Processor lines are always strange things. When compared to graphics cards which have thousands of variants, processors tend to have perhaps three or four types within a classification.
The i7 line consisted, upon release, of the i7-920, i7-940 and the i7-960. With the i7-920 around £240, i7-940 about the £450 mark and the top end i7-960 being about £700 it was obvious that the i7-920 was the weapon of choice for the masses, and the extremists would go towards the i7-960. When the D0 stepping i7-920 was released it was pretty much the only sensible choice.
This continued to be the case through the many evolutions of the LGA1366 line until now the Quad-Core range consists of the i7-930, the i7-950 and the range-topping i7-975. The middle processor was always an odd choice. Nobody would spend twice the price on basically a single multiplier increase over the bottom end model, and those who wanted the absolute best would always gravitate towards the multiplier-unlocked 975 Extreme.
Recently however Intel have drastically cut the price of the i7-950 down to nearly the level of the i7-930. Surely it becomes the processor of choice now? Let's find out.
|# of Cores||4|
|# of Threads||8|
|Clock Speed||3.06 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||3.33 GHz|
|Intel® Smart Cache||8 MB|
|Intel® QPI Speed||4.8 GT/s|
|# of QPI Links||1|
|Instruction Set Extensions||SSE4.2|
|Max TDP||130 W|
|VID Voltage Range||0.800V-1.375V|
|Tray 1ku Budgetary Price||$294.00|
So as you can see it's basically a i7-930/920 but with a multiplier of 23 instead of 20.
We're going to test the 950 on our standard X58 test rig, and as the main contender to the i7-950 is the i7-930, we'll be running up against that in our graphs.
Intel Core i7 950 Processor
Mushkin Ridgeback 998826
ASUS Rampage 3 Extreme
Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit
The first place to start with any overclock is to test out the highest BCLK we can achieve. Here we only managed 212.4MHz but as we saw with our review on monday, that doesn't necessarily translate into a poor overclock anymore. Especially with this i7-950 having such a high multiplier available to it.
As with all of the modern Intel CPUs, 4GHz is easily achievable. The major thing to notice here is the voltage that it's stable at. A mere 1.184v.
This was so impressive we stopped overclocking for a bit and went to see how low the core voltage could go and it would still be stable. Amazingly the i7-950 managed to be completely stable at stock using only 1v on the core. One.
Pushing as hard as we could to find the upper limit, with some serious, but Intel approved, voltage we saw 4.67GHz. This is about the right amount of increase over the i7-930 given the extra multiplier available to us. Impressive by any standard.
Of course there is no way we'd want to run over 1.5v for any sensible amount of time and so things were dialled back to a more sensible level for our overclocking benchmark runs. Thanks to the solidity of the Rampage III Extreme and the serious potential of the i7-950, we were rock solid at 4.4GHz.
Straight away we can see the difference that the i7-950 has over the i7-930. Both at stock and overclocked it takes a big lead in what is normally a very tight test.
Being the most synthetic of our synthetic tests, the Sandra testing responds perfectly to the clock speed increase of the i7-950 over the i7-930. The only glitch in our testing is the Float x8 result on the i7-930 being abnormally high.
If there is one other thing that responds to clock speed, it's Ray Tracing. POV-Ray is the excellent freeware Ray-Tracing package of choice and the i7-950 definitely gets the job done.
Everest Ultimate Edition
If there is one thing the i7-950 doesn't have it's the new instruction set we've seen on some of the latest Intel chips. Understandably as it's not a 2010 model. However it still pumps out consistent scores across our battery of CPU tests. Time to see how the memory fares.
Memory Benchmarks and Latency
Memory testing is a more fragile process. The slightest background task can make a blip. Even allowing for this the differences between the i7-950 and i7-930 are greatly lessened compared to the CPU results. The overclocked i7-930 actually leaps a bit ahead thanks to the larger BCLK needed to achieve the lesser overclock.
In our latency testing the i7-950 holds sway and, when overclocked, by quite a margin.
PC Mark Vantage
Before we move on to our 3D Benchmarks, it's time for the two system test suites. Firstly PC Mark Vantage from Futuremark. This comes with a selection of applications built in and is great for testing the loading capacity of your PC. Freed from the constraints of the synthetic testing the i7-950 absolutely fires into a massive lead. Overclocked it's in a different league entirely and in the gaming suite it keeps up with the overclocked i7-930.
PassMark 7.0 performs a similar system-wide test as PC Mark, but in an entirely different way. As you can see it's much harder on the system and so our results start to echo those we saw at the beginning of our benchmarking. Pure MHz wins the day.
3D Mark Vantage
As always once you move to gaming tests, the GPU plays a far more important role than many people realise. If you're after a pure gaming experience it's really all about the GPU.
At the low resolutions of the Performance setting our results pretty much follow the power of the CPU, such is the tiny load put on the graphics card.
Once the resolution is cranked up and the anti-aliasing applied, things become much closer. In fact the difference in 3D Mark X score between the two chips and four clock-speeds is negligible. The 3 GHz i7-950 performs just as well as when it's overclocked to 4.4GHz.
The reliability of Crysis Warhead is in its ability to decimate any system put in front of it. At these heavy settings we'd expect a result akin to that of 3D Mark at Extreme and, with variances for gameplay differences taken into account, it pretty much is.
As time moves on, newer games are beating the heck out of our rigs and Metro 2033 definitely falls into that catergory. It's absolutely brutal even on our 4.4GHz i7-950, with it just about being playable when things calm down on screen.
Reviewing something like the i7-950 is one of the hardest things we do.
It's not that the actual benchmarking process is hard, or that the performance isn't breathtaking. Because the performance is breathtaking.
The problem is the obvious brilliance of it.
The i7-950 is one multiplier faster than the already brilliant i7-930. So it overclocks about 200MHz better. At stock it is quicker in clock speed, and the benchmarks back this up.
All around it's a little bit quicker and a little bit pricier. Exactly what you'd expect.
That doesn't quite tell the full story though as the performance at stock is very good indeed, and it's important to remember that not everyone wants to overclock their processors. A 3.06GHz i7 CPU for around £250 is an absolute bargain and will provide more performance than you could desire for the forseeable future.
If you do choose to overclock, the inherent speed of the i7-950 is also an ally because it allows you the extra freedom to decide if you want a little more BCLK to obtain your overclock, or you're willing to use the multiplier. Not every motherboard is capable of holding a steady 200 BCLK, so with the i7-950 you've the freedom to drop it down a little and save some wear on your components. Or, if you need to, provide a more suitable divider for your RAM.
Finally the capability to run at stock using only 1v on the CPU Core has massive benefits to power usage as well as the heat generated and the need to dissipate that. Even at 4GHz we were running beneath the recommended stock voltage. Overclocked and undervolted! It's 100% benefits, zero downsides.
The i7-930 was brilliant. The i7-950 is bigger and better in every way. Thanks to the aggressive price cut from Intel, it's also barely more expensive.
If you're in the market for a new CPU, the 'middle choice' has gone from being nearly ignored, to being the only sensible choice to make.
Thanks to Intel for providing the i7-950 for review. Discuss in our forums.