Intel Core i7 Performance Preview

by Rob Williams on November 3, 2008 in Processors

With Core i7’s launch due in just a few weeks, there’s no better time than right now to take a hard look at its performance, which is what we’re taking care of today. In addition to our usual performance comparisons with last-gen CPUs, we’re also taking an in-depth look at both QPI and HyperThreading performance, and some of our results may surprise you.

Considerations for Building a Core i7 PC

When Intel launched Core 2 in the summer of 2006, there were some upgrading considerations to keep in mind, but nothing to the extent of things with Nehalem. Core 2 retained the same the same socket design, so CPU coolers could carried over. Likewise, if you were using DDR2 with your previous setup, then that could easily be carried over as well.

Well, things aren’t so peachy with Nehalem, and you’re going to have to be prepared to spend a little bit of money if you want to upgrade. The extra cost of entry won’t be so noticeable if you are building an entirely new rig, but prices will be a little higher than what you could get away with in current-gen.

The three main considerations are the motherboard, RAM and CPU cooler. Because Nehalem utilizes the new LGA1366 socket, an X58-based motherboard must be used. Although we won’t know until they hit the street as to their cost, rumored prices place almost every-single launch board above $300, so that’s the figure I’d be sure to keep in mind.

As with any launch, components will become increasingly less expensive as time passes, and I’d expect prices to drop on everything except the processors themselves almost immediately.

Where money might not have to be spent is with your CPU cooler, if you happen to own a current model that is still well-supported by the company who manufactures it. Because the CPU die itself didn’t increase much in size since Core 2, the bottom of any current CPU cooler can still completely cover Core i7’s IHS. This means, all that’s needed to use your current CPU cooler is an updated bracket.

The brackets required for LGA1366 are not that much larger, surprisingly, as you can see in the photo below. These particular brackets are designed for Thermalright’s Ultra-120, with the one on the left being darker in color as it’s meant to be equipped with the TRUE Black version of the cooler. As you can see, the size differences are rather minute overall, but just large enough to force you into spending some cash.

Almost all of the CPU cooler manufacturers I’ve talked to over the course of the past month have told me that they’d be releasing these updated brackets in time for launch. I warn you, however, that if you don’t happen to own what’s considered to be a “popular” model, an updated bracket might not become available. Since the changes between one company’s coolers may be minimal, one of their LGA1366 may work with your cooler, with minor modifications.

On average, I’d expect to have to shell out $10 for one of these updated brackets, although some companies may decide to reward your patronage and give you the updated bracket for free, with a proof of purchase. That’s exactly how Noctua plans to do things, so if your main cooler is theirs, you’re in luck.

Aside from the motherboard and CPU cooler, your other potential worry is RAM. Both Nehalem’s IMC and the X58 chipset are designed to support only DDR3, and I’m really unsure if we’ll see a DDR2 board from anyone, or if it’s even possible. What this means to you is, if you don’t already own a DDR3 kit (and maybe even if you do), be prepared to pick one up.

Thanks to Intel’s decision to create a triple-channel memory controller, every kit on the market right now makes no sense with Nehalem. In time for i7’s launch, there will be many different “tri-channel” kits available from all the popular vendors, such as OCZ, Corsair, Patriot and others. They will come in both 3GB and 6GB densities and range from DDR3-1066 – DDR3-2000 in frequencies.

If you own a current DDR3 kit, there’s a small chance it will not operate properly in an X58 board, unless the modules are designed to run with 1.65v of VDIMM. If you have high-end modules that have a stock speed that require more than 1.65v of voltage, it’s really difficult to say whether it will work or not.

Because i7 is so much more effective with three modules, though, you may want to consider an entirely new kit, rather than just add to the one you have, unless you happen to have 2GB modules. At launch, you will be able to find many 6GB tri-channel kits available for around $200, which isn’t too difficult to stomach.

That about wraps everything up. If you are planning to upgrade, be prepared to spend a little bit of money. If you need to get new RAM, the new build at a minimum should run you around $800, and that might not even be including a CPU cooler. It’s expensive right now, but I’d expect prices to drop rather fast, especially with the RAM kits and motherboards.

Rob Williams

Rob founded Techgage in 2005 to be an 'Advocate of the consumer', focusing on fair reviews and keeping people apprised of news in the tech world. Catering to both enthusiasts and businesses alike; from desktop gaming to professional workstations, and all the supporting software.

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