Tom's Storage Charts 2009: A New Test Environment

Processor: Intel Core i7 920

Intel’s Core i7 has been available since the end of 2008, and is still the fastest desktop processor you can get. Intel has introduced additional models under the Xeon brand for workstations, but they’re also based on the Nehalem architecture, and hence perform similarly. We chose the Core i7 920, as it is the only model that comes with a reasonable price tag; the Core i7 940 and the 965 Extreme Edition provide clearly better performance, but the premium you pay is too significant if you ask us.

All Core i7 processors come with 8 MB of shared L3 cache, 256 KB L2 cache per processing core and the serial Quick Path Interconnect (QPI), which offers 6.4 GT/s on the Core i7 Extreme and 4.8 GT/s on the regular editions. The trio of available Core i7 CPUs is rated at a maximum Thermal Design Power (TDP) of 130 W.

All Nehalem-based processors available today are based on the socket LGA 1366 interface, which is the basis for Intel’s high-end products and its three-channel DDR3 memory controller. This is why most Core i7 motherboards offer as many as six DIMM sockets: they can accommodate three pairs of memory in three channels. Only the DDR3-800 and DDR3-1066 memory speeds are officially supported (on the i7 920), but many platforms allow users to overclock the memory and unleash additional potential through DDR3-1600 and faster memory.

All Core i7 processors implement a performance feature that was introduced in the Pentium 4: Hyper Threading. This allows the processor to better utilize its execution resources, which is achieved by enabling two logical processors per physical core, totaling eight in this implementation. Some applications benefit slightly from the doubled core count, while others don’t. We decided not to use Hyper Threading in our storage testing, as we cannot be sure that all results are reproducible with eight virtual cores.

Core i7 is also capable of speeding up an individual core if there is a demanding workload that only utilizes a single thread using a technology called Turbo Boost. In such cases, Core i7 processors can bump up the speed of one core by two clock speed increments (each of which is 133 MHz).

More Core i7 Content:

Overclocking Core i7: Power vs. Performance

Overclocking: Core i7 vs. Phenom II

Editor’s Corner: Overclocking Core i7

Update: Core i7 Blazing Fast

Intel Core i7 (Nehalem): Architecture by AMD?