If you spend enough time in our comments section, then you’re probably under the impression that AMD currently holds the performance crown and can do no wrong. I get it; AMD is the underdog and it’s hip to applaud competition. I'm certainly in favor of faster hardware, lower prices, and fair capitalism; those things benefit us all.
But don’t let the fanboys fool you—Intel’s Core i7 is the fastest CPU out there, which is why, even after giving our readers a chance to weigh in and guide the direction of our System Builder Marathon series, two of the three builds ended up based on Core i7-920 CPUs. The processor tears up our A/V and productivity tests. Plus it competes well-enough in gaming environments to trade blows with the competing Phenom II and older Core 2 architectures.
It’d seem to be all good news, then, that Intel is launching the Core i7-975 Extreme and Core i7-950, running at 3.33 GHz and 3.06 GHz respectively, at the same prices the company was asking for its Core i7-965 Extreme and i7-940, right? After all, you’re getting 133 MHz in both cases without spending a penny more than you would have otherwise.
For the folks who buy tier-one boxes and have no interest in touching their nuts and bolts, the appeal of these new chips is clear. But that isn’t me, and it’s probably not you either. There’s a reason we keep revisiting the Core i7-920. Despite its 2.66 GHz stock clock (and the fact that everyone’s overclocking experience is going to differ), we haven’t seen a single sample that had a problem exceeding the speed of Intel’s thousand-dollar flagship, plus some.
I don’t have any problem recommending Core i7 over Phenom II right now—even if it costs an extra $100 (this was my conclusion back when AMD launched the X4 955, and it hasn’t changed). But that recommendation only extends as far as the Core i7-920. At $562 and $999, the 950 and 975 Extreme launching today don’t warrant the step up if you’re an enthusiast undeterred by the thought of Bclk-based overclocking.
Kudos to Intel for raising the bar and enabling extra performance, even when both of the products being replaced were uncontested. But we’ll leave those premium bins to the folks who don’t mind spending extra money on peace of mind. At least for the time being, and given the frequencies we already hit with it, the i7-920 is too sweet a deal to ignore at $280.