Core i7 Nehalem Benchmarks Preview Page: 1
Introduction
 
Intel Core i7"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh" (Breathes a sigh of relief). The past month or so has been hell for some of us here at Overclock3D. Yes, yes we know that you have absolutely no sympathy, but having had a chance to spend a day with Intel's new kid on the block, the i7 (codename: Nehalem), we've received a stupendous number of requests from readers and forum members asking us if it's all it's been hyped up to be, and generally trying to manipulate us in every which way possible just to obtain a glimpse at some of the results.
 
For those of you who are regular readers, you will already know that we've extensively covered details of its architecture in our recent 4 page article, compressed after spending a full 8 hours with Intel flipping through slides in a presentation. We've also previewed some of ASUS' upcoming X58 based motherboards: the P6T and Rampage II Extreme, along with fishing out some tasty images of motherboards from other manufacturers dotted around the net.
 
Now, finally the NDA has been lifted and today we can give you all exactly what you've been waiting for: BENCHMARKS. That's right, no technical mumbo-jumbo, no dissecting of the chip and pointing out body parts, just that collection of numbers that most of us overclockers and enthusiasts base our next purchase upon.
 
Listed below you will find details of each of the three systems we used for testing. We wanted each system to represent a sector of the market, and hopefully a system close to what most of our readers currently own. Starting with the ultra-high-end we obviously have the Core i7 setup, moving down to the high-end is a QX9650 setup and finally somewhere in the mid-range is a Q6600 setup. We also intended to test each configuration in both SLI and Crossfire configurations (after all this is a big selling feature of the X58), but unfortunately due to a lot of BSOD's with two 4870x2's and only a 6-hour window to play with the chip, we had to settle for the results of a single GPU only.
 
As per usual with all Overclock3D reviews, a fresh install of Windows Vista x64 SP1 was used after every motherboard swap-out and for the purpose of obtaining some 'stock performance' benchmarks, every performance-related setting in each of the BIOSes was left at its automatic value. So now that we've got those prerequisites out of the way, let's take a look at the rest of the system specs:
 
 
The Core i7 Extreme 940 @ 2.94GHz
 
Motherboard: ASUS Rampage II Extreme
Memory: Corsair DDR3-1333 9-9-9-24 3x2GB 1.5v
Graphics: ASUS EAH4870x2
Hard Disk: Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB
Cooling: Stock Intel ES Cooler
GPU Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.10
 
Intel Core i7 Extreme 940 CPU-Z Intel Core i7 Extreme 940 CPU-Z
 
Our Core i7 setup was kitted out with three sticks of 2GB Corsair DDR3-1333 (total 6GB) obviously giving the setup a bit of a head-start over our other test systems. However, the jump from 4GB to 6GB in most applications and games is negligible, whereas the alternative configuration of 3x1GB (3GB) may well have crippled the i7 system slightly once the memory-hungry Vista had taken its share of the resources.
 
 
The Core2Quad QX9650 @ 3.0ghz
 
Motherboard: ASUS P5E64 WS Evolution
Memory:
Corsair DDR3-1333 9-9-9-24 3x2GB 1.5v
Graphics: ASUS EAH4870x2
Hard Disk: Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB
Cooling: Stock Intel ES Cooler
GPU Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.10
 
QX9650 CPU-Z QX9650 CPU-Z
 
Clocked at almost the same speed as the i7 Extreme 940, the QX9650 was, up until recently, the 'big daddy' of CPU's. Using the same 45nm fabrication as the i7 with a slightly larger L3 cache, it'll certainly be interesting to see just how well this chip, that only 6 months ago would have set you back around £1000, will fair against Intel's latest weapon.
 
 
The Core2Quad Q6600 @ 2.4GHz
 
Motherboard: ASUS Rampage Formula
Memory:
Generic PC2-6400 6-6-6-18 2.0v
Graphics: ASUS EAH4870x2
Hard Disk: Western Digital Velociraptor 300GB
Cooling: Stock Intel ES Cooler
GPU Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.10
 
Q6600 - CPU-Z Q6600 CPU-Z
 
Probably one of the most popular CPU's in the last 6 months has to be the Q6600. Being the first of the "Quad Core" lineup from Intel, the Q6600 is not only reasonably priced, but with the advent of the 95w TDP "G0" stepping, also quickly became a favourite for overclockers who could push the chip up to, and sometimes beyond, 4.0GHz.


Core i7 Nehalem Benchmarks Preview Page: 2
Sisoft Sandra
 
SiSoftware Sandra (the System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is an information & diagnostic utility capable of benchmarking the performance of individual components inside a PC. Each of the benchmarks below were run a total of five times with the highest and lowest scores being discarded and an average being calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
 
 
 
Despite initial problems getting Sandra to run on the Nehalem (2008 > 2009 update required) the results certainly filled us with excitement as to what we may see in the real-world benchmarks over the next few pages. Starting with the CPU Arithmetic results, the i7 kicks ass and kills the hostages by more than doubling the Whetstone results obtained by the Q6600.
 
However, that is absolutely nothing compared to the totally insane 22GB/s memory bandwidth pumped out by the X58 / i7 combo, thanks to the tri-channel DDR3 and on-die memory controller. With the QX9650 and Q6600 pushing out 6.86GB/s and 4.89GB/s respectively, you'd be forgiven for thinking that we were comparing the i7 to some ancient SDRAM-based system from the early '90's
 
 
SuperPI
 
As most of us will remember, SuperPI is where the original Core2 chips really captured the hearts (and wallets) of the overclocking community. Sporting sub-20 second results from stock clocked chips, the original Conroe made the ~30second results of an overclocked AMD look slightly pathetic.
 
 
 
Having not seen any SuperPI results from the i7 prior to testing the chip, we had high hopes that it would wade straight in with a ~10 second 1m score. However, coming in at 13.915 seconds, the i7 only manages to bag itself a 2 second advantage over the QX9650. This small advantage does turn into more of a leap when a full 32-million iteration PI is performed, with the i7 finishing around 3 minutes sooner than the QX9650 and a full 8 minutes faster than the Q6600.


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PCMark Vantage
 
PCMark Vantage is the latest benchmarking suite from Futuremark. Differing significantly from their 3DMark suites, PCMark performs a series of benchmarks designed to recreate and benchmark scenarios of a PC being used for everyday tasks. Vantage has a Vista only requirement as it actually relies on several different components from the OS in order to run correctly.
 
 
 
Early speculation surrounding the Core i7 suggested that the chip would be more suited to server tasks than to gaming, but if the results above are anything to go by, this speculation just got blown right out of the water. PCMark places the i7 a whopping 3698 points ahead of the QX9650 in the gaming results and even comes close to doubling the results from the Q6600. As expected, the Memory and Productivity results are also well ahead of the other systems thanks to the insane memory bandwidth and 4 core / 8 thread architecture.
 
 
Pov-Ray
 
POV-Ray is a Persistence of Vision Raytracing tool for producing high-quality computer graphics. The freely available software suite is bundled with a benchmarking scene that uses many of POV-Ray's internal features to heavily test the abilities of the CPU in both single and multi-core modes.
 
 
Much like the single-core based SuperPI test seen on the previous page, the Core i7 produces marginally better results than its predecessors when POV-Ray is run in single-core mode. However, if we perform the same test again, this time using the Multi-Core option, the 8 threads of the Core i7 kick in to action pushing the results more than 1000PPS higher than the QX9650 and over 1600PPS higher than the Q6600.
 
 
Cinebench 10
 
Cinebench 10 is a benchmarking tool based on the powerful 3D software Cinema 4D. The suite uses complex renders to gauge the performance of the entire PC system in both single-core and multi-core modes. Testing was performed a total of 5 times with the highest and lowest results being omitted and an average created from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
 
A similar story to POV-Ray can also be seen in Cinebench, with the i7 offering a slight performance improvement over the QX9650 when rendering with only a single thread, but completely trouncing the other systems when running on all eight threads.


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3DMark
 
3DMark is a popular synthetic gaming benchmark used by many gamers and overclockers to gauge the performance of their PC's. All 3DMark runs were performed a total of 5 times, with the highest and lowest results being removed and an average calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
Starting off with a run of 3DMark06 at its stock 1280x1024 / 0xAA settings, both the QX9650 and the Core i7 leave the Q6600 for dead, with the Core i7 almost managing to crack 20,000. Performing a second run at 1920x1200 / 4xAA, the weight is shifted more over to the performance of the GPU than the rest of the system, but still the Core i7 setup manages an 855 point improvement over the QX9650 mostly thanks to the dedicated CPU tests.
 
 
Similar results can also be seen in 3DMark Vantage, with the Core i7 obtaining an impressive 2,200 point lead over the QX9650 when run in the default 'Performance' mode. With the graphics and resolution bumped up in 'Extreme' mode, the performance difference is less prominent with only a ~400 point difference between the i7 and the QX9650, showing that the HD 4870x2 GPU is actually becoming the bottleneck here.
 
 
Call of Duty 4
 
Call of Duty 4 is a stunning DirectX 9.0c based game that really looks awesome and has a very full feature set. With lots of advanced lighting, smoke and water effects, the game has excellent explosions along with fast gameplay. Using the in-built Call Of Duty features, a 10-minute long game play demo was recorded and replayed on each of the systems using the /timedemo command a total of 5 times. The highest and lowest FPS results were then removed, with an average being calculated from the remaining 3 results.
 
 
The results from the first "real world" benchmark provide some very interesting results. Firstly, the Q6600 is a HUGE bottleneck in the HD4870x2-based system, managing to only pump out 88FPS at both 1280x1024 and 1920x1200 resolutions. However, the i7 is really what we're here to talk about, and as we can see from above, the i7 and QX6850 are neck-and-neck at 1900x1200 / 4xAA, indicating that the HD4870x2 has actually become the bottleneck and higher performance can only be obtained by adding a second graphics card.


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Crysis
 
Crysis is without doubt one of the most visually stunning and hardware-challenging games to date. By using CrysisBench - a tool developed independently of Crysis - we performed a total of 5 timedemo benchmarks using a CPU-intensive pre-recorded demo. To ensure the most accurate results, the highest and lowest benchmark scores were then removed and an average calculated from the remaining three.
 
 
Staying true to its form, Crysis gives each of the systems a hard time, with not even the Core i7 managing to muster up an average of anywhere near 60FPS at 1280x1024. Admittedly, this is more than likely down to the HD 4870x2 not quite having the pixel-pushing power to conquer Crysis, but regardless the i7 still leads the pack at both resolutions, offering a ~10-15FPS increase over the Q6600 and a few FPS over the QX9650.
 
 
GRID
 
Race Driver: Grid is a visually taxing game that presents a challenge to any graphics system. Results were recorded using FRAPS to log the average FPS over a 2 minute race. To ensure consistency, the same track, car and general path of travel was used in each of the 5 benchmark runs for each system, with an average FPS being calculated from the median three results.
 
 
While the difference in performance in Crysis is but a mere few FPS, GRID puts every ounce of the Core i7's power to work. Managing a ~35FPS increase over the QX9650 at both 1280x1024 and 1920x1200 resolutions, this clearly shows that even on the QX9650, the performance of GRID is being held back by a lack of CPU power. Further testing of SLI and Crossfire over the next week will certainly reveal if the i7 is able to widen this gap even more.
 
 
ET:Quake Wars
 
ET:Quake Wars is a follow-up game to Wolfenstein:Enemy Territory developed by Splash Technology. Using a modified version of id Software's Doom 3 engine along with Mega rendering technology, the game offers high resolution textures, fast gameplay and plenty of explosions. Using the built-in recordNetDemo and timeNetDemo commands, we recorded a 5 minute online gaming session and played it back a total of 5 times on each system, calculating the average FPS from the median three results.
 
 
Judging by the results above, it would certainly appear that GRID isn't the only CPU-bound game, with the i7 system taking the lead by almost 20FPS in Quake Wars at 1280x1024. Once again the Q6600 setup shows its total lack of umph compared to the other two systems, acting as a very large bottleneck and slowing the GPU down to around 90FPS at both resolutions.


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Thoughts
 
Intel Core i7 BloomfieldHaving spent only one day with the Core i7 so far, it's impossible to draw any definite conclusion at this point. Aspects such as SLI / Crossfire performance and overclocking are all extremely important and unique features to the i7 that need exploring in full, and we'd be foolish to make any comments at this time. However, based on the benchmarks seen over the previous pages one thing is for certain: the i7 eats multi-threaded applications for breakfast. Results from Cinebench and POV-Ray are simply outstanding with the i7 completing the benchmarks in a fraction of the time compared with the QX9650 and Q6600. This would seemingly make the i7 an obvious choice for professionals who regularly make use of rendering, video editing, video transcoding or even photo editing applications.
 
Another area where the Core i7 clearly excels is in memory bandwidth. Producing results almost four times higher than the QX9650 system fitted with the same memory kit (running at the same speed no less!) and near five times higher than than the DDR2-based Q6600 system, the on-die memory controller combined with a triple-channel memory kit is clearly a winning combination. However, with all this memory bandwidth now available, it does beg the question if it will make much of a real-world difference, as switching between low and high-end DDR3 kits on existing Core2 systems yields little improvement outside of benchmarks.
 
Moving on to gaming performance, the Core i7 once again takes the lead when benchmarked against the other stock systems. However, unlike the application benchmarks, the performance increase is less pronounced with results varying from 3FPS to anything up to 30FPS higher than the QX9650. This could well be down to poor multi-threaded coding on the part of the game developers or possibly the HD4870x2 finally becoming a bottleneck. The exact reasoning won't become clear until we can get a chance to re-run the benchmarks with dual graphics cards.
 
To fully assess the performance of the i7 and hopefully draw a final conclusion on its viability as your next system upgrade, we will be performing the following tests over the next few weeks:
 
• SLI vs Crossfire - Performance assessment of each multi-GPU configuration with comparisons including results from X48 and 790i chipsets.
 
• Overclocking - Detailed analysis, how-to's and results on overclocking the i7.
 
• i7 Gaming. Upgrade or Overclock? - With budget chips such as the E8400 being capable of hitting speeds of 4.5GHz, is the i7 a necessary upgrade, or can gamers get better performance out of their existing hardware?
 
Be sure to look out for these articles and many upcoming reviews centred around the i7 as a base test system. However, for the moment please feel free to discuss this preview in our forums. A full range of i7 CPU's and Motherboards can be found over at www.ebuyer.com.