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Intel’s Core i7-980X Extreme Edition – Ready for Sick Scores?
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by Rob Williams on March 10, 2010 in Intel Processors

It’s official. We’re now entering the six-core realm, thanks to Intel’s Gulftown. The first model, Core i7-980X, is more than capable of delivering the sick scores that our title suggests, and along with it, we can begin to see some major benefits of the 32nm process. To sweeten the deal further, Intel even includes an effective new CPU cooler.

Overclocking Intel’s Core i7-980X Extreme Edition

Before discussing results, let’s take a minute to briefly discuss what I consider to be a worthwhile overclock. As I’ve mentioned in past content, I’m not as interested in finding the highest overclock possible as much as I am interested in finding the highest stable overclock. To me, if an overclock crashes the computer after a few minutes of running a stress-test, it has little value except for competition.

How we declare an overclock stable is simple… we stress it as hard as possible for a certain period of time, both with CPU-related tests and also GPU-related, to conclude on what we’ll be confident is 100% stability throughout all possible computing scenarios.

For the sake of CPU stress-testing, we use LinX. Compared to other popular CPU stress-testers, LinX’s tests are far more gruelling, and proof of that is seen by the fact that it manages to heat the CPU up to 20°C hotter than competing applications, like SP2004. Also, LinX is just as effective on AMD processors. Generally, if the CPU survives the first half-hour of this stress, there’s a good chance that it’s mostly stable, but I strive for a 12 hour stress as long as time permits.

If the CPU stress passes without error, then GPU stress-testing begins, in order to assure a system-wide stable overclock. To test for this, 3DMark Vantage’s Extreme test is used, with the increased resolution of 2560×1600, looped nine times. If this passes, some time is dedicated to real-world game testing, to make sure that gaming is just as stable as it would be if the CPU were at stock. If both these CPU and GPU tests pass without issue, we can confidently declare a stable overclock.

Overclocking Intel’s Core i7-980X Extreme Edition

When it comes to overclocking, nothing has been simpler to deal with over the past couple of years than Intel’s processors, especially since Conroe. You can always pick up a dual or quad-core and expect a good experience, but for Gulftown, we’re dealing with two extra cores and a different die design, so it’s hard to just assume that we’ll see the same kind of overclocking potential as we’ve become accustomed to.

There’s also the concern that if just one core on the die is less-than-ideal, then it’s going to hold back your top-end overclock. To find a “perfect” chip might be rare, but I think generally speaking, it shouldn’t be too hard for anyone to achieve at least 4.0GHz on the i7-980X, and that’s basically what we accomplished as well, albeit with 50MHz tacked on top of it.

Intel Gulftown Core i7-980X Overclocking
(Click to view LinX stress report)

I’ve always been rather pleased with a 4.0GHz overclock, and for the i7-980X, things were no different. But the more I thought about it, the less impressive such an overclock is on a chip like this is. The reason simply has to do with the fact that with Turbo, the i7-980X hits about 3.50GHz, so in essence, a 4.0GHz overclock is merely 500MHz above stock. Compare that to the 4.55GHz overclock we saw on our Core i3-530 last week. Now that’s an overclock.

In talking to Gigabyte, I was told that 4.2GHz should be possible, but for me, no matter what I tried, I couldn’t achieve stability with LinX. I might have been able to attain 4.1GHz and still retain that same stability, but I left it at 4.05GHz as all I had to do was increase the multiplier and voltage (to 1.350v). Because the Core i7-980X has an unlocked multiplier, you don’t have to touch the BCLK at all.

I’m still pleased with 4.0GHz, because though it might still be only 500MHz above stock, it’s a nice number to see. But do we actually have a reason to go through with it?

Intel Core i7-980X 3.33GHz (Overclock: 4.05GHz)
Benchmark
Stock
Overclock
Increase
Autodesk 3ds Max 2009
Dog Render
Bathroom Render
143 s
250 s
124 s
220 s
13.29%
12.00%
Cinebench R10
Single-Thread
Multi-Thread
5032

27831
5731

31749
13.90%
14.08%
Cinebench R11.5

Multi-Thread
9.02
10.31
14.30%
POV-Ray 3.7
Single-Thread
Multi-Thread
883.42
6702.39

1020.44
7687.28

15.51%
14.69%

Adobe Lightroom 2.0
Convert 100 RAW to JPEG
80.45 s

73.35 s

8.83%

TMPGEnc Xpress
HD Video Encode
Mobile Video Encode

125 s
55 s


111 s
49 s


11.20%
10.91%

ProShow Gold
HD Video Encode
DVD Video Encode

152 s
42 s


135 s
37 s


11.18%

11.90%

Sandra Arithmetic
Dhrystone SSE4.2
Whetstone SSE3

127.90
MIPS
109.00 MFLOPS


147.64 MIPS
125.42 MFLOPS


15.43%
15.06%

Sandra Multi-Media
Int x16
Float x8
Double x4

264.05 MPixel/s
204.71 MPixel/s
113.00 MPixel/s


304.75 MPixel/s
236.23 MPixel/s
130.37 MPixel/s


15.41%
15.40%
15.37%

Sandra Cryptography
AES256
SHA256

11383
1366


13115
1583


15.22%
15.89%

Microsoft Excel
Monte Carlo
Big Number Crunch

8.408 s
2.589 s


7.379 s
2.277 s


12.24%
12.05%

wPrime
32M
1024

5.523 s
160.134 s


4.789 s
138.871 s


13.29%
13.28%

It’s hard to say, unless you consider a 13% increase in performance to be worth all of the extra stress on the CPU. Personally, I don’t think so, because as it is, the i7-980X is extremely fast to begin with, and really, 10 or so percent really isn’t going to make much of a difference in the real-world. That changes if we’re talking about 25%+, but here, it’s just too difficult to tell.

If you’re running rendering projects or anything heavily math-based that takes hours or even days to complete, then the overclock might be a bit more worthy. After all, 90 hours is a lot better than 100 hours, when it comes to projects of that magnitude.


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