Going "Core i7" - What you need!

Going "Core i7" - What you need!

Summary: You know something funny, despite the current economic downturn, my Hardware 2.0 mailbox provides conclusive proof that there are folks out there who want to spend up to $1,000 on Intel's newest piece of silicon - the Core i7 processor. But what do you need to get make your "Extreme" rig Core i7 ready?

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You know something funny, despite the current economic downturn, my Hardware 2.0 mailbox provides conclusive proof that there are folks out there who want to spend up to $1,000 on Intel's newest piece of silicon - the Core i7 processor. But what do you need to get make your "Extreme" rig Core i7 ready?

Core i7 component gallery

The Core i7 processor

The Core i7 represents a new milestone in architecture for Intel. The LGA775 socket that worked for the Pentium 4 / Pentium D / Core 2 family has been replaced by the larger Socket LGA 1366. With the Core i7 Intel has also reintroduced Hyper-Threading, giving the desktop CPUs the power of eight virtual cores. You also get the brand new X58 chipset and support for DDR3.

The bottom line for all these architecture changes is an overall performance boost. Given the same clock speed, compared to the Core 2 architecture the Core i7 offers something in the region of a 15% performance gain - and these results are backed up by benchmark after independent benchmark. In fact, the bottom-end Core i7 beats Intel's previous ""Extreme Edition" chip, the QX9770.

The Core i7 processors currently come in two flavors and three clock speeds:

  • Core i7 920 2.66GHz | Street price: ~$320
  • Core i7 940 2.93GHz | Street price: ~$600
  • Core i7 965 "Extreme Edition" 3.2GHz | Street price: ~$1,070

 

Each processor comes fitted with 8MB of "Smart Cache" and support for 3 channels of DDR3 1066MHz memory.

More details on the Core i7 and Core i7 "Extreme Edition."

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Core i7/LGA 1366 motherboards

Once you've decided on which processor to buy, next you need to choose a motherboard. Remember, no matter how cool or cutting-edge your existing LGA775 motherboard might be, it's no good for the Core i7 because you need one with a socket LGA 1366.

There are about eight motherboards from which you can choose (at least, I know of eight) from vendors such as Intel, ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI. They range in price from around $220 to $400.

Here's what you have to choose from:

Intel:

  • DX58SO | Street price: ~$280

ASUS:

  • Rampage II Extreme | Street price: ~$400
  • P6T Deluxe/OC Palm | Street price: ~$340
  • P6T Deluxe | Street price: ~$300

Gigabyte:

  • GA-EX58 Extreme | Street price: ~$330
  • GA-EX58-UD5 | Street price: ~$300

MSI:

  • X58 Eclipse SLI | Street price: ~$350
  • X58 Platinum | Street price: ~$220

Basic differences between the motherboards to lookout for:

  • Number of memory slots (4x and 6x)
  • Number of PCI Express 2.0 x16 slots
  • Memory speed

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Power Supply Units (PSUs)

Believe it or not, you don't need a monster 1KW PSU to run a Core i7 rig. In fact, a system based on a Core i7 965 "Extreme Edition" and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 280 should run comfortably on a 500W PSU. However, if you are planning on more GPUs and multiple hard drives then you might need to bump this up.

Important point relating to PSU though, make sure that it is an ATX12V 2.1 or EPS12V PSU that has both the 24-pin main connector and an 8 pin secondary connector for the CPU because you'll need that. If you are going dual-GPU then make sure that the PSU has enough power rails.

Closing thoughts ...

Intel's Core i7 processors offer a lot of performance ... at a price! To be honest, this is more performance than most people will need. However, there are several segments of the high-end market that could benefit from these new processors, such as those handling a lot of video or 3D graphics (let's leave gamers out of the equation for now since there's no real "return" on the investment for them).

Expect Core i7 systems to command a very high price tag, especially for the next six months. If you want to save money, another options is to upgrade an existing system to a Core i7. Assuming that the base system is a Core 2 system (Duo or Quad) then the minimum price for the parts will look something like this:

  • Core i7 920 2.66GHz | Price: ~$320
  • X58 Platinum | Price: ~$220
  • 2GB DDR3 RAM | Price: ~$75

Minimum upgrade price: ~$615

That's the cheapest way to get into the Core i7 owners club.

Alternatively, if you want to buy a Core i7 system, check out the big name vendors such as Dell. The XPS 730x featuring the new CPU starts at $2,559 (the priciest build I could put together was a recession-busting $8,308!).

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Topics: Hardware, Intel, Processors

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8 comments
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  • Is there a use for it?

    I don't know but it seems to be a very expensive solution looking for a problem. The average user simply can't leverage it and a 10% or 15% improvment in speed will go un-noticed in daily use.

    From all I can see, software has failed to keep up with hardware for the last several years. Until that changes Joe Average user has no reason to upgrade his hardware.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Partly, you're right ...

      "From all I can see, software has failed to keep up with hardware for the last several years."

      True, but some areas will immediatly benefit, such as:

      - Gaming (no ROI there, but there will be a benefit)
      - Video/3D


      However, for the average home user, this is total overkill.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • RE: Going With i7

    Why would you spend that kind of money when AMD can do it for much cheaper plus you can get the worlds fastest AMD/ATI graphics card and do everything this will and save $$$$$
    willnotfail
    • Processor wise ...

      ... AMD doesn't stack up. Anywhere near in fact. In fact, ANMD doesn't have anything that comes remotely close to the Core 2 Extreme, so the Core i7 just increases the gap even further.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
    • OooooooKay

      Maybe you should open your AMD fan-boy eyes and understand that AMD cpus don't really even come close to current Intel Core 2 offerings. AMD had an edge for awhile from Socket 7 to 939 over comparable Intel offerings but it's been completely gone since Core 2 hit. I built more AMD when it had an edge, now I build very few. BTW, you can run an AMD/ATI graphics card on an Intel machine (your comment seems to indicate you think they can't) and certain chipsets support Crossfire as well.
      zdnet@...
  • The Core i7

    Hi Adrian, don't know whether you've seen the latest issue of PC Format UK, but they did a massive 6 page article on these new CPUs that was quite enjoyable to read and gave a lot of info on the technical differences introduced.

    Must admit, I know that there is no ROI (as stated in a thread above) when playing games, but I can't wait to see what sort of impact this has on my gaming rig! Salivating doesn't even begin to describe it! XD
    Ben_E
  • RE: Core i7

    The i7 is awesome. Just built my own rig. Used the 920. No need to buy the others unless you just want to brag about it. I overclocked mine to over 4 ghz. Very stable. Built another rig last month using the intel E8400. I thought that was a great build. So did my neighbor. He bought it and I added a little to what he paid to purchase the i7 components. The new Windows 7 runs perfectly on it. Love the i7. Intel did good.
    dogbiter
  • RE: Going with i7

    I have finished (except for an upgrade to a higher grade H2O cooling system) building my i7 920 based system and as the previous poster stated, it easily overclocks to 4GHz ( I backed mine off to a very stable 3.6GHz. My use is in High Def video production. I can quantify the ROI by measuring the rendering, I have cut approx. 33% off the time over my past Intel Quad core. Over the course of a month that comes out to the equivalent of 16 hours of production time increase. In my case the total cost of the new system components plus the time it took to put together ($1700.00 parts and 6 hrs of assembly. I am not counting the time spent overclocking since I consider that to be hobby/recreational time) is recovered in full in two months. The i7 is such a leap forward that the performance increase is almost too good to be true. The Sandra Benchmarking had my system ranked as number 1 in comparative category and in the top 90 percentile of all tested systems. in all tests. The i7 is not an Intel vs. other chip manufacturers comparison because it has it's own separate category.. the old apples to oranges cliche.
    maui_geek