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


Intel’s emphasis right now is on Clarkdale, the Nehalem-based mainstream lineup centering on a 32nm process shrink. Clarkdale will be the foundation on which upcoming Core i5 and Core i3 CPUs are based. It’s a big deal for Intel. So big, in fact, that I was told jokingly two weeks before the Lynnfield launch that the whole company had been focusing on Clarkdale, not the Core i5 and Core i7 we’re seeing today.

Of course, that’s only really funny for the folks who’ve already seen how the Lynnfield-based processors actually perform and know they’re not as anemic as an enthusiast might expect, given the fact that Intel is aggressively pursuing integration, aiming for a SoC-type design in the not-so-distant future.

But Clarkdale is six months away, at least. Today is all about Lynnfield—the Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs for Intel’s LGA 1156 interface.

The Venerable Core 2 Rides Off…Sort Of

With the divulging of its Core i7, Core i5, and Core i3 branding, Intel quietly rang the death knell of its Core 2 family, which has been with us for more than three years now, gently massaging away memories of a day when the company ravenously chased after faster clocks.

That transition won’t happen immediately, though—or even quickly for that matter. Well into the fourth quarter of next year, Intel’s Core 2 architecture will remain a value play. Even today it’s going to persist as a viable option for entry-level buyers.

Core 2 Quads span from $163 to $316 in the company’s August 9th price list. Core 2 Duos range from $113 to $266. Does the trio of CPUs being launched today wreck a number of those price points? Absolutely. Do the three Lynnfield processors we’re seeing now, from $199 to $555 smother Core 2 Quad and Core 2 Duo to the point that everyone will spend at least $200 on their next CPU? Obviously not.

Wait, Define Mainstream

To make a long story a little shorter, Bloomfield sits at the top of Intel’s stack as Core i7 for LGA 1366. Lynnfield now occupies a space between the high-end and the mid-range segments. Yorkfield (Core 2 Quad) becomes this transitional family that tides Intel over until Clarkdale launches in Q1’ 2010. And Wolfdale continues on in the dual-core Pentium family through the course of 2010.

If you would have considered a Core 2 Quad or Phenom II X4 previously, the lone Core i5 will be of interest to you. If you were previously pondering a Core i7 for LGA 1366, the Core i7-860 and -870 are now vying for your attention with price points disturbingly similar to the i7-920 and -950, respectively. How’re you supposed to choose between CPUs when architecture, functionality, and pricing are all so similar?

Good question—this is one of the areas where we’re going to be particularly critical of Intel today. The naming is a mess if you’re not already familiar with the technology. Fortunately, Intel puts function ahead of marketing, so there’s a lot more exciting innovation to cover than confusing branding. Let’s just get that out of the way, first.

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?