Core i7: 4-Way CrossFire, 3-way SLI, Paradise?

Intel’s Core i7 processor, formerly referred to as Bloomfield, has been architecturally dissected one bit at a time for the past two years. Talk about a rollercoaster of anticipation for gaming enthusiasts. Gone is the super-quick L2 cache that helped propel Core 2 processors so far ahead of AMD’s Phenom offerings in a myriad of games. In its place is a much smaller L2, a large L3, a HyperTransport-like processor-to-processor interconnect, an integrated memory controller, and the reemergence of Hyper-Threading. If we didn’t know any better, we’d suggest that Intel is going after a different market entirely.

Ah, but we do know better, and it is. At this fall’s Intel Developer Forum (IDF), Intel representatives gave us our closest look yet of production specs for its upcoming Core i7 lineup, along with preliminary performance numbers. In addition to exceptional results in video editing, media conversion, and professional workstation titles, we also received a healthy dose of reality for what we’d see in testing gaming performance. Quite simply, the Nehalem micro-architecture incorporates a lot of improved technology, which is reflected in the speed-ups seen throughout a cherry-picked benchmark suite. However, it reportedly wouldn’t gain much in the way of gaming—presumably as a result of the tradeoffs made as Intel’s engineers optimized their efforts to retake the enterprise computing space.

That's four Radeon HD 4870 GPUs, three GeForce GTX 280s, three channels of DDR3-1333, and a 3.2 GHz Core i7

It’s A Platform Story Now

Thus, our attention shifted to the X58 platform, Intel’s chipset complementing Core i7 at launch. Initial rumblings were that X58 would extend Intel’s support for CrossFireX—AMD’s multi-card rendering technology—through divisible PCI Express links. A number of existing Intel chipsets already accommodated two or more cards, so it was hardly a surprise that core logic armed with two x16 PCI Express 2.0 links would continue that trend.

X58 Block Diagram

Then the rumors started bubbling up that X58 might also work with SLI, just like Intel’s “Skulltrail” does.

First, we were lead to believe the feature would require Nvidia’s nForce 200 companion chip. But then, at its NVISION ’08 show in San Jose, the company made it clear that X58 would support SLI natively—in two- and 3-way configurations. We’ll leave alone discussion of SLI and the supposed hardware requirements that kept it from appearing on non-Nvidia platforms previously. By now, it’s a foregone conclusion that the technology needed to enable SLI isn’t a chipset-specific feature, but rather a matter of licensing. The company shared with us the “updated” requirements for what it’d take to enable SLI, and gave us some idea of the configurations made possible by combining Intel’s X58 and the company’s own nForce 200.

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  • LePhuronn
    I'm waiting for X58 Skulltrail and a couple of Quadro CX boards - eat THAT CS4!!
  • karnak
    Why weren't the GTX's paired with the Phenom just for fun eh?
  • Anonymous
    Great article!
  • blibba
    This is the first great article I've seen here for some time. Keep up the good work. I'd like to see a similar comparison further down the ranges - maybe with 9800GT tri sli and HD4830 crossfire.
  • 2shea
    Besides this article giving a lot of good information it also gives us a nice future glance on what a real gamer is going to need in de near future. the i7 + a dual gpu is the best choice for high resolutions and no matter who makes it, nvidia or amd/ati. thats great news for us as end users!
  • technogiant
    Great article...but I was wondering about the difference between the x58 and x48 platforms....I may have missed it but did you mention if hyper threading was enabled on the core i7 platform....possibly the reason for the increased performance?
  • technogiant
    It would be interesting to see if hyper threading gives any extra games performance.
    enabling it does actually increase power consumption and consequently heat production. This will be an important consideration for overclockers so we really need to know if hyperthreading gives any actual game performance increase
  • technogiant
    can't wait until early 2009....lucid logix should be releasing their hydra soc system for multi gpu....100% gpu scaling for both nvidia and ati...put that on a x58 gamers heaven
  • kuolas
    That's a great article, I really enjoyed it! And a really big chunk of useful data too. You must have spend quite a few days running all those benchmarks. Thanks for all the hard work and once again well done on a great article.