Intel Core i7-980X Gulftown Six-Core 32nm Processor Review

by MAC     |     March 10, 2010

Gulftown - Core i7-980X

The Core i7-980X that we are reviewing today is the new Top of the Line model in the Core i7 realm. There have been rumours of lower-end six-core chips, but as of yet we have no official information to confirm or deny those rumours. There will be some attractive six-core Xeon variants though, so do keep an eye out for those if your budget doesn't allow for a $999 USD processor. Those looking for 32nm quad-cores would also be well-advised to keep an eye on the Xeon front.

Despite being based on the new 32nm manufacturing process, Intel have been rather conservative with the core clock, simply matching the 3.33Ghz frequency of the Core i7-975 Extreme Edition. Being an Extreme Edition part, the i7-980X does have fully unlocked multipliers though, so any perceived deficit in core clock can fixed with a few key strokes in the BIOS. We suspect that the 3.33Ghz speed was chosen for marketing reasons, allowing Intel to release a slightly faster Gulftown Extreme Edition model down the road, as they did with Bloomfield. As our overclocking results will demonstrate, they surely didn't settle on 3.33Ghz due to a lack of frequency headroom.

Enough talking though, let's take a closer look at how this new Gulftown chip compares to the rest of the Core i7 lineup.

As you can see, the Core i7-980X really only distinguishes itself from the Core i7-975XE by its smaller manufacturing process, two more cores, additional cache, and AES instruction set. It has the same core clock, same Turbo Boost frequencies, same memory frequency support, same TDP, and the now familiar $999 Extreme Edition pricetag. This was all expected though, since Gulftown is based on Westmere, which is merely 32nm derivative of the Nehalem microarchitecture. We will have to wait until 2011 with Sandy Bridge to see some truly substantial architectural changes.

Gulftown was designed to be multi-threading monster with even greater overclocking headroom then we have seen with the current 45nm Bloomfield-based Core i7 lineup, you can't go wrong there in you're an enthusiast.

Click on image to enlarge

Needless to say that new Gulftown Core i7 processors look exactly like the previous Bloomfield Core i7 ones. On the last line of integrated heatspreader, the numbers "951" reveal that our engineering sample was manufactured in the 51st week of 2009. Retails chips will surely all have 2010 manufacture dates, which will be identified by "001", "002", etc.

Click on image to enlarge

Those are 1366 contact points, hence the LGA1366 socket name. Interestingly, as you can see in the second image, Gulftown (on the left) has a lot less 'large' micro SMD resistors on the underside than Bloomfield does.

Gulftown / Bloomfield / Lynnfield / Clarkdale / Phenom II - Click on image to enlarge

Although Lynnfield LGA1156 is actually the chip with the largest core out of the entire Nehalem-based lineup (because of the integrated PCI-E controller), the LGA1366 package is by far the biggest because it was designed with future headroom in mind, specifically being able to handle six-core and maybe even eight-core dies.

Don't expect to see the stock core clock often with Turbo Boost enabled - Click on images to enlarge

Here is the obligatory CPU-Z screenshots. Our particular sample idled at 0.944V and utilized 1.152V under full load, occasionally peaking to 1.184V. This actually about the same as on D0 stepping Bloomfield's, which is slightly disappointing since we would have liked to see the vCore drop a bit with the new 32nm process. Although CPU-Z is not able to read the revision on this engineering sample chip, it is a B1, which is the final retail stepping.

On a side note, although Gulftown has a large & lovely 12MB L3 cache, it does come with an approximately 14% latency penalty compared to Bloomfield's L3 cache, which will obviously have a slight effect on clock-per-clock performance in some workloads.

Next let's take a look at the brand new CPU cooler that Intel have designed for this particular processor.

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