Intel's Core i7: Blazing Fast, But Crippled O/C

Just as Intel’s Core 2 has firmly established itself in the market, it is already being replaced by a completely new architecture. Unlike the switch from the Pentium 4 / Pentium D to the Core2—where the new CPUs worked as drop-in replacements on existing boards due to the fact that the processors were pin-compatible—Intel’s newest chip requires a completely new "ecosystem." But this transformation represents nothing less than a milestone for Intel.

Here’s the short version. Intel is introducing the Core i7, the successor to the Core 2 processor, which features both improved performance and higher efficiency. In our benchmark suite, the Core i7 is 25% faster clock-for-clock than the Core 2. Overclockers shouldn’t get their hopes up though: all standard models are equipped with an overclocking lock. Since Intel is re-introducing Hyper-Threading to its desktop CPUs in the Core i7 line, the new processors show a marked performance boost in many modern multi-threaded applications. However, the Nehalem platform will not offer improvements where power consumption is concerned.

Socket LGA1366

Simultaneously switching to Socket 1366, the X58 chipset, and a tri-channel DDR3 interface, Intel is once again launching both a new generation of processors and an entirely new platform complete with a corresponding leap in performance. The last time we saw a performance improvement of this magnitude was when Intel moved from the Pentium 4/D line to the Core 2 architecture. The new integrated memory controller offers much higher throughput and is even superior to AMD’s solution on the desktop.

The Core i7 is going to leave Intel’s rival AMD lagging even further behind. Put bluntly, you’d need two and a half Phenom X4 processors to compete with Intel’s current Core i7 flagship model.

Socket 1366

Core i7 with 1366 pins

As a result of the integration of the memory controller directly into the CPU, Intel’s Core i7 now also sports data links to the memory modules. Other links have been affected by Intel’s transition from a front side bus interface to the QuickPath Interconnect solution. Intel has increased the number of pin connections from 775 to 1366, necessitating a new socket aptly named LGA1366. The mounting mechanism continues to use the same design, though. A frame covers the CPU and presses it into the socket, locking it in place with a small lever. This design is larger than the Socket 775 version, and obviously has the pins in a different arrangement.

However, the new Socket 1366 also comes with one disadvantage: the spacing between the mounting holes for the coolers has increased, meaning you’ll need a larger cooler and a new mounting clip or retention module when you make the switch. As a result, no Core 2 CPU is compatible with any Core i7 boards and vice versa. On the plus side, a cooler is included with the boxed version of the processors.