Intel's first sexpartite CPU: six-core Gulftown i7-980X Extreme Edition

Intel launched its first six-core CPU, Wednesday. Formerly-codenamed Gulftown, the i7-980X Extreme Edition is the new theoretical performance champion for high-end workstations. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers compare theory with reality.

By Richi Jennings. March 11, 2010.


Your humble blogwatcher selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention Coded Smorgasbord...     Nate Ralph neatly summarizes:

Intel's ... i7-980X ... brings Intel's turbo boost and hyperthreading technologies to the 32nm process. [It's] also Intel's first processor with six physical cores, offering increased system performance in applications optimized to take advantage of them. ... [It] will essentially replace ... the 45nm Core i7-975 Extreme Edition. ... But how much of a difference can two extra cores make?


If ... you spend much of your time working with multithreaded applications--including Blender, Adobe Photoshop, and Sony Vegas Pro--coughing up $1000 for your workstation's processor might not necessarily be a bad idea. ... In Maxon's Cinebench CPU benchmark ... the six-core i7-980X saw a 40 percent improvement in performance over the quad-core i7-975. ... Power utilization at peak levels for the i7-980X was 210 watts, versus the i7-975's 231 watts ... indicative of the potential power savings of the smaller 32nm process.

Darren Murph relays Intel's "confession":

To say it's a niche device would be greatly understating things. ... Intel bigwigs ... confessed that the Core i7-980X Extreme Edition was ... aimed specifically at gamers and content editors that simply refuse to live anywhere other than on the cutting edge. ... Anyone who spends a great deal of time multitasking will appreciate the extra headroom, and power users can always find ways to make use of more horsepower.


There's no denying that this is Intel's speediest consumer chip ever. ... When the software catches up ... this chip will make even the other Core i7s look downright sluggish. 50 percent more cores and 50 percent more threads ... leads to fantastic gains when serious number crunching is involved. ... As a bonus, the power consumption here is also extremely reasonable.

Matt Safford looks to the competition:

In all tests, AMD’s current flagship chip, the Phenom II X4 965, lagged far behind. (It should be noted, though, that at around $190 ... that AMD Phenom CPU costs less than a fifth of the price.)


The 980X is worth the asking price for creative professionals dealing in large files; for everyone else, it’s overkill. ... Still, there’s no denying the geek cred that comes with having a CPU that can handle 12 processes at once—just because.

But Carl Nelson sees no chips: [You're fired -Ed.]

The die is laid out pretty much the same as original Nehalem ... so no surprises are to be found. It is simply six 32nm cores ... the entire 12MB of cache is shared among all six cores. ... The memory controller remains the same as Nehalem – a triple-channel controller, supporting DDR3 1066 memory. This provides 25.6 GB/s of bandwidth. ... The QPI on the Core i7 980X runs at 6.4 GT/s, just like other Extreme Edition Nehalem CPUs. ... The 980X comes clocked at 3.33 MHz base, with turbo reaching up to 3.60 GHz in single-threaded operations. These speeds are identical to the 975 Extreme, as are the turbo settings.


One addition that was made is AES-NI encryption/decryption acceleration, which adds 12 new processor instructions that can significantly improve performance. ... SiSoft Sandra 2010 ... measures each processor’s performance in cryptography, specifically their performance in encryption, decryption, and hashing tasks. ... This test supports Intel’s new AES-NI instructions. ... The i7 980X takes the new instructions, multiplies them by 12 threads, and simply runs away in this test. ... Encryption is stupidly fast.

Meanwhile, James Gorbold makes this interesting observation:

Until Intel releases a range of Gulftown-based Xeons, at the moment, the pendulum has swung back towards single-socket rather than dual-socket workstations. ... While it's impossible to review any Extreme Edition CPU and forget the enormous price premium ... the i7-980X came closer than any previous Extreme Edition to giving us pricing amnesia.


[It's a] compelling purchase for a workstation, as it offers performance that's similar to, or greater than, a far more expensive dual-processor Xeon system. ... The best of both worlds - a massive number of process threads and high single-core performance thanks to the high clock frequency of its Nehalem architecture.

And Marco Chiappetta lays it on the line:

The Core i7-980X Extreme Edition is the fastest desktop processor we have ever tested, bar none. ... Sort of a jack-of-all-trades. ...  50% more cores and 50% more cache than the previous generation ... within the same power envelope, using the same platform.


Cheap? No. Powerful? You bet.

So what's your take?
Get involved: leave a comment.

And finally...

Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher
  Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. You can follow him as @richi on Twitter, or richij on FriendFeed, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email:

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