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.

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.
  • caamsa
    Dang! AMD better get their $4iT together. Now I need to decided between i7, i5 or phenom II when I do my next happens too fast. Looking forward to more reviews on the i5 and mb prices.
  • People need to be careful when comparing the i7-870 to a i7-920, alot of people pre-release were worried that the 1156 platform was going to dominate the 1366. However when you see the 870 out perform the 920 people need to remember that a 870 is double the price of a 920, and even when you factor in a motherboard a 920 setup comes out cheaper than a 870.

    Now the i5 750 on the other hand is great performance at a great price, and would certainly be the budget gamers new weapon of choice.

    I currently have an i7-920 setup which is my main rig and am very happy with it and not at all upset to the see the 870 outperform it (since the 870 would cost me twice as much). I also have had an i5 750 setup now for over a week (the 1156 processors and motherboards have been available here in Australia for nearly 2 weeks now) and it is an amazing processor for the price of it.

    So what am I trying to say? 1366 is still a good platform for the top end of the market. The i5 are fantastic new processors for their price, and the 1156 i7's are just confusing and I'm not really sure who they are going to appeal to? I could understand it if Intel launched the 1156 i7's in 6months time when alot of users are already using the 1156 platform and are looking to upgrade their CPU without a new mobo. But to anyone looking at getting a 870, just get an 920 and use the extra cash on the mobo and ram to go with it.
  • Nintendork
    A little confusing the charts.

    I would prefer a bench with HD4890. They scale better in CF.
  • aspireonelover
    I can tell, I'm gonna fall in love with the i5 processor
  • cabose369
    Intel needs to come up with a simplified naming system for their products. They are as bad as NVIDIA is right now in terms of naming their products.

    There is sooo much to learn and there is so much information here.... I feel confused!!
  • alikum
    Well, I just hope that the Core 2 Quads will drop in prices significantly so that I could grab the high-end one for my final LGA775 upgrade!
  • buzznut
    Well this is good news for consumers. I'm not certain why it took so long for Intel to make some mainstream proc like i5, but for intel fans it seems worth the wait.
    This will also compel AMD to bring some more value to the market. Nice article.
  • jawshoeaw
    damn, 150 watts at idle?? Is that just the cpu? I hope the gaming rigs built on these processors are not left on 24/7. My old AMD X2 3800 system including the monitor uses less than 150 watts at idle (50 of which is the 22" LCD).
  • unclewebb
    i7 Turbo is a good tool to monitor the multiplier of Core i5/i7 CPUs.

    It uses the method that Intel recommends in their November 2008 Turbo White Paper.
  • evolve60
    "Intel Core i7-920 Extreme (Bloomfield) 2.66 GHz, LGA 1366, 4.8 GT/s QPI, 8 MB L3, Power-savings enabled"

    Since when has the I7-920 become an extreme?