While AMD is still in the unhappy position of being unable to release any high-performance CPUs, due to its lack of a successor for the aging K10 core design, Intel is forging ahead with faster and more powerful designs. Therefore, even though the LGA1366 Core i7 series doesn't have any competition, Intel has just released a new model in the form of the Core i7-980X Extreme Edition, previously known as Gulftown.
Yes, you read that right, this isn't a Core i9. While Intel might have some of the best engineers in the business, its branding department leaves a lot to be desired, as the name doesn't tell you anything about how awesome this new CPU is. After all, you'd expect the new i7-980X to be only a slight improvement over the previous Extreme Edition, the Core i7-975; for example, the only obvious difference between the i7-965 and the i7-975 was a 133MHz clock bump.
Left, the new Intel Core i7-980X looks very similar to other LGA1366 Core i7s such as the earlier Core i7-975 (right), but inside its a new beast, with two more cores and 32nm transistors. Click to enlarge.
However, the i7-980X is a huge step up from the i7-975, as it's the first desktop CPU to pack in six cores rather than the paltry four of the i7-975. Like the i7-975, these cores are Hyper-Threaded, so the i7-980X shows up as 12 process threads in Device Manager rather than just eight.
While there are already 6-core CPUs on the market, these are very expensive server CPUs that run at a comparatively low frequency.
In contrast, the six cores in the i7-980X are clocked at 3.33GHz - regardless of how well multi-threaded the application running is, the i7-980X is incredibly fast. If your favourite applications are highly threaded, they'll love the i7-980X.
Core i7-980X Extreme Edition
Number of cores: 6 x physical, 6 x logical
L1 cache: 32KB L1 data, 32KB L1 instruction per core