Intel Core i7-990X demonstrates the need for speed

Since launch nearly two years ago, the Intel i7 has had many people shocked at the utter raw performance that could and has been gained from that one small processor.  As each time framed release of the newer and much faster models has hit the streets the more we’re impressed by how much more performance the CPU delivers.   

People are hungry for faster gaming, hungry for faster productivity and hungry for the ultimate ”need for speed”. At the turn of this year we saw Intel releasing the Sandy Bridge architecture, a whole new kettle of fish with faster CPU chips, abd faster mainboards.  

For the majority it meant complete upgrade path, though bang for buck you cannot get any better. 

That’s until now.

The Intel Core i7 990X-Extreme Edition processor has hit the streets and brought with it two new mainboards that were announced late in December of 2011 supporting the current range of i7 processors. This did have many analysts thinking. The majority could see the reasoning why  it brought to the mainboard range a whole new set of features that would maintain Intel’s strategy in remaining competitive against AMD.  

So what is different about this new offering?   While maintaining a QPI pathway of 6.4GT/s and a top TDP of 130 Watts it has a slight increase in MHz performance from 3.33GHz on the over the Intel Core i7 980X to 3.46GHz with the 990X.   Within L2 Core The Intel Core i7 990X maintains and supports each core with 256KB.    And at L3 Cache, all six cores share the large 12MB cache.  

The Core i7 990X has a HyperThreading feature that will allows it to execute all 12 threads at once. The final feature of this CPU is the Turbo Boost technology.  This enabled Intel to push the CPU frequency up to 3.73 GHz at times when maximum performance is required.   

This CPU is aimed at those needing the fastest equipment in the marketplace.  

With the arrival of the parts we took an extremely analytical look at what we perceived the possible builds with the equipment we have on hand. We have to take into account that these new CPUs and Mainboards are not just only aimed at the general public but the system builder too, supporting the professional arena.   

You could build  a sensational multimedia system supported by either ATI’s or Nvidia’s multimedia cards, either standalone or in Crossfire or SLI Mode.    Or, you could build a superb Top End professional graphics workstation that fully uses the new SATA ratification and if you really wish to be impetuous, push the boat out, overclock the system in either of the those modes.

There are now a few professional system integrator companies providing these racked standalone solutions, though take heed, overclock the system in the professional market and you null and void your warranty.   Current system integrators suppliers are providing their own specialised warranties as we go to print.   So for those wishing to take the plunge and wish the system to be pushed that little bit more, it can be done.

In this review, though, the systems will remain at standard BIOS settings with the only exception being the memory settings adjusted to take advantage of the newer and much faster memory.  

There’s a large number of benchmarks available and you could spend all day  producing results if the time permitted.  In order to make this a factual hard hitting article we looked carefully at what the community really need  to see as timescales ran against us in providing you with more information.  Therefore we chose the following to highlight just how good the new complete architecture really is in all arenas.  In order to expedite the proceedings, all tests shown within are at their primary display default settings.  

Benchmarks and Software used in 64-bit Mode
Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
SiSoftware Sandra 2011 (Latest Build)
3DMark Vantage
3DMark 2011
SPECviewperf 11.0 64-bit

There have been many rumours flying around about what this new i7 CPU can do and cannot do, but the results speak for themselves.    

We have to take a moment to reflect on the new mainboard’s performance.   Our friend the “Skull” is feature rich in many aspects which should keep many happy for a long time.  The heatpipe cooling which covers the key components is a very welcome addition to this top end mainboard and should ensure longevity of those critical success factors of the mainboard, especially when operating at peak outputs.   There are many ways to upgrade, too many to mention here.  One final point is that the mainboard  does come supplied with a Wi-Fi/BlueTooth Module.

The supplied components to back up the mainboard are up to Intel’s normal high standards, in our recent outing with Sandy Bridge we did like the new SATA cables and once more we’re pleased to see these parts in place.   The supplied software CD came with a good decent bundle of Intel’s own proprietary overclocking tool (Intel Extreme Tuning Utility (Intel XTU))and system monitoring which is a good bonus for the overclocker. 

Other packages included  AV software which means those not having any form of protection can get up and running straight away online and do what needs to be done.  What did take our attention was the updated and upgraded supplied and online manuals.  These have been smartly updated and more precise for many beginners building a system for the first time. This is, without any doubt a much faster CPU and there are significant gains to be seen.

For the multimedia aspects of the mainboardm both the Sapphire Radeon 6970 and Nvidia Geforce GTX 580 performed well.  So we have once more an option of choice, not only with a single high performing GPU but the choice of Crossfire and SLI modes. 

What of the Professional Cards from both ATI and Nvidia? Well these both have taken significant leaps forward in performance, not only from the offerings that the whole system has to offer but the actual driver packages recently released.  

We must suggest that a mission critical system should be balanced accordingly on an Intel platform that supports ECC and a Xeon CPU.  The DX58SO2 does offer the option of both ECC and Non ECC memory configurations and supports the almighty Xeon, though in ECC mode you are limited to a maximum of 24GB.

Finally we have to take away the unmistakable facts that Intel has produced a successor to the throne in the top bin CPU ratings.  Yes a premium price has to be paid.