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Intel Core i7 990X Extreme Edition CPU review

by Parm Mann on 8 April 2011, 07:09 3.5

Tags: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC)

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Introduction

Intel's X58. Those are the three characters toward which enthusiasts the world over have flocked for the best part of two-and-a-half years.

And with good reason, too, for where else will you find support for triple-channel DDR3 memory, a couple of PCIe slots operating at 16x apiece, flexible base clock overclocking and compatibility with Intel's top-of-the-range, hexa-core Gulftown CPUs - including the insanely-fast 3.33GHz Core i7 980X.

With so much raw performance at hand - and a lack of true ultra-high-end challengers - Intel hasn't yet felt the need to supercede the X58 platform. Instead, the manufacturer is opting to milk every last drop from its premium Gulftown processors with one last hurrah; a new 3.46GHz Core i7 990X.

As the name suggests, the Extreme Edition chip is very much an incremental step up to the discontinued 980X and packs one key upgrade that makes it the fastest consumer processor to date.

The minor change, as you might have guessed, is a step up in out-the-box frequency. By upping the base multiplier from 25x to 26x and the chip's turbo multiplier from 27x to 28x, the multiplier-unlocked Core i7 990X is shipped to run at 3.46GHz with a maximum turbo-boost speed of 3.73GHz. That's 133MHz quicker than the preceding 980X on both fronts, and enough to warrant the $999 price tag traditionally associated with Intel's range-topping processor.

Model number Cores / Threads Clock Speed
(GHz)
Max Turbo
(GHz)
IGP Process Die size Cache Interface* Memory channels TDP Socket Price***
Intel Core
i7 990X EE
6/12 3.46 3.73 N/A 32nm
(Westmere)
239mm² 1.5MB L2
12MB L3
QPI Triple 130W LGA1366 $999
Intel Core
i7 980X EE
6/12 3.33 3.60 N/A 32nm
(Westmere)
239mm² 1.5MB L2
12MB L3
QPI Triple 130W LGA1366 EOL**
Intel Core
i7 970
6/12 3.20 3.46 N/A 32nm
(Westmere)
239mm² 1.5MB L2
12MB L3
QPI Triple 130W LGA1366 $583
Intel Core
i7 950
4/8 3.06 3.33 N/A 45nm
(Bloomfield)
263mm² 1MB L2
8MB L3
QPI Triple 130W LGA1366 $294
Intel Core
i7 930
4/8 2.80 3.06 N/A 45nm
(Bloomfield)
263mm² 1MB L2
8MB L3
QPI Triple 130W LGA1366 EOL**
Intel Core
i7 2600K
4/8 3.40 3.80 HD 3000 32nm
(SandyBridge)
216mm² 1MBL2
8MB L3
DMI Dual 95W LGA1155 $317
Intel Core
i5 2500K
4/4 3.30 3.70 HD 3000 32nm
(SandyBridge)
216mm² 1MB L2
6MB L3
DMI Dual 95W LGA1155 $216
Intel Core
i7 870
4/8 2.93 3.60 N/A 45nm
(Lynnfield)
296mm² 1MB L2
8MB L3
DMI Dual 95W LGA1156 $294
Intel Core
i5 760
4/4 2.80 3.33 N/A 45nm
(Lynnfield)
296mm² 1MB L2
8MB L3
DMI Dual 95W LGA1156 $205
Intel Core
i5 661
2/4 3.33 3.60 HD 1000 32nm
(Clarkdale)
81mm² 512KB L2
4MB L3
DMI Dual 87W LGA1156 $196
AMD Phenom II
X6 1100T
6/6 3.30 3.70 N/A 45nm
(Thuban)
346mm² 3MB L2
6MB L3
HT Dual 125W AM3 $239
AMD Phenom II
X6 1090T
6/6 3.20 3.60 N/A 45nm
(Thuban)
346mm² 3MB L2
6MB L3
HT Dual 125W AM3 $205
AMD Phenom II
X6 1075T
6/6 3.00 3.50 N/A 45nm
(Thuban)
346mm² 3MB L2
6MB L3
HT Dual 125W AM3 $195
AMD Phenom II
X6 1055T
6/6 2.80 3.30 N/A 45nm
(Thuban)
346mm² 3MB L2
6MB L3
HT Dual 95W AM3 $175
AMD Phenom II
X4 975 BE
4/4 3.60 N/A N/A 45nm
(Deneb)
258mm² 2MB L2
6MB L3
HT Dual 125W AM3 $195
AMD Phenom II
X4 970 BE
4/4 3.50 N/A N/A 45nm
(Deneb)
258mm² 2MB L2
6MB L3
HT Dual 125W AM3 $175
* HT = HyperTransport, DMI = Direct Media Interface, QPI = QuickPath Interconnect
** EOL = End of life
*** U.S. MSRP in 1000-unit tray quantities

It's the clear-cut choice for power users who scoff at the word budget, but for everyone else the Extreme Edition 990X faces stern competition from Intel's own mid-to-high-end newcomer; Sandy Bridge. The second-generation Core processor family, introduced at the turn of the year, officially slots into the Intel hierarchy below X58 and Gulftown but offers a number of architectural improvements that significantly boost performance.

Such is the potency of high-end Sandy Bridge processors that X58 is beginning to look largely redundant. Can 990X prolong the life of the platform, or is it little more than one final salute to the Nehalem-derived Westmere architecture?