Depending on your view, PC gaming is dead or is the only way to game. Clearly, Intel is of the latter view, which is why the company chose to preview its new "Extreme Edition" CPU at the Game Developers Conferencethe Core i7-980X, the first desktop processor to feature six computing cores. At the same time, it allowed seemingly every tech site under the sun to put the new chip through the usual benchmarks, and they came up with a very "surprising" conclusion: It's the fastest consumer-based CPU ever. (Check out HotHardware for one report.)
There are, of course, the usual caveats. For applications that only make use of one or two cores, the Core i7-980X's horsepower is largely untapped, whereas for things like video encoding, the multiple cores make a noticeable difference. As much as a CPU can aid with 3D gaming, it also appears to provide a sizable boost, especially compared to AMD's Phenom II X4 quad-core processor. (AMD's six-core CPU, the Thuban, is due soon, but hasn't been released widely to the benchmarking community.) But as usual with the Extreme Edition of Intel's processors, you'll pay dearly for the performance and bragging rights that come with the Core i7-980Xto the tune of around $1,000.
While the processor hasn't been made officially available, PC Magazine did manage to score Maingear and Falcon Northwest systems running the new beast, and more desktop builders will announce i7-980X-equipped PCs soon enough. For those of us who can't spring for a $5,000 system, the wait is on for six-core processors to reach mainstream prices.