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Intel Core i7-870 & i5-750 – Nehalem for the Mainstream

Date: September 7, 2009
Author(s): Rob Williams

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.



Introduction

Welcome to Lynnfield, also known as the worst-kept secret in history. Where technology is concerned, it’s not uncommon to see details released (rather, leaked) about a product long before its launch, but with Lynnfield, the months leading up to this day have been something else. The question lately hasn’t been so much, “What do we know?”, but rather, “What don’t we know?”

I have to admit, that because of this, publishing this article that we put so much time and effort into doesn’t feel quite as rewarding as it should. This is thanks in part not only to the flood of leaks of month’s past, but more because certain e-tailers don’t seem to mind breaking embargo by actually selling Lynnfield processors and P55 motherboards long before the launch.

While I wish some of the above events never occurred, the fact that Lynnfield was such an exciting product to test pretty-well overshadows them. Yes, I’m going to jump into the conclusion early… Lynnfield is amazing, and in many ways, I consider this launch to be much more important than Nehalem’s last fall. Why? As Intel puts it, this is “Core i for the mainstream”.

That quote is spot-on, because that’s just what Lynnfield is. When Nehalem launched last fall, Intel introduced a brand-new processor architecture that instantly became the best we’d ever seen. The processors were faster than the previous Penryn models, and with the addition of HyperThreading, a triple-channel memory controller and L3 Cache, Nehalem didn’t just push the bar higher, it jumped while doing it.

But, there were a few sizable caveats that prevented as much adoption as there could have been. First was the pricing, with the least-expensive model, the Core i7-920, selling for near $300. That of course would have been easy to stomach if the motherboards didn’t start out at $250. Couple those factors along with the limited availability of LGA1366 CPU coolers and (at the time) expensive DDR3 triple-channel kits, and the rough economy… it’s no wonder most consumers decided to settle for Core 2.

Welcome to Intel’s Lynnfield

The good news is that Lynnfield is different in almost all regards. With the introduction of the Core i5-750, we finally have a ~$200 option. We’re avoiding ultra-expensive motherboards this time around also, as companies such as ASUS and Gigabyte are prepping to release boards that range anywhere from $140 – $300. And because Lynnfield drops us back to a dual-channel memory controller, memory kits are plentiful, and affordable.

During the Nehalem launch, one major complaint I had was that it was near impossible to find a Core i7 CPU cooler at launch. There just weren’t any. I’m not sure who’s fault that was, but it doesn’t matter, because this is another bad situation that we’re avoiding. For the past six months, companies have boasted their LGA1156 CPU coolers and mounts, so you can expect a wide-variety of models to become immediately available.

One reason for the lack of delay from the CPU cooler vendors is seen below:


Core i5-750 (Left) & Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (Right)

That’s right… compared to the Core 2 Quad of old, the IHS and chip as a whole is almost exactly the same size. The mounts themselves are different, though, so don’t expect much luck with trying to use an LGA775 mount on a P55 motherboard.

Like Nehalem, there are many more contacts on the back thanks to all that’s bundled under the hood, so Intel has used its creativity in laying them out. Rather than simple circles, they’re oval, and placed at an angle. Of course, none of that really matters in the end, but it does result in the CPU remaining a modest size, so that’s important.

But what about the die itself? That comes in at 296mm^2 (compared to 107mm^2 of recent Core 2 Quads and 263mm^2 of Nehalem Core i7’s). That’s right. It might be a scaled-back version of Nehalem, but the die itself is larger thanks to the introduction of other components. The new Lynnfield chips cram 774 million transistors under the hood, while Nehalem Core i7’s have 731 million.


Core i5-750 (Left) & Core 2 Extreme QX9770 (Right)

Each time a new processor model is launched, the first question on everyone’s mind regards price drops. To clear the air, there will be no immediate price drops on either the Core i or Core 2 line-up – at least, not right now. Because of this, the Core i5-750 takes the crown for being the best value for the buck, as it retails for only ~$200 and manages to beat out the entire Core 2 Quad line-up in all of our tests.

Quad-Core CPU Name
Cores
Threads
Clock
Cache
QPI/FSB
TDP
1Ku Price
Intel Core i7-975 Extreme Edition
4
8
3.33GHz
1 + 8MB
3200MHz
130W
$999
Intel Core i7-950
4
8
3.06GHz
1 + 8MB
2400MHz
130W
$562
Intel Core i7-920
4
8
2.66GHz
1 + 8MB
2400MHz
130W
$284
Intel Core i7-870
4
8
2.93GHz
1 + 8MB
2400MHz
95W
$555
Intel Core i7-860
4
8
2.66GHz
1 + 8MB
2400MHz
95W
$285
Intel Core i5-750
4
4
2.66GHz
1 + 8MB
2400MHz
95W
$199
Intel Core 2 Q9650
4
4
3.00GHz
2 x 6MB
1333MHz
130W
$316
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550S
4
4
2.83GHz
2 x 6MB
1333MHz
65W
$320
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550
4
4
2.83GHz
2 x 6MB
1333MHz
95W
$266
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400S
4
4
2.66GHz
2 x 3MB
1333MHz
65W
$245
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400
4
4
2.66GHz
2 x 3MB
1333MHz
95W
$183
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300
4
4
2.50GHz
2 x 3MB
1333MHz
95W
$183
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400S
4
4
2.66GHz
2 x 2MB
1333MHz
65W
$213
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8400
4
4
2.66GHz
2 x 2MB
1333MHz
95W
$163
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8300
4
4
2.50GHz
2 x 2MB
1333MHz
95W
$163
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200S
4
4
2.33GHz
2 x 2MB
1333MHz
65W
$213
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200
4
4
2.33GHz
2 x 2MB
1333MHz
95W
$163

Yes, this list really is Intel’s current line-up, even though many of the models seem a little redundant (and overpriced, given the circumstances). You can bet in the coming months this list will thin out fast, especially as more Core i models are released to replace the remaining Core 2 line-up.

Taking a Look at Lynnfield

With Nehalem’s launch, we saw the introduction of a slew of features that, when combined, made the end product into something outstanding. We finally saw the memory controller move from the Northbridge to the CPU itself, and a triple-channel one at that. We also welcomed the QPI, or QuickPath Interconnect, a high-speed bus designed to increase efficiency between CPUs (in a multi-processor machine) and the I/O controller.

But where Lynnfield is concerned, we seemed to be moving backwards. These new CPUs don’t feature a triple-channel memory controller, but rather revert back to a dual-channel. We also lose the QPI bus, which has been again reverted back to DMI. Despite these losses, it’s hard to not consider Lynnfield a huge win in other regards, especially when you consider that QPI and a triple-channel memory controller wasn’t that important to begin with for desktop consumers.

But with the few losses, we get a lot of gain. For one, the PCIe graphics lanes have been moved from the Northbridge to the CPU itself, and as a result of that and further scaling, the Northbridge has been eliminated entirely. Because the term “Southbridge” would imply a “Northbridge” exists, the ICH (I/O Controller Hub) becomes the PCH (Platform Controller Hub). So when referring to Lynnfield or P55, the term Southbridge could be deemed incorrect, depending on how you look at things (the chipset is still located south on the board).

That’s one packed chipset! While the CPU includes the PCIe support for the graphics, support for the others is left up to the PCH. Also in the PCH, support is available for Intel’s Matrix storage technology, USB ports, HD audio, networking and so forth. The DMI bus replaces QPI (or FSB) to assist transactions between the CPU and Southbridge (I can’t shake this term from my head!).

Key features that Intel is pushing for Lynnfield include fasterperformance (+20%), lower power (>50%) and also a “sleeker design”. Thanks to the omission of a Northbridge, Intel claims that the overall package size across both chipsets has been reduced by 40%. Each one of these are important, and the first two in particular is what’s going to sell Lynnfield, and as we’ll see in our performance reports, it’s for good reason.

As with previous CPU launches, Lynnfield sports the usual slew of features we’ve come to expect, such as Smart Cache. Of course, unlike Core 2 and like Nehalem, we have Turbo Boost and HyperThreading, the latter of which is only available on Core i7. Also, like Nehalem/X58, both ATI’s CrossFireX and NVIDIA’s SLI is supported here, but in a dual configuration of 8x. SLI in particular will only be available on boards where the board vendor opted for “validation” by NVIDIA. For those who want the ultimate in gaming performance (multi-GPU), Nehalem is still the way to go on the Intel side.

Over the course of the past few years, overclocking has proved to be a lot of fun with Intel processors. With the Core 2 launch, the sky was the limit, and even people who didn’t care for overclocking before then, began giving it a try. With Nehalem, the process of overclocking became a little more complex, as you had more than one clock and set of voltages to take into consideration (like Uncore).

Lynnfield simplifies things. There’s still more factors to watch out for when compared to Core 2, but the options in the BIOS on P55 motherboards is more limiting, so in a way, Lynnfield is easier to overclock. Don’t be scared off by any potential lack of control in the BIOS, though. Unless you are going for extreme overclocks, chances are you’re not going to be disappointed.

Like Nehalem, we have a couple of clocks to be on the lookout for: Host Clock, Uncore and QPI. Wait, what? Here’s where things get a little confusing. Even though Lynnfield doesn’t have a QPI bus, which has been known for a while, vendors, including Intel, can’t seem to keep it straight. For example, in a guide we were given, we can see screenshots of Intel’s own overclocking utility, and in the corner, it refers to a QPI bus. But, all of their other documents clearly state DMI.

To make matters worse, other companies aren’t helping. In the BIOS on the motherboard we used for our testing (Gigabyte P55-UD5), it refers to a QPI link speed, and as you can see above, CPU-Z calls it the same thing. I haven’t loaded up any other motherboards than this, but according to the ASUS manual, it refers to the clock as “PQI”, which I’m sure is just a misspelling of QPI (the manual was printed long ago, I’m sure).

Intel’s BIOS doesn’t refer to a QPI clock or DMI clock at all, but they do show screenshots of CPU-Z that refer to it as the QPI Link. The entire situation is a little odd, but I think for the sake of keeping it simple, we should always refer to the bus as being the DMI bus on Lynnfield. Intel was clear that QPI was dropped, and while the frequencies match up to what we saw with QPI on higher-end Nehalems, we can chalk that up as a coincidence. The DMI bus has not improved over what we saw on the Core 2 platform.

The DMI bus is calculated by multiplying the Host Clock by the chosen multiplier in the BIOS, which in the case of the i5 and i7 Lynnfields, is 16x or 18x (so, 133MHz * 18x = 2394MHz). Depending on your processor, the Uncore clock works on varying frequencies (16x multiplier on Core i5, 18x on Core i7). When overclocking a Lynnfield, you can control the voltage of the CPU itself, and also the bus, or in the case of our Gigabyte board, the “QPI/Vtt”.

Turbo Gets a Boost

With Nehalem’s launch last fall, one of the most notable features to talk about was Turbo. When we first learned of the technology at IDF 08, which was held just a few months prior, I didn’t put much thought into it, except to say, “cool.”. It wasn’t until we received our samples to benchmark with that we realized just how important Turbo would be.

The concept is simple, but the added performance is worth noting. When a processor capable of Turbo is pushed hard, it has the ability to automatically “overclock” one or two cores in order to beef up the performance of applications that aren’t completely multi-threaded. That means, that when running a single-threaded stress of any sort (as long as the other cores are idle), the frequency would go up. In the case of already-launched Core i7 processors, the performance boost could be up to 300MHz or more.

In most cases I can think of, Performance Boost = Awesome, so there was no complaints to speak of. On Nehalem, there was a small limitation, however. By default, Nehalem processors are clocked in such a way to give the first core up to a 2x multiplier boost, and the others a 1x. For example, on the Core i7-965 at 3.2GHz, the multiplier is 24x. But with Turbo enabled, the first core could be boosted up by way of a 26x multiplier, with the others bumped to 25x.

Lynnfield takes things a bit further, and as a result, the Turbo aspect actually puts what should be “mainstream” in a more impressive light than what Intel considers their enthusiast part (Nehalem). The below slide explains it in simple detail. If just one core is being pushed, then it has the capability of being pushed far beyond the stock clock. Move over to two threads, and each of the two are boosted, but not to the degree as during a single-thread stress. Stress all four however, and each one gets a boost, but to a much lesser, yet still noteworthy, degree.

To help put the effects of Turbo into perspective, I downloaded a new program developed by Franck Delattre, creator of CPU-Z, called TMonitor (short for Turbo Monitor). What it does is allow you to see in real-time how each core/thread is being hit by Turbo. Sounds simple enough, but this is an incredibly useful tool (and might become more so once logging is implemented) and one that’s fun to watch.

Please note, you can click any of the below images to get a view of the entire scene.

When our Core i7-870 was completely idle, we could see with TMonitor that our cores were sitting at around 1.18GHz… far below spec, but beneficial for power-savings.


Core i7-870 Turbo at Idle

With the help of POV-Ray, we stressed just one thread to see how far Turbo would boost the frequency, and the result is nothing short of incredible… a full 580MHz boost on top of the stock frequency.


Core i7-870 Turbo with One Thread

When we ran POV-Ray once again, this time as a multi-threaded test, we limited the application to use only half of the available threads, which resulted in a lesser overall gain. This time, we saw 3.38GHz across two cores, or 450MHz above stock.


Core i7-870 Turbo with Four Threads

Finally, with POV-Ray stressing the entire processor, we saw Turbo boost the overall CPU frequency to just about 3.2GHz. It’s important to note that this is across the entire processor, meaning that our 2.93GHz CPU is essentially a 3.20GHz CPU when stressed.


Core i7-870 Turbo with Eight Threads

Nehalem wowed us with its Turbo feature upon launch, but Lynnfield, not surprisingly, takes things to the next level. Regardless of the scenario you put on your CPU, you’re going to get a free performance boost, and that’s worth being excited over. This is especially beneficial for those who want great performance but don’t want to overclock the processors themselves. This way, Intel does it for you, and your CPU remains under warranty.

I’m not too sure on how Intel calculates just how efficient Turbo will be depending on the number of threads being stressed, because it seems to be a little random. For example, on the Core i7-870, Intel says that the Turbo frequency can reach 3.60GHz, which would be on one thread. That’s a 22.8% increase. On the Core i7-860 and Core i5-750, the gains are 23.5% (3.46GHz) and 20.3% (3.2GHz), respectively.

To keep things simple, let’s do the math with our real-world examples above:

Turbo, to me, is quite humorous. It’s a feature that exists only because Intel’s processors overclock with absolute ease, and even with a 20% increase on one core, the company is still playing it safe. As we’ll see later in the article, Turbo isn’t just for non-overclockers, but rather, it plays an imperative role if you want to reach the highest overclock possible.

Test System & Methodology

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a fully-detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.

Test System

The table below lists the hardware for our two current machines, which remains unchanged throughout all testing, with the exception of the processor. Each CPU used for the sake of comparison is also listed here, along with the BIOS version of the motherboard used. In addition, each one of the URLs in this table can be clicked to view the respective review of that product, or if a review doesn’t exist, you will be led to the product on the manufacturer’s website.

Component
AMD AM2+/AM3 Test System
Processors

AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition – Quad-Core, 3.40GHz, 1.325v
AMD Phenom II X4 955 Black Edition – Quad-Core, 3.20GHz, 1.325v
AMD Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition – Tri-Core, 2.80GHz, 1.325v
Motherboard
Gigabyte MA790GP-DS4H – 790GX-based, F3 BIOS (01/13/09)
Memory

Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR2-1066 5-5-5-15-2T, 2.10v
Graphics
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage

Intel X-25M 80GB SSD
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermaltake V1
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

Component
Intel LGA1156 Test System
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-870 – Quad-Core, 2.93GHz, ~1.25v
Intel Core i5-750 – Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, ~1.25v
Motherboard
Gigabyte P55-UD5 – P55-based, F3 BIOS (08/01/09)
Memory

Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-20-2T, 1.65v
Graphics
ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB (Catalyst 8.11)
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage

Intel X-25M 80GB SSD
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermalright MUX-120
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

Component
Intel LGA1366 Test System
Processors
Intel Core i7-975 Extreme EditionQuad-Core, 3.33GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core i7-920 Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, 1.30v
Motherboard
ASUS Rampage II Extreme – X58-based, 0705 BIOS (11/21/08)
Memory

OCZ Gold 3x2GB – DDR3-1066 7-7-7-20-1T, 1.56v (920/940)
OCZ Gold 3x2GB – DDR3-1600 7-7-7-20-1T, 1.56v (965)
Graphics
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Intel X-25M 80GB SSD

Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
SilverStone DA1200
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermalright TRUE Black 120
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

Component
Intel LGA775
Processors

Intel Core 2 Quad Q9650 – Quad-Core, 3.00GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 – Quad-Core, 2.83GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 – Quad-Core, 2.66GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200 – Quad-Core, 2.33GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Duo E8600 – Dual-Core, 3.33GHz, 1.30v
Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 – Dual-Core, 3.16GHz, 1.30v (Sim)
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400 – Dual-Core, 3.00GHz, 1.30v
Intel Pentium Dual-Core E5200 – Dual-Core 2.50GHz, 1.30v
Motherboard
ASUS Rampage Extreme – X48-based, 0501 BIOS (08/28/08)
Memory

Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1333 7-7-7-15-1T, 1.91v (1333FSB)
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-1066 6-6-6-15-1T, 1.91v (1066FSB)
Corsair XMS3 DHX 2x2GB – DDR3-800 6-6-6-15-1T, 1.91v (800FSB)

Graphics
Audio
On-Board Audio
Storage
Intel X-25M 80GB SSD

Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.11
Power Supply
Corsair HX1000W
Chassis
SilverStone TJ10 Full-Tower
Display
Gateway XHD3000 30″
Cooling
Thermalright TRUE Black 120
Et cetera
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit

(Sim) represents models that were tested using a faster, but under-clocked processor. For example, for the Q9550, we used the QX9770, since the specs are identical all-around, except for the clock speeds. Those were adjusted appropriately, effectively giving us a Q9550 to test with.

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

To aide with the goal of keeping accurate and repeatable results, we alter certain services in Windows Vista from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing slightly inaccurate results. Disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at times utilize the hard drive and memory more than we’d like.

Application Benchmarks

To help test out the real performance benefits of a given processor, we run a large collection of both real-world and synthetic benchmarks, including 3ds Max, Adobe Lightroom, TMPGEnc Xpress, Sandra 2009 and many more.

Our ultimate goal is always to find out which processor excels in a given scenario and why. Running all of the applications in our carefully-chosen suite can help better give us answers to those questions. Aside from application data, we also run two common games to see how performance scales there, including Call of Duty 4 and Half-Life 2: Episode Two.

Game Benchmarks

In an attempt to offer “real-world” results, we do not utilize timedemos in any of our reviews. Each game in our test suite is benchmarked manually, with the minimum and average frames-per-second (FPS) captured with the help of FRAPS 2.9.5.

To deliver the best overall results, each title we use is exhaustively explored in order to find the best possible level in terms of intensiveness and replayability. Once a level is chosen, we play through repeatedly to find the best possible route and then in our official benchmarking, we stick to that route as close as possible. Since we are not robots and the game can throw in minor twists with each run, no run can be identical to the pixel.

Each game and setting combination is tested twice, and if there is a discrepancy between the initial results, the testing is repeated until we see results we are confident with.

The two games we currently use for our motherboard reviews are listed below, with direct screenshots of the game’s setting screens and explanations of why we chose what we did.

Call of Duty: World at War

1680×1050
2560×1600




Crysis Warhead

1680×1050
2560×1600




Half-Life 2: Episode Two

1680×1050
2560×1600

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.

Multi-Media: Adobe Lightroom, TMPGEnc Xpress

Photo manipulation benchmarks are more relevant than ever, given the proliferation of high-end digital photography hardware. For this benchmark, we test the system’s handling of RAW photo data using Adobe Lightroom, an excellent RAW photo editor and organizer that’s easy to use and looks fantastic.

For our testing, we take 100 RAW files (in Nikon’s .NEF file format) which have a 10-megapixel resolution, and export them as JPEG files in 1000×669 resolution, similar to most of the photos we use here on the website. Such a result could also be easily distributed online or saved as a low-resolution backup. This test involves not only scaling of the image itself, but encoding in a different image format. The test is timed indirectly using a stopwatch, and times are accurate to within +/- 0.25 seconds.

Turbo to the rescue once again. Lightroom is multi-threaded, but not enough to give other faster (as in raw frequency) Quad-Cores in our line-up an advantage.

TMPGEnc Xpress 4.5

When it comes to video transcoding, one of the best offerings on the market is TMPGEnc Xpress. Although a bit pricey, the software offers an incredible amount of flexibility and customization, not to mention superb format support. From the get go, you can output to DivX, DVD, Video-CD, Super Video-CD, HDV, QuickTime, MPEG, and more. It even goes as far as to include support for Blu-ray video!

There are a few reasons why we choose to use TMPGEnc for our tests. The first relates to the reasons laid out above. The sheer ease of use and flexibility is appreciated. Beyond that, the application does us a huge favor by tracking the encoding time, so that we can actually look away while an encode is taking place and not be afraid that we’ll miss the final encoding time. Believe it or not, not all transcoding applications work like this.

For our test, we take a 0.99GB high-quality DivX H.264 AVI video of Half-Life 2: Episode Two gameplay with stereo audio and transcode it to the same resolution of 720p (1280×720), but lower the bit rate in order to attain a modest file size. This test also utilizes the SSE instruction sets, either SSE2 or SSE4, depending on what the chip supports.

We’re starting to see a recurring theme here. What I’m most impressed by isn’t the Core i7-870, but the Core i5-750… it’s a $200 CPU, yet manages to beat out more expensive offerings in many of our tests.

Multi-Media: ProShow Gold, Sandra Multi-Media

While TMPGEnc XPress’ purpose is to convert video formats, ProShow from Photodex helps turn your collection of photos into a fantastic-looking slide show. I can’t call myself a slide show buff, but this tool is unquestionably definitive. It offers many editing abilities and the ability to export in a variety of formats, including a standard video file, DVD video and even HD video.

Like TMPGEnc and many other video encoders, ProShow can take full advantage of a multi-core processor. It doesn’t support SSE4 however, but hopefully will in the future as it would improve encoding times considerably. Still, when a slide show application handles a multi-core processor effectively, it has to make you wonder why there is such a delay in seeing a wider-range of such applications on the marketplace.

ProShow happens to be quite multi-threaded, which is nice to see from a consumer application. The i7-920’s HyperThreading is the reason it pulled ahead of the i5-750, but overall, both of our Lynnfield CPUs perform extremely well.

Sandra 2009 Multi-Media

This test here stresses the CPU’s ability to handle multi-media instructions and data, using both MMX and SSE2/3/4 as the instruction sets of choice. The results are divided by integer, floating point and double precision, three specific numbering formats used commonly in multi-media work.

Here we begin to see a slight limitation of the Core i5-750. The results aren’t at all bad, but compared to our previous results, you wouldn’t expect it to place so low on the chart here. It’s primarily held back by the integer test, but even if not, it doesn’t surpass the Q9650 like it has in the other tests. The i7-870 on the other hand scores high.

Mathematics: Sandra Arithmetic, Crypto, Microsoft Excel

With each new processor launch, one thing that’s bound to prove faster are mathematical equations, which when all said and done, plays a massive role in a lot of our computing today. The faster an equation can be completed, the faster a math-heavy process can finish.

Sandra includes applications designed to specifically test the mathematical performance of processors, with the main one being the arithmetic test.

Core i is king where straight-out mathematical algorithms are concerned – even without HyperThreading.

Sandra 2009 Cryptography

Crypto is a major part of computing, whether you know it or not, and certain processes can prove slower than others, depending on their algorithms. User passwords on your home PC are encrypted, as are user passwords on web servers (like in our forums). Past that, crypto is used in other areas as well, such as with creating of unbreakable locks on files or assigning a hash to a particular file (like MD5).

In Sandra’s Cryptography test, the results are outputted as MB/s, higher being better. Although this is somewhat of an odd metric to go by, generally speaking, the higher the number, the faster the CPU tears through the respective algorithm, which comes down to how fast a password is either encrypted, decrypted, signed, et cetera.

We can see the Core i5-750 once again fall lower on the chart here. HyperThreading doesn’t do much for this kind of test, but raw frequency does. Even still, you’d imagine that the i5-750 would surpass the Q9550 thanks to its Turbo, but that wasn’t the case.

Microsoft Excel 2007

Most, if not all, businesses in existence have to crack open a spreadsheet at some point. Though simple in concept, spreadsheets are an ideal way to either track information or compute large calculations all in real-time. This is important when you run a business that deals with a large amount of expenses.

Although the importance of how fast a calculation takes in an Excel file is, we include results here since they heavily test the mathematical capabilities of each processor. Because Excel 2007 is completely multi-threaded (it can even take advantage of an 8-Core Skulltrail), it makes for a great benchmark to show the scaling between all of our CPUs.

I’ll let Intel explain the two files we use:

Monte CarloThis workload calculates the European Put and Call option valuation for Black-Scholes option pricing using Monte Carlo simulation. It simulates the calculations performed when a spreadsheet with input parameters is updated and must recalculate the option valuation. In this scenario we execute approximately 300,000 iterations of Monte Carlo simulation. In addition, the workload uses Excel lookup functions to compare the put price from the model with the historical market price for 50,000 rows to understand the convergence. The input file is a 70.1 MB spreadsheet.

CalculationsThis workload executes approximately 28,000 sets of calculations using the most common calculations and functions found in Excel*. These include common arithmetic operations like addition, subtraction, division, rounding and square root. It also includes common statistical analysis functions such as Max, Min, Median and Average. The calculations are performed after a spreadsheet with a large dataset is updated with new values and must re-calculate many data points. The input file is a 6.2 MB spreadsheet.

The results continue to be very impressive here. The Q9650 pulls slightly ahead in our Monte Carlo scenerio, but the i5-750 redeems itself with the Big Number Crunch. Any way you look at it, the performance is close, and very good.

System: Sandra Memory, Multi-Core Efficiency

Generally speaking, the faster the processor, the higher the system-wide bandwidth and the lower the latency. As is always the case, faster is better when it comes to processors, as we’ll see below. But with Core i7, the game changes up a bit.

Whereas previous memory controllers utilized a dual-channel operation, Intel threw that out the window to introduce triple-channel, which we talked a lot about at August’s IDF. Further, since Intel integrates the IMC onto the die of the new CPUs, benefits are going to be seen all-around.

Before jumping into the results, we already had an idea of what to expect, and just as we did, the results seen are nothing short of staggering.

It’s no triple-channel memory controller, but the bandwidth it still huge. Not that the comparison between the Lynnfield results and AMD’s isn’t too fair, as each machine was running memory at different settings. Chances are anything above 10,000 MB/s is going to be overkill for most people. That’s not really a bad thing. It’s better than having the opposite occur.

For both the Cache and Latency, the Turbo feature really, really helps push the Lynnfields ahead. There’s just no comparison here. The only thing that really comes close in the latency test are Dual-Core CPUs, and the Cache bandwidth is almost uncomparable – except to Nehalem.

Sandra 2009 Multi-Core Efficiency

How fast can one core swap data with another? It might not seem that important, but it definitely is if you are dealing with a true multi-threaded application. The faster data can be swapped around, the faster it’s going to be finished, so overall, inter-core speeds are important in every regard.

Even without looking at the data, we know that Core i7 is going to excel here, for a few different reasons. The main is the fact that this is Intel’s first native Quad-Core. Rather than have two Dual-Core dies placed beside each other, i7 was built to place four cores together, so that in itself improves things. Past that, the ultra-fast QPI bus likely also has something to do with speed increases.

This test is interesting, because I would have expected to see the i5-750 hit a higher spot than this. Instead, it was beat out by previous Core 2 Quad-Cores. Of course, HyperThreading is making its mark again, which is why the top CPUs in the chart include the support.

Gaming: Call of Duty: World at War, Half-Life 2: Episode Two

While some popular game franchises are struggling to keep themselves healthy, Call of Duty doesn’t have much to worry about. This is Treyarch’s third go at a game in the series, and a first for one that’s featured on the PC. All worries leading up to this title were all for naught, though, as Treyarch delivered on all promises.

To help keep things fresh, CoD: World at War focuses on battles not exhaustively explored in previous WWII-inspired games. These include battles which take place in the Pacific region, Russia and Berlin, and variety is definitely something this game pulls off well, so it’s unlikely you’ll be off your toes until the end of the game.

For our testing, we use a level called “Relentless”, as it’s easily one of the most intensive levels in the game. It features tanks, a large forest environment and even a few explosions. This level depicts the Battle of Peleliu, where American soldiers advance to capture an airstrip from the Japanese. It’s a level that’s both exciting to play and one that can bring even high-end systems to their knees.

Luckily for hardcore CoD players, the game’s performance doesn’t change with a faster CPU, which is rather impressive. Here, the game ran just as well on our lowly E5200 as it did on our i7-975.

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

The original Half-Life 2 might have first seen the light of day close to four years ago, but it’s still arguably one of the greatest-looking games ever seen on the PC. Follow-up versions, including Episode One and Episode Two, do well to put the Source Engine upgrades to full use. While playing, it’s hard to believe that the game is based on a four+ year old engine, but it still looks great and runs well on almost any GPU purchased over the past few years.

Like Call of Duty 4, Half-Life 2: Episode Two runs well on modest hardware, but a recent mid-range graphics card is recommended if you wish to play at higher than 1680×1050 or would like to top out the available options, including anti-aliasing and very high texture settings.

This game benefits from both the CPU and GPU, and the skies the limit. In order to fully top out the available settings and run the highest resolution possible, you need a very fast GPU or GPUs along with a fast processor. Though the in-game options go much higher, we run our tests with 4xAA and 8xAF to allow the game to remain playable on the smaller mid-range cards.

Unlike CoD, HL2: Episode Two does love extra CPU power, and that’s evidenced above, but only at the highly-sporadic 1680×1050 resolution. That resolution has proven to be a chore, because the average FPS can fluctuate a great deal. What’s important to note here is that at our top setting of 2560×1600, the differences are almost zero.

Gaming: Crysis Warhead, 3DMark Vantage

As PC enthusiasts, we tend to be drawn to games that offer spectacular graphics… titles that help reaffirm your belief that shelling out lots of cash for that high-end monitor and PC was well worth it. But it’s rare when a game comes along that is so visually-demanding, it’s unable to run fully maxed out on even the highest-end systems on the market. In the case of the original Crysis, it’s easy to see that’s what Crytek was going for.

Funny enough, even though Crysis was released close to a year ago, the game today still has difficulty running at 2560×1600 with full detail settings – and that’s even with overlooking the use of anti-aliasing! Luckily, Warhead is better optimized and will run smoother on almost any GPU, despite looking just as gorgeous as its predecessor, as you can see in the screenshot below.

The game includes four basic profiles to help you adjust the settings based on how good your system is. These include Entry, Mainstream, Gamer and Enthusiast – the latter of which is for the biggest of systems out there, unless you have a sweet graphics card and are only running 1680×1050. We run our tests at the Gamer setting as it’s very demanding on any current GPU and is a proper baseline of the level of detail that hardcore gamers would demand from the game.

Our previous games didn’t show real differences between CPUs, and Crysis Warhead is no different. You can be rest-assured that no matter your PC, this game is going to run like molasses!

Futuremark 3DMark Vantage

Although we generally shun automated gaming benchmarks, we do like to run at least one to see how our GPUs scale when used in a ‘timedemo’-type scenario. Futuremark’s 3DMark Vantage is without question the best such test on the market, and it’s a joy to use, and watch. The folks at Futuremark are experts in what they do, and they really know how to push that hardware of yours to its limit.

The company first started out as MadOnion and released a GPU-benchmarking tool called XLR8R, which was soon replaced with 3DMark 99. Since that time, we’ve seen seven different versions of the software, including two major updates (3DMark 99 Max, 3DMark 2001 SE). With each new release, the graphics get better, the capabilities get better and the sudden hit of ambition to get down and dirty with overclocking comes at you fast.

Similar to a real game, 3DMark Vantage offers many configuration options, although many (including us) prefer to stick to the profiles which include Performance, High and Extreme. Depending on which one you choose, the graphic options are tweaked accordingly, as well as the resolution. As you’d expect, the better the profile, the more intensive the test.

Performance is the stock mode that most use when benchmarking, but it only uses a resolution of 1280×1024, which isn’t representative of today’s gamers. Extreme is more appropriate, as it runs at 1920×1200 and does well to push any single or multi-GPU configuration currently on the market – and will do so for some time to come.

The results here are just as we expected. Generally, the better the CPU, the higher the score. The overall 3DMark Score doesn’t vary much, however, as the benchmark doesn’t weigh the CPU score that heavily, which after taking a look at our three games tested here, is a good thing.

Power Consumption, Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that power efficiency is at the forefront of many consumers’ minds today, and for good reason. Whether you are trying to save money or the environment – or both – it’s good to know just how much effort certain vendors are putting into their products to help them excel in this area. Both AMD and Intel have worked hard to develop efficient chips, and that’s evident with each new launch. The CPUs are getting faster, and use less power, and hopefully things will stay that way.

To help see what kind of wattage a given processor draws on average, we use a Kill-A-Watt that’s plugged into a power bar that’s in turn plugged into one of the wall sockets, with the test system plugged directly into that. The monitor and other components are plugged into the other socket and is not connected to the Kill-A-Watt. For our system specifications, please refer to our methodology page.

To test, the computer is first boot up and left to sit at idle for five minutes, at which point the current wattage is recorded if stable. To test for full CPU load, IntelBurnTest is run with maximum memory stress for a total of five minutes. During that run, the highest point the wattage reaches on the meter is captured and becomes our “Max Load”. For i7, we use eight instances of SP2004 instead of IntelBurnTest, as the latter is not yet fully compatible with the newer processors.

The results above are nothing short of staggering. The Core i5-750 used less power at idle than the lowly Dual-Core E7200, and it hardly pulled out ahead at full load. Where the Core i7-870 is concerned, it used far less power than the i7-965, yet proved itself to only be ~10% – 15% slower than the faster i7-975 throughout all of our tests.

Lynnfield is more efficient than Core 2 overall, but the drop seen here no doubt has a lot to do with the removal of the Northbridge. With us down to two chipsets, less power is required, and coupled with already power-efficient processors, the results are amazing. Just wait until we see the mobile version (Clarksfield)…

Final Thoughts

When Nehalem launched, we received processors that were more powerful than anything we used before, and the brand-new architecture was a lot of fun to experiment with. But as I said before, there were a few reasons why people either chose to go with Core 2 or didn’t upgrade their machines at all. Hopefully, Lynnfield will get people to build the rigs they’ve been holding out for.

Let’s kick things off with the Core i5-750. This chip has a caveat… a lack of HyperThreading. Depending on what you do on your PC, that omission may or may not mean much. For me personally, I’ve become a huge fan of HyperThreading ever since the Nehalem launch, because there are many scenarios when it will come in handy.

For workstation-type applications, HyperThreading isn’t so much a luxury, but a requirement. The gains in performance in such applications as 3ds Max can’t be ignored. If you don’t have HT, your renders are taking a lot longer to complete. Fortunately though, for those who don’t use workstation apps often or at all, don’t have too much to be concerned over.

Thanks to the Turbo alone, the i5-750 kept near the top of most of our charts, only to be surpassed either by a CPU with a greater raw frequency or by one that had HyperThreading. In our Adobe Lightroom and TMPGEnc Xpress tests, Turbo did enough to keep this lowly $200 CPU ahead of everything else we’ve tested, aside from the faster Nehalem’s of course

Up-Close Photo of a Lynnfield Wafer

To understand just how great the Core i5-750 is, you need to compare it to the previous Core 2 Quad line-up. The Q9650, for example, used to be a $1,000 chip, but it now sits at $316 according to Intel’s recent pricing list. At $316, it’s ~$116 more expensive, yet it managed to surpass the performance of the i5-750 in only three of our tests, and even then, the results were close.

Couple that with the fact that the new chip overclocks well, the $199 price tag is going to be heartily welcomed by those who want to build a fast new PC and not empty their wallet.

So, how about the new Core i7’s? Like the Core i5-750, the Core i7-870 is simply an incredible offering. Thanks to its HyperThreading capabilities and improved Turbo, it scored right under the Core i7-975 Extreme Edition in most of our tests, and if it didn’t, it was never that far off. This, for a CPU that costs 45% less. That’s impressive.

With this kind of performance being exhibited, the Core i7-950 isn’t so much a viable option right now, unless prices are dropped, because both retail for around the same price, and I’m confident that the i7-870, thanks to its Turbo mode, would beat out the i7-950 in most tests. In this case, it all boils down to what’s more important, the features of X58, or slightly improved performance. For dual-GPU configurations, the i7-920 – i7-975 are still the best options, thanks to the dual PCIe 16x capability.

To be honest, I feel that the best processor of the three launched today is the one we didn’t test, the Core i7-860. We can make this assumption because it’s not much slower than the i7-870 (2.93GHz -> 2.80GHz), and still retains HyperThreading. Yet despite the slight drop in its overall frequency, it retails for only $285. After seeing what the Core i7-870 can do, seeing something just a bit slower for $285 is exciting. If I had the need to upgrade or build a new machine right now, the Core i7-860 is the model I’d run to.

I think it’s safe to say that with its Lynnfield processors, Intel has successfully redefined processor value, regardless of which model you’re looking at.

What about our overclocking results? Don’t fret… they’re en route. Due to some complications prior to publishing (thanks to the CPU cooler), and the looming embargo time, we didn’t manage to get the overclocking pages in we hoped to. Stay tuned though, as we’ll soon be unveiling all of our overclocking information in a special two-page article. You won’t want to miss it, trust me!

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