Intel Core i7-980X Extreme: Hello, Six-Core Computing

Welcome To Gulftown

Of course, Gulftown is enabled by Intel’s 32nm manufacturing process—the same node we saw debut back in January with the Clarkdale and Arrandale processor families. This time, however, enthusiasts don’t have to be bamboozled by a second, on-package 45nm die handling graphics, memory control, and PCI Express connectivity. The Core i7-980X gets us performance-freaks back to where we want to be—on-die memory controller, PCI Express handled by the well-endowed X58 chipset, and discrete graphics only, please.

With Gulftown, Intel uses its 32nm process to add cores and cache, rather than push integration. As a result, we have a six-core processor with 12MB of shared L3 cache. Architecturally, Gulftown is otherwise the same as Bloomfield. Each core gets 32KB of L1 instruction cache, 32KB of L1 data cache, and a dedicated 256KB L2 cache.

The 12MB shared L3 actually is a potential performance-booster. Because the cache can be dynamically allocated, an application that only utilizes one core can conceptually monopolize the entire cache. According to Intel, there are some gains to be had in gaming, for example, but it’ll be difficult to gauge just how much of the speed-up we see comes from increased core count versus cache, particularly since we’re using very few single-threaded benchmarks any more.

Despite the addition of two cores and 4MB of L3, Gulftown employs a smaller die than its predecessor (248 square millimeters versus Bloomfield’s 263). Transistor count increases from 731 million to 1.17 billion. That’s fairly incredible, considering the Core i7-980X fits within the same 130W thermal envelope as existing Core i7-900-series processors.

Gulftown’s memory controller remains unchanged, still rated for three channels of DDR3-1066 memory. This is actually somewhat interesting, since the 130W Westmere-EP processors that Intel plans to launch alongside Gulftown support DDR3-1333 (and with up to two modules per channel, no less). Nevertheless, we should see similar memory performance, as Bloomfield’s four cores clearly weren’t starved for data anyway.

The other addition worth noting is AES-NI, Intel’s hardware-based instructions for accelerating the cryptography standard. Previously seen only in the company’s Clarkdale-based Core i5s (and unfortunately left out of the other Clarkdales), AES-NI isn’t yet having a massive effect on performance. But as we’ll see in the benchmarks, there’s a ton of potential there.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
2010 Intel Core i7 Processor Family
Row 0 - Cell 0 Base ClockMax. Turbo ClockCores / ThreadsL3 CacheMemoryTDPPrice
Core i7-980X3.33 GHz3.6 GHz6/1212MB3 x DDR3-1066130W$999
Core i7-9753.33 GHz3.6 GHz4/88MB3 x DDR3-1066130W$999
Core i7-9603.2 GHz3.46 GHz4/88MB3 x DDR3-1066130W$562
Core i7-9202.66 GHz2.93 GHz4/88MB3 x DDR3-1066130W$284
Core i7-8702.93 GHz3.6 GHz4/88MB2 x DDR3-133395W$562
Core i7-8602.8 GHz3.46 GHz4/88MB2 x DDR3-133395W$284

Hyper-Threading And Turbo Boost Persist

Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost were both interesting new additions to Bloomfield. They naturally are a part of the Gulftown story, too.

We hadn’t seen Hyper-Threading in years prior to Bloomfield. Because the software community has become better about threading since then, though, the feature was more of a boon to Nehalem than it was to Pentium 4. Thus, the same technology that allowed four cores to address eight threads now enables six cores to juggle 12. At the very least, this makes for a cool screen shot, especially from a single-socket desktop.

Turbo Boost carries over as well. We were really starting to get excited about Turbo when the Lynnfield-based quad-core chips emerged with four and five speed bins (133 MHz increments), giving us up to 533 MHz with a single core active. Unfortunately, Gulftown drops us back to Bloomfield’s more conservative binning structure. When one core is active, you’ll see two bins (or 266 MHz) of speed-up, yielding 3.6 GHz. With two or more cores active, you get a one-bin boost to 3.46 GHz.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • one-shot
    shuffman37First Comment, I'll be staying up to read this review =)
    I'm guessing you didn't read this.,9855.html
  • tipmen
    Hm, not bad at all more cores at the same price as 975. Games don't seem to scale that much but CAD and transcoding is improved overall. Glad to see AMDs 965 hold its own in the game segment.
  • one-shotI'm guessing you didn't read this. ,9855.htmlNope, Haven't bothered looking at that. The 980x doesn't really make any difference in gaming but I wasn't expecting anything earth shattering. Does look good against the 965 x4 for mutlimedia applications.
  • beans4you
    glad im going with the right x58! miiiight have to upgrade my cpu choice ;)
  • tipmen
    shuffman37Nope, Haven't bothered looking at that. The 980x doesn't really make any difference in gaming but I wasn't expecting anything earth shattering. Does looks good against the 965 x4 for mutlimedia applications.

    It is a good reminder how to act on toms you should read it when you get the chance.
  • gkay09
    Lolz...The Crysis benchmark and the Chris's starting line...Am sure he would have been forced to post that so that no one start with the infamous tag line "But can it play Crysis ?" :P
  • gkay09
    And Chris it would be nice if you could post some benchmarks of games that are CPU taxing like the GTA IV/ FSX...Most of the games used in the above benchmarks dont tax the CPU as much as these...
  • cangelini
    I hear you there gkay...I used to do more with GTA IV (not sure how prolific FS X still is), but it just depends on how many folks still want to see it. As a *general* rule, $1,000 CPUs aren't going to do much for your high-res gaming. However, it's a good point that there are a couple of titles notorious for hitting graphics far less than host processing power!
  • footsoldier
    wow wow..6 cores already!! Truly is the fastest now. AMD, do keep up!!
  • pinkfloydminnesota
    NO GTA IV? Should get great gains as it's notoriously CPU limited by the best quad cores. Unforgivable.