Intel's Core i7 920, 940 & 965 processors

November 3, 2008 | 08:30

Tags: #2 #920 #945 #965 #benchmark #comparison #core #cpu #i7 #mode #nehalem #penryn #performance #phenom #quad #result #review #smt #testing #turbo

Companies: #amd #intel

Performance Conclusions

There's no doubt that in certain applications the Core i7s are absolute behemoths. Those applications are ones that scale according to threading, but thanks to Intel's use of both multi-core and Hyper Threading it doesn't matter whether the performance is eked out from Instruction Level or Thread Level Parallelism.

For workstation applications there should be no other choice right now, and while we're curious to see what AMD's 45nm processors offer, we can't see it closing the performance gap on Nehalem. If you're very interested in video encoding, transcoding, image editing or you need to compress files that much faster Core i7 is the de facto choice - even the least expensive Core i7 920 is worth the upgrade. The performance of this 2.66GHz CPU is often close or exceeds the most expensive Penryn processors and the difference between it and the Core i7 965 which is four times the price is far less than the previous generation.

The faster 6.4GT/s QPI bus on the Core i7 965 Extreme Edition doesn't make much difference at all, at least in everything except Far Cry 2, but that's an exception in and of itself. Turbo mode doesn't really offer a huge advantage either, but what has made a surprising and always positive difference is Intel Hyper Threading Technology.

The subtle pipeline changes appear to have worked very well to accommodate the extra pressure of a second thread through the Core architecture and the performance improvements range from the sub 10-percent margin to the much more impressive 16-45 percent elsewhere, depending on how much the application likes massive thread hungry execution engines.

Gaming performance is something key to our hearts though and we have to say the results are less than we'd hoped, but for two out of three games at least the Core i7 processors are faster - in the Source engine quite impressively so. However, given the huge advance in bandwidth - both from QPI compared to Front Side Bus and triple channel DDR3 compared to dual channel DDR2/3 previously - these architectural enhancements don't seem to benefit games as much as we would have liked.

When the Core architecture was first announced with Conroe and we saw simply massive advances in gaming performance compared to AMD and the previous Netburst architecture, clearly with the same execution engine (and to some degree, a smaller L2 cache/slower larger cache) Core i7 doesn't offer the same advantage.

Hyper Threading certainly doesn't make a positive impact either and the changing the QPI bandwidth doesn't hugely affect performance in Crysis and Half-Life 2: Episode Two, but it did in Far Cry 2. We'd argue a certain degree of caution in checking what the differences are in the games you play before buying, however while they're not likely to be slow by any means, the drops in Far Cry 2 were significant to say the least. Once we get the heads up as to why - we'll be sure to let you know.

Intel's Core i7 920, 940 & 965 processors Conclusions, Value and Final Thoughts

Value Discussion

If you want to upgrade on the cheap and triple channel DDR3 kits are too expensive, a cheaper dual channel kit should provide a viable alternative without too much of a performance drop. We've used this one in the past with good results, but it is rated to 1.8V which is very high for Core i7 CPUs so check before you buy.

Unfortunately it's very difficult to judge platform value until the Core i7 processors and motherboards hit the shops later this month, and while we have RRPs for both we expect the large interest for the new product and possibly limited supply to drive prices upwards. We might be pleasantly surprised though...

In our opinion, the Extreme Edition is, as usual, far too expensive but the advantage is its unlocked multiplier which is very useful. By that rationale, for a locked multiplier and a slower QPI link, the Core i7 940 is even less attractive at $562. The Core i7 920 is clearly where it's all going to happen - at just $284, the 2.66GHz CPU should offer some decent overhead, providing the QPI bus overclocks that is.

$284 is still a significant sum of cash to stump up though - that'll be around £200-220 in the UK which is easily more expensive than the very popular Core 2 Quad Q6600 by a large £70 margin.

However, be prepared for the cost of new motherboards: the X58/ICH10R chipset combination may not cost that much but the upgraded eight-layer PCBs are more expensive and SLI licenses cost money (even if you never use it, you pay for it). What's more, all the Tier-One manufacturers are heavily competing with each other to be a "better overclocker" or "more feature rich" which in turn pushes the feature boat out to even crazier lengths and while these new features may add value, they ultimately cost money. Are we going to see £250 motherboards? Absolutely. What about £300+? Probably, for some of the higher end models. In this case, ECS's vanilla Black Edition at $240 may be a worthwhile consideration if it overclocks reasonably well.

Final Thoughts

Intel has designed a performance platform for power users and workstations and has achieved its goals in style - for those users, we absolutely recommend the move to Intel's latest and greatest CPUs. But, it's not without its drawbacks for enthusiasts on a budget and for gamers looking for a large jump in performance.

If you're a hardcore PC gamer or enthusiast, you're best being a little more cautious. We'd point you towards the Core i7 920 and ask you to think about your application usage, upgrade budget, and to keep an eye on its overclocking potential (which we'll be investigating later this week).

Ultimately, Intel has made some good steps forward in application performance and if you want to future proof yourself, we'd suggest that this is the platform to buy into and the Core i7 920 is the CPU to go for.

Core i7 965

  • Performance
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • 10/10
  • Value
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 4/10
  • Overall
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 7/10

Core i7 940

  • Performance
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • 10/10
  • Value
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 5/10
  • Overall
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • -
  • 7/10

Core i7 920

  • Performance
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • 9/10
  • Value
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • 8/10
  • Overall
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • x
  • -
  • -
  • 8/10

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