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Intel Core i7-870 & i5-750 – Nehalem for the Mainstream
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by Rob Williams on September 7, 2009 in Intel Processors

The wait for Intel’s Lynnfield has been long, but it’s safe to say that it’s been well worth it. They may be considered “mainstream” models, but the new Core i5 and i7 processors are powerful. Expect faster performance, improved power consumption and greater efficiency. With the i5-750 set to sell for $199, the time to build that new PC is now.

Workstation: Autodesk 3ds Max, Cinebench, POV-Ray

Autodesk’s 3ds Max is without question an industry standard when it comes to 3D modeling and animation, with DreamWorks, BioWare and Blizzard Entertainment being a few of its notable users. It’s a multi-threaded application that’s designed to be right at home on multi-core and multi-processor workstations or render farms, so it easily tasks even the biggest system we can currently throw at it.

For our testing, we use two project files that are designed to last long enough to find any weakness in our setup and also allows us to find a result that’s easily comparable between both motherboards and processors. The first project is a dog model included on recent 3ds Max DVD’s, which we infused with some Techgage flavor.

Our second project is a Bathroom scene that makes heavy use of ray tracing. Like the dog model, this one is also included with the application’s sample files DVD. The dog is rendered at an 1100×825 resolution, while the Bathroom is rendered as 1080p (1920×1080).

Thanks to both its HyperThreading and revamped Turbo capabilities, the Core i7-870 beat out every-single CPU in our graph – except the highest-end Core i7-975 Extreme Edition. But let’s do the math. The Core i7-870 was 10 – 13% slower, but costs 45% less. Is this the message Intel wants us to get across?!

The Core i5-750 was certainly no slouch, either. It beat out all of our Core 2 models and settles in right behind AMD’s 955 and 965 Black Editions. Although, the Dog model rendered much faster than AMD’s processors, and sits right behind the i7-920. When compared to the Q9650, the Core i5-750 shaved about 20s off our Bathroom run (pun intended).

Cinebench R10

Like 3DS Max, Cinema 4D is another popular cross-platform 3D graphics application that’s used by new users and experts alike. Its creators, Maxon, are well aware that their users are interested in huge computers to speed up rendering times, which is one reason why they released Cinebench to the public.

Cinebench R10 is based on the Cinema 4D engine and the test consists of rendering a high-resolution model of a motorcycle and gives a score at the end. Like most other 3D applications on the market, Cinebench will take advantage of as many cores as you can throw at it.

The Core i7-870 continues to embarass the i7-975, once again proving just 9% – 13% slower overall. Thanks mostly to the lack of HyperThreading, the i5-750 falls just behind the i7-920, despite sharing the same clock frequency, but single-threaded performance beats it (go Turbo!).

POV-Ray 3.7

Similar to Cinebench, the “Persistence of Vision Ray Tracer” is as you’d expect, a ray tracing application that also happens to be cross-platform. It allows you to take your environment and models and apply a ray tracing algorithm, based on a script you either write yourself or borrow from others. It’s a free application and has become a standard in the ray tracing community and some of the results that can be seen are completely mind-blowing.

The official version of POV-Ray is 3.6, but the 3.7 beta unlocks the ability to take full advantage of a multi-core processor, which is why we use it in our testing. Applying ray tracing algorithms can be extremely system intensive, so this is one area where multi-core processors will be of true benefit.

For our test, we run the built-in benchmark, which delivers a simple score (Pixels-Per-Second) the the end. The higher, the better. If one score is twice another, it does literally mean it rendered twice as fast.

Intel’s Nehalem architecture proved to be quite efficient in ray tracing scenarios when we first took Core i7 for a spin last fall, and it continues to dominate our graphs here. AMD’s 965 Extreme Edition surpasses the i5-750 as a result of its much higher clock frequency. By comparison, the i5-750 costs close to $50 less than the 965 BE, so arguably, the Core i5 still has reason to brag.