Even before benchmarking Intel’s new Core i7-980X I had a sense for how the processor would perform. Add cores and cache, but leave the rest of the architecture alone, and don’t be surprised to see scaling wholly dependent on software’s ability to utilize those additional compute resources.
Fortunately, for Intel, most of the apps in our benchmark suite are able to make the best of Gulftown’s six cores, reflecting a software environment that has come a long way since the Pentium Extreme Edition 840 debuted back in 2005. Now, we’re making benchmark decisions based on whether titles are threaded or not.
It’s a bit of a bummer, then, that the only six-core CPU for the desktop is Intel’s Core i7-980X. The processor is certainly impressive. It takes the performance of Core i7-975 and accelerates it even further, especially in MainConcept, HandBrake, Photoshop, and TMPGEnc’s DivX encoding workload. At the same $999 price point, picking the 980X over the 975 is a no-brainer. Time is money. If the time Core i7-980X will shave off your renders, encode jobs, or CAD projects is worth the processor’s asking price, this is the fastest desktop processor money can buy. Update: Intel clarifies that Gulftown will be available within the next few weeks; it's simply taking the wraps off of the processor a bit early. So, Core i7-980X will be the fastest desktop processor just as soon as it's available.
But again, we’re talking about a thousand bucks here. If you’re primarily gaming, we see the Core i7-920, Core i5-750, and Phenom II X4 965 serving up just as much muscle at the resolutions and quality settings at which you’re going to want to play.
What’d really be cool for the enthusiast crowd would be a line of quad-core CPUs manufactured at 32nm. Almost certainly scalable to even higher clock rates and armed with AES-NI, these would be high-performance, lower-power options that’d go really well with today’s less-expensive X58-based motherboards.
The potential for such a design is supported by Intel’s plans to launch quad-core 32nm Xeon processors based on its Westmere-EP design. But the most we could get out of Intel regarding its desktop plans was “we’re considering all options.” Ah well, we tried. At least for the near future, it looks like Intel will get to bask in the even-larger performance advantage its Core i7-980X opens up over the competition’s fastest offering. Just be ready to open your wallet wide for the privilege of owning one.