Core 2 Extreme. The Phenom X4 setup supports CrossFireX-only, so our numbers were drawn from AMD’s 790FX/SB750 chipset combination. To each of these setups we applied a range of graphics subsystems.

  • X58 (Core i7 Extreme): 1/2/3-way SLI using GeForce GTX 280s and 1/2/4-way CrossFireX using a single Radeon HD 4870 and two Radeon HD 4870 X2s
  • X48 (Core 2 Extreme): 1/2/4-way CrossFireX using a single Radeon HD 4870 and two Radeon HD 4870 X2s
  • 790i SLI Ultra (Core 2 Extreme): 1/2/3-way SLI using GeForce GTX 280s
  • 790FX (Phenom X4): 1/2/4-way CrossFireX using a single Radeon HD 4870 and two Radeon HD 4870 X2s

Hardware Configuration
Platform Core i7 965 Extreme Core 2 Extreme QX9770 Phenom X4 9950
Chipset Intel X58 Intel X48/Nvidia nForce 790i SLI Ultra AMD 790FX/SB750
Motherboard ASUS Rampage II Extreme/Gigabyte EX58-Extreme Intel DX48BT2/EVGA nForce 790i SLI Ultra ASUS M3A79-T Deluxe
Memory 6 GB DDR3-1333 7-7-7 (triple-channel) 4 GB DDR3-1600 7-7-7 (dual-channel) 4 GB DDR2-1066 5-5-5 (dual-channel)
Storage Intel SSDSA2MH080G1GN 80 GB SSD Intel SSDSA2MH080G1GN 80 GB SSD Intel SSDSA2MH080G1GN 80 GB SSD
Optical Lite-On DH-4O1S BD-ROM Lite-On DH-4O1S BD-ROM Lite-On DH-4O1S BD-ROM
Power Cooler Master UCP 1100W Cooler Master UCP 1100W Cooler Master UCP 1100W

Software Configuration
Platform Core i7 965 Extreme Core 2 Extreme QX9770 Phenom X4 9950
Operating System Windows Vista x64 with Service Pack 1 Windows Vista x64 with Service Pack 1 Windows Vista x64 with Service Pack 1
Graphics Drivers AMD: 8.551 / Nvidia: GeForce 180.43 AMD: 8.551 / Nvidia: GeForce 180.43 AMD: 8.541
Platform Drivers Intel: 9.1.0 Build 1005 Intel: 8.3.1 / Nvidia: nForce 15.23 AMD: Catalyst 8.10

We need to thank a few manufacturers who aren’t being expressly evaluated in this piece, but were still willing to lend us the mountain of hardware needed to pull it off.

  • Zotac provided us with three GeForce GTX 280 cards, all operating at their stock frequencies
  • Sapphire provided us with two Radeon HD 4870 X2s, operating at stock frequencies
  • ASUS provided us with its Rampage II Extreme and P6T Deluxe
  • Gigabyte provided us with its EX58-Extreme
  • Cooler Master provided us with its UCP 1100W
  • Corsair provided us with 6 GB of DDR3-1600 (TR3X6G1600C8D)
  • OCZ provided us with 6 GB of DDR3-1333 (OCZ3P1333LV6GK)

Benchmark Configuration
Benchmark Configuration
World in Conflict Very High Quality Settings, No AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, Patch 1009, DirectX 10
Very High Quality Settings, 4x AA / 16x AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, Patch 1009, DirectX 10
Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance High Quality Settings, No AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, Patch 1.5.3599, DirectX 9, Fraps 2.9.4
High Quality Settings, 8x AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, Patch 1.5.3599, DirectX 9, Fraps 2.9.4
Crysis Very High Quality Settings, No AA / No AF, vsync off, 1900x1200 / 2560x1600, Patch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit Executable
Very High Quality Settings, 8x AA / No AF, vsync off, 1900x1200 / 2560x1600, Patch 1.2.1, DirectX 10, 64-bit Executable
Crysis: Warhead Enthusiast Quality Settings, No AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Steam Version
Enthusiast Quality Settings, 8x AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Steam Version
Company of Heroes High Quality Settings, No AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Steam Version
High Quality Settings, 8x AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Steam Version
Unreal Tournament 3 5/5 Quality Settings, No AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Patch 1.2
5/5 Quality Settings, 8x AA / 16x AF, vsync off, 1920x1200 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Patch 1.2
Far Cry 2 Very High Quality Settings, No AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1600 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Steam Version
Very High Quality Settings, 8x AA / No AF, vsync off, 1920x1600 / 2560x1600, DirectX 10, Steam Version
3DMark Vantage Performance Default

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  • 1 Hide
    randomizer , November 4, 2008 6:24 AM
    SLI scales so nicely on X58.
  • 1 Hide
    DFGum , November 4, 2008 6:29 AM
    Yep, i hafta say being able to switch brands of graphics cards on a whim and selling off the old is great. Knowing im going to be getting the preformance these cards are capable of (better price to preformance ratio) is nice also.
  • 1 Hide
    cangelini , November 4, 2008 6:35 AM
    randomizerSLI scales so nicely on X58.


    Hey you even got a "First" in there Randomizer!
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , November 4, 2008 6:51 AM
    cangeliniHey you even got a "First" in there Randomizer!

    And modest old me didn't even mention it. :lol: 
  • 3 Hide
    enewmen , November 4, 2008 6:52 AM
    Still waiting for the 4870 X2s to be used in these bechmarks. I thought THG got a couple for the $4500 exteme system. But still happy to see articles like this so early!
  • 4 Hide
    cangelini , November 4, 2008 6:57 AM
    enewmenStill waiting for the 4870 X2s to be used in these bechmarks. I thought THG got a couple for the $4500 exteme system. But still happy to see articles like this so early!


    Go check out the benchmark pages man! Every one with 1, 2, 4 4870s. The 2x and 4x configs are achieved with X2s, too.

    Oh, and latest drivers all around, too. Crazy, I know! =)
  • 0 Hide
    enewmen , November 4, 2008 7:22 AM
    cangelini

    I found it, just read the article too quickly. - My bad.
    "A single Radeon HD 4870 X2—representing our 2 x Radeon HD 4870 scores—is similarly capable of scaling fan speed on its own. "
    Hope to see driver updates like you said.
  • 0 Hide
    spyde , November 4, 2008 7:38 AM
    Hi there, my question regarding these benchmarks with the HD card is, "was a 2G card use or a 1G". I am about to buy a new system and was looking to buy 2 x HD4870X2 2G cards, but with these results its looking a bit ify. I hope you can answer my question.
    Cheers.
  • 1 Hide
    Proximon , November 4, 2008 7:45 AM
    That's a nice article. I especially like the way the graphs are done. everything is scaled right, and you get an accurate representation.
  • 0 Hide
    cangelini , November 4, 2008 8:06 AM
    These are 2GB cards =)
  • 0 Hide
    spyde , November 4, 2008 8:16 AM
    Thanks.
  • 2 Hide
    Tjik , November 4, 2008 9:18 AM
    How sure can we be that the difference between a nVidia and an AMD setup isn't related to the motherboard design? From the figures I would make the conclusion that the AMD + AMD setup is able to overcome some of the disadvantages of a weaker CPU, and in several cases there's no obvious - at least to me - reason why a Core i7 with the same single or dual set of AMD graphic cards would perform worse. It's easy to blame it on driver issues, but what proof is there to make that a more plausible conclusion? I'm not into some kind of weird conspiracy theory, I'm just technically curious to know why we should assume the X58 platform to be flawless when figures suggest differently.

    The conclusion I draw from this and other tests made is that Core i7 is great, but you need to spend big money on graphic cards to make it a gamers choice, or put it into a game performance per money perspective. As it is now, before future releases of mid range CPUs, or if AMD unexpectedly release some scary monster, I foremost see Core i7 as a solid solution for serious work. In rendering and other CPU dependent tasks it might be a blessing to cut some 40 % of the time to process.

    Another observation is that if the current scenario doesn't change in the near future we could well be back to old school over-clocking culture, when money and availability set the limits. I'm not against but in the last years we've seen more of a yuppie's over-clocker culture, where money and availability haven't been an issue. To be frank, what we have here is two ways of making priorities: one option is an AMD system which gives you a 790FX motherboard + CPU + RAM for the same price as a single Intel Core i7, and if you're not planning to play at resolutions higher than 1600x1200 and probably not buy anything above a possible single X2 Graphic Card it could well be the best offer for the money.

    Options are good and even with AMD well behind it opens up for many different choices. Some never really use but enjoy knowing they got a monster system, others only buy exactly what gives best value for money, some specialize systems for tasks with a cost conscious approach, and some don't have a clue. Every choice is good as long as the user is happy (and spendings doesn't hurt the family economy).

    Oh, a lot of text there. In conclusion I'm more interested in whether the X58 platform is ill suited (or less good) for AMD graphic cards at the moment, and for proof either way.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , November 4, 2008 10:30 AM
    hi guys,

    nice @ first : )

    but now i got one big question about this review

    on page 12 you got a nice overview about the 3d mark benchmark

    what i don't understand is the CPU score of the i7 and c2q ex based on nvidia and ati graphic boards

    there is such a huge difference of the cpu score just because of changing graphic boards ???

    how can that be?

    i mean the cpu score is based on the cpu right? or does futuremark test
    something else with this cpu score than just the cpu itself?

    i don't get to see the reason, why just changing from nvidia to ati or otherwise could have such huge effect on that cpu score

    but maybe one of you could explain it to me, otherwise i could think there is something wrong with this or maybe all of these benchmarks in this review

    thx in advance : )
  • 0 Hide
    arkadi , November 4, 2008 10:31 AM
    well finally we getting more and more info about the i7, i guess it will take us few weeks 2 get it all right.I just love it when new staff comes out :) 
  • 4 Hide
    aznguy0028 , November 4, 2008 10:52 AM
    "there is such a huge difference of the cpu score just because of changing graphic boards ???"

    it was stated in the article on that page, at the top. the default run with PhysX artificially inflates the scores.

  • 0 Hide
    z999 , November 4, 2008 11:20 AM
    lolz, there are some crazy problems w/ the ATI cards... like turning on AA and gaining 50FPS...
    You should do this benchmark again in a couple of months when the drivers give more accurate results, and in that one..... lose the phenom :p .
  • 0 Hide
    chaohsiangchen , November 4, 2008 11:29 AM
    Nice job well done! Thanks for the article.

    However, I didn't see specified CPU clocks, so I presume that all three CPUs tested were run at stock speed. Although I have little doubt that Phenom X4 will still lose to both Ci7 965EE and QX9770, it's just my curiocity to see how Phenom X4 at 3.2GHz would perform.
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , November 4, 2008 12:09 PM
    I thought there will be little difference between core 2 and i7 in games, so it was just the graphics card that is holding i7 back in games. in my mind, i thought a single gtx 280 was held back by the fastest core2, wasting graphics power which was not the case here.

    i7 is really a cool system, much like the intel SSD. intel is on fire. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    bunnyblaster , November 4, 2008 12:37 PM
    I've been an avid Toms Hardware reader for over 8 years now. This is my first post. It is an issue that has been nagging me the last few updates for Tomshardware. The "page scrolling function" on each page is terribly designed. I find it slow, disappears before I select the page and sometimes does not register at all. I have multiple computers and I draw the same conclusion on all of them. It gets rather annoying when I just want to read some implications or conclusions of some reviews and I can't get there easily without going through 27 pages.

    Why not just revert to the system everyone else uses with a simpler scroll-down bar?
  • -1 Hide
    fahdriyami , November 4, 2008 12:51 PM
    What a surprise, no Flight Simulator X Benchmarks
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