When Intel released the 980x it was a breakthrough in a lot of ways. Firstly it was a hex-core processor that also had hyper-threading, giving us a 12 core beast. It also had the new AES instruction sets allowing it to deal with encryption blazingly fast, and was on the new 32nm process which kept it very cool giving us insane overclocking ability.
Like all premium Intel processors it had a premium price-tag to match. So what if you want all the benefits of incredible processing power, but haven't quite got the 800-odd pounds available to buy the 980?
Intel have got you covered with the release of the Intel i7 970. All the features of the i7 980, just minus the unlocked multiplier.
Over to the Intel website to grab the technical specifications.
|# of Cores||6|
|# of Threads||12|
|Clock Speed||3.2 GHz|
|Max Turbo Frequency||3.46 GHz|
|Intel® Smart Cache||12 MB|
|Intel® QPI Speed||4.8 GT/s|
|# of QPI Links||1|
|Instruction Set Extensions||SSE4.2|
|Embedded Options Available||No|
|Max TDP||130 W|
|VID Voltage Range|
|1ku Bulk Budgetary Price|
|Intel® Turbo Boost Technology||Yes|
|AES New Instructions||Yes|
|Thermal Monitoring Technologies||No|
Time for a look at the i7 970.
The New Cooler
Unlike many of the chips we get from Intel we were lucky enough to receive a retail box for the 970.
The chip itself is very standard and is in the plastic CPU holder we're all used to by now.
Intel are definitely making a move in the right direction with their new tower-based cooler. It's much better than the old reference ones.
As you can see there is a fairly dense fin count and four 8mm heatpipes. It's a nice looking cooler considering. Just a shame the unshrouded fan isn't brilliant. Lots of air gets pushed outwards rather than through the cooler so it always has to run much faster than it otherwise would with a more standard design. It's a start though.
Our test setup is our normal X58 bench rig we're sure you're all used to by now.
Intel Core i7 970
Corsair Dominator GT
ASUS Rampage 3 Extreme
Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit
Noctua NH-D14 with Arctic MX-3
With the primary difference between the 980X and the 970 being the locked multiplier we weren't expecting to see enormous overclocks, but were still hopeful of coming in just underneath the 980s speeds.
The BCLK max actually suprised us by hitting 220.5 MHz. Even with our locked multiplier this should allow us to hit some fairly good speeds. Sure enough with a reasonable hike on the voltage and some tweaking we managed to hit 4.7 GHz!! Quite outstanding.
Or so we thought. A little further tweaking later at night when everything is cooler and we broke through the 4.8 GHz mark. 4811.41 MHz to be exact. A world record, and on air. Showing how amazing both the i7 970 is, and the heat dispersion capabilities of the Noctua NH-D14. The 32nm process really makes a difference.
Backing off from such lofty heights to an overclock that would be stable throughout our testing, we settled on 4.3 GHz. 1.1 GHz above stock. This is a hell of a chip if you know what you're doing.
Probably the most impressive aspect is how it mirrors the i7 930 we tested in that it's possible to get a very high clock without actually needed a huge amount of VCore. At 4GHz we only needed 1.225v on the CPU Core to achieve total stability! This is so impressive it's as if Intel have designed the chip to run at 4GHz and then detuned it. When you consider we needed to put 1.35v through the 980X to get 4GHz stability then you can really get a feel for how amazing this chip is. Once you break through the 4GHz barrier the amount of volts needed increase fairly dramatically, but even the 1.435v we needed for 4.8GHz isn't insane.
Here at OC3D time can be limited we dont always get the time we would like to spend days tweaking a certain product like you would when you actually own and use something daily. When first overclocking the 970 we got the feeling there was more to be had with a little extra time. So when a morning free in the schedule our favorite test equipment came out, the coffee pot was full and the airconditioner was set to arctic mode!
The goal was to hit 5GHZ, as really nowadays with most of the £100+ Intel CPU's 4ghz is almost always possible. Going back to our saved 4.8ghz settings and with just an hour of tweaking we broke the hallowed 5GHZ barrier on AIR cooling! If there was ever a reason to shout about the Noctua NH-D14 this was it, stock cooler, with stock fans keeping a 5GHZ overclock cool!
I do need to point out this is not a 24/7 overclock, its more us just exploring what can be done with a bit of time and some good kit! Let's run some benchmarks.
Everest Ultimate Edition
Everest gives us a fairly surprising result. If we consider that these are identical apart from the multiplier being locked on the 970 and the 980X being branded an "Extreme Edition" then we'd expect to see very similar results, perhaps with the more expensive 980 just being slightly ahead. When at stock this is the case with the 980 just edging ahead. However when overclocked the 970 actually manages to take a reasonable lead. Impressive stuff.
The Dhrystone and Whetstone tests of SiSoft Sandra show again that at stock the 980X has a handy lead over the 970. Of course the likelyhood of someone having one of these monster chips and running them at stock is small. When overclocked the 970 again takes a surprising lead in all three tests.
As an alternative to PC Mark, today we're using PassMark to test our i7 970.
This is very similar to PC Mark in that it uses real world testing to benchmark your system. To emphasise the accurate nature of both Sandra and Everest, our results perfectly mimic those we achieved on the previous page. At stock the 980X has the lead, but with our overclock the i7 970 is actually quicker. When it comes to the final PassMark score, it's 400 points better which is a huge amount.
Good old wPrime really takes huge advantage of as much horsepower as you can throw at it. Sub 5 seconds for the 32M test anybody? Blazing speed indeed.
3D Mark Vantage
Finally onto our gaming based tests. Obviously as we're testing the CPU and not a graphics card we'll keep it brief.
The 3D Mark CPU score follows everything we've seen on the previous two pages. The big surprise though is how the GPU score is a little higher on the 970, which therefore means the total 3D Mark score is better too. It could just be the couple of increments in the Catalyst drivers since we tested the 980, but at the very least the 970 stands shoulder to shoulder with the top-of-the-line Intel.
As Crysis takes advantage of PhysX quite a lot, then on an ATI system you really need all the CPU power possible to help handle the many tasks the Crytek engine gives it. In keeping with the frustrating nature of Crysis Warhead the overclocked 980X actually wins out by quite a margin. We also tested Dirt 2 and Unigine, but with only a single 5870 in the system and so much CPU power available they were GPU limited and so graphs would be meaningless.
Onto the rather brief and obvious conclusion.
If you cast your minds back a little bit to our 980X review (available here) you'll remember that we found it to be the fastest, most incredible processor on the planet. Admittedly for £850 you'd expect nothing left but the results we obtained from it smashed all our expectations and redefined what we considered was possible. There aren't many hardware components that come along which completely move the goalposts, raise the bar etc. The i7 980X was one of them.
When we heard Intel were doing a "normal" version of the 980 we were hoping it would be a fair match for its big brother, but with suitable reductions in overclocking capability and performance to match it's £650 price tag. After all, Intel aren't going to release a cheaper processor that out-performs their flagship.
Once again though we were left awe-struck. It's unbelievable how close the two chips actually are.
When running at stock there is very little between them. Although the 980X does just have the edge it's such a tiny edge that you really wont even notice in the real-world. Throughout all of our tests the difference is slight whether we ran pure synthetic ones, or entire system based tests.
Overclocking was a complete joy. Being unable to adjust the multiplier upwards normally means a lessened overclock because maintaining a high stable BCLK isn't as easy as increasing the multiplier. However any doubts about the headroom available were quickly swept away as we saw first 4.7 GHz and finally 4.8 GHz. On air. Even then the temperatures didn't go above 78°C, so with a more exotic cooling solution the 5 GHz barrier should be easily obtainable. With a reduction in the overclock to keep it all under control throughout our gamut of tests we still had it perfectly stable at an incredible 4.3 GHz.
It's all of the power of the 980X, but without quite the ridiculous price-tag. It's still expensive, but it should quickly become available around the £600 mark and for a processor with 6 cores, hyper-threading and that will do 4.3 GHz all day, it's actually exceptional value.
Brilliant. Not only does it deserve the OC3D Gold award for being so insanely powerful, but we're also going to award it the OC3D Performance award for its fantastic overclocking performance at sensible voltage.
Thanks to Intel for the i7 970. Discuss in our forums.