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Intel Core i5 And Core i7: Intel’s Mainstream Magnum Opus

I’ll be honest—when I first got my hands on a pre-production Core i5 three months ago, the processor took me by surprise, even with an artificial cap of 2.8 GHz on its Turbo Boost functionality. That was before final specs or pricing was available. Now that we’ve had a couple of weeks with final hardware the Core i5 and Core i7 processor families are even more fascinating.  

To begin, they make it much harder to recommend LGA 1366-based Core i7s. We know the i7-900-series is supposed to be higher-end, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that next year we’ll see hexa-core Gulftowns that drop right into our X58 motherboards. But seriously. Motherboards priced under $100? Core i5s under $200? We’re talking a possible contender next time we tackle an Intel-based $650 System Builder Marathon story (AMD fans rejoice—this month we’ll be doing an all-AMD series for you guys). That’s $10 less expensive than a Core 2 Quad Q9550 and $45 less than a Phenom II X4 965.

Alright, so the Core i5-750, specifically, is priced well. What is there to like about it? Reasonable power consumption, a base clock rate comparable to Intel’s Core i7-920, a more-aggressive Turbo Boost able to take the chip to 3.2 GHz in single-threaded workloads, CrossFire and SLI compatibility—it’s a pretty compelling list, actually.

What about the two LGA 1156-based Core i7s? We tested the Core i7-870 and are fairly convinced that, like the Core i7-950, it sits in a no-man’s land. Nearly two times the price of Core i7-860 and only marginally better-looking on a spec sheet, the Core i7-870 becomes Lynnfield’s version of an Extreme Edition processor—without the unlocked multiplier. More attractive for the folks who stand to benefit from Hyper-Threading is Core i7-860. Its price tag puts it in the realm of Core i7-920, its Turbo Boost helps make it faster, and a complementary motherboard is going to cost you between $75 and $50 less.

But based on our benchmarks here and our game testing with single and dual Radeon HD 4870 X2s and GeForce GTX 285s, we’re most excited about the value of Core i5. The fact that it’s regularly able to smack around the current Core 2 flagship (QX9770) is just crazy.

Of course, this launch isn’t all bad news for the AMD enthusiasts out there. When the Phenom II X4 965 BE debuted in August, I hinted that you should wait until today before taking a leap. Now you see why. With i5-750 selling at $199, AMD has no choice but to compress its price list. At the very least, it’ll likely slash the prices on its high-end Phenom IIs. If you held off, great deals are quite likely in your future.

But any price action in the Phenom II or Core 2 lineups is going to be a result of a solid showing today by Core i5, which is why it earns the first Recommended Buy award I’ve given to a processor in almost a year and a half managing Tom’s Hardware.

Stay tuned. Patrick Schmid is working on comprehensive overclocking coverage using these two Lynnfield processors. I've had one sample up to 4.1 GHz in the lab on air, and am excited to see what his story reveals.

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