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CPU: Intel Core i7 920

System Builder Marathon: $1,250 Mid-Range PC

Here’s the real crux of this month’s enthusiast machine: the new Core i7 920. The decision to use this CPU fundamentally affected every other decision we made regarding this $1,250 build. The CPU cost over $100 more than the Core 2 Duo E8500 we used in last month’s machine, which forced us to buy an X58-based motherboard for about $75 more than the DFI X38 board we chose last month. The Core i7 920, thus, has a lot to prove in this contest.

We know that clock-for-clock the Nehalem should beat a Core 2 Duo, but remember that the E8500’s clock speed is 3.16 GHz compared to the i7 920’s 2.66 GHz core clock.

On the other hand, the i7 has four processor cores per die, while the E8500 has only half of that. In multi-threaded applications, the i7 will probably walk away with the win. The i7 920 also has 8 MB of L3 cache, compared to the E8500’s 6 MB of L2, which should help a bit in some applications.

Overclocking the i7 will be an interesting endeavor as it’s a processor with which we have relatively little experience. Conversely, the E8500 sailed past 4 GHz with ease in last month’s testing, its only limitation being the cooler. Will the i7 be able to keep up with its retail cooler?

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