A system built around the low-end Core i7-920, running at 2.66GHz, tore through our benchmarks with a final score of 1.86. That’s distinctly faster than a comparable system running the top-end Core 2 Extreme QX9770; see the table opposite for comparisons with other recent powerful processors.
More powerful i7s achieved some really exceptional scores. The Core i7-940, running at 2.93GHz, achieved 1.98 – the sort of score we normally only see from overclocked PCs. And when we moved up to the 3.2GHz i7-965 Extreme, benchmark scores hit 2.12 – the highest score we’ve ever seen from any system.
We didn’t even have to stop there. Intel “Extreme” processors are multiplier-unlocked, and we were able to turn this high-end part all the way up to 3.7GHz using just a stock Intel heatsink and fan for cooling.
At these speeds our i7 system achieved a benchmark score of 2.49, leaving all previous performance records in tatters. And we don’t doubt that with upgraded cooling and a suitable motherboard, these chips will go yet higher.
Power – at a price
Clearly the Core i7 is a hugely exciting CPU, but this sort of performance doesn’t come cheaply. The high-end Core i7-965 is a jaw-dropping $2154 from www.mwave.com.au, with the slower, multiplier-locked i7-940 still likely to come in at around $1088. Factor in the cost of a new LGA 1366 motherboard ($621) and it’s hard to justify the expense.
It’s worth remembering, though, that even the low-end Core i7-920 is a faster processor than anything Intel has produced before. And while $617 is hardly pocket money, it’s far better value than its faster cousins.
But if you don’t need the fastest CPU in the world, you’ll still get far more bang for your buck if you pick a more established processor from a little way down the performance ladder. As the graph above shows, in terms of performance per pound, the only thing worse than a Core i7 is the absurdly priced Core 2 Extreme QX9770.
Even a score of 1.5 in our benchmarks represents a very powerful PC that will zoom through any task you might wish to throw at it for years to come. Unless you’re a die-hard enthusiast or a rocket scientist, you don’t need to invest in a Core i7 processor just yet.
But for those who do demand the very best, Intel is once again the only game in town. These exceptional chips are sure to become instant favourites for high-performance PCs, even though Australians are paying a premium right now. As prices fall, their popularity can only grow.
Intel’s new arrivals are just too expensive for us to give them a general recommendation just yet, but there’s not a doubt in our minds that tomorrow belongs to Core i7.
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Intel’s new range of desktop processors has been a long time coming, but at last it’s arrived - and it leaves all others in the dust
• Intel: www.intel.com.au