Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition review: Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition

Multigraphics agnostic
Another significant change with the Core i7/X58 landscape had to do with graphics cards. Intel's Skulltrail platform of last year supported both standards as well, but the specialized CPUs that made the board worthwhile were prohibitively expensive. With the X58 chipset, yes, it comes on an expensive motherboard, but you can purchase a Core i7 chip to go with it for less than $300. The Core 2 Extreme QX9775 Skulltrail CPU started at $1,500. Gamers who stay current with graphics cards should be especially happy with this flexibility, as changing 3D card vendors will no longer require a wholesale system rebuild.

We tested both SLI and Crossfire setups on our Core i7 test bed and found both worked without trouble, requiring nothing more than installing the hardware and appropriate graphics-driver software as you would normally. As for their performance, AMD has issued a series of so-called "hot-fix" drivers to improve compatibility and frame rates of its cards with various PC games, which suggests that its software still needs to work out a few kinks on X58. Nvidia has not been shy to point out this fact (its beta drivers have worked fine), but we also find it telling that all three of the high-priced Core i7 gaming desktops we're currently reviewing come with multicard AMD configurations.

A quicker path
Finally, the last major change with Core i7 is the introduction of what Intel's calling the QuickPath Interconnect (QPI). Essentially this is the Intel version of AMD's HyperTransport interface between the CPU and the chipset. The major impact of the QPI for consumers is that Intel uses different QPI ratings to distinguish the Core i7-965 Extreme Edition from the non-Extreme Core i7 chips. Rated by Gigatransfers per second (Gigatransfers, or GT, refers to a million transfers of data), the Extreme Edition comes in at 6.4GT/sec, where the non-Extreme versions handle only 4.8GT/sec. In addition to that speed advantage, Intel also ships the Extreme version with an unlocked clock multiplier, which means it can be overclocked. The standard Core i7's will have to remain at their shipping speeds.

  Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
Est. cost $999 $999
Manufacturing process 45 nanometer 45 nanometer
Transistors 731 million 820 million
Clock speed 3.2GHz 3.0Ghz
L2 Cache 256kb/core 2 x 6MB
L3 cache 8MB 2MB
Front side bus NA 1,333MHz
TDP 130 watts 130 watts

To put the Core i7-965 Extreme Edition in perspective, we compared it with the year-old

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
117 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
74 

CineBench 10
(Longer bars indicate faster performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
19,434 
4,443 
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
13,192 
3,707 

CPU-limited Far Cry 2
(1,024 x 768, low-quality, no AA/AF)
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
176 

Power consumption (in watts)
(Shorter bars indicate faster performance)
Load  
Idle  
Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition
328 
201 

The Core i7 chip is faster than the QX9650 on every test, but we were most impressed by the CineBench multicore test and the Far Cry 2 benchmark, where Intel's new CPU established a sizable performance advantage. Gamers and digital-media editors may likely have assumed that Core i7 is worth their attention. As we can see from our testing, any such assumption is clearly justified.

We should add that the Core 2 Extreme QX9650 was actually surpassed earlier by the Core 2 Extreme QX9770, a $1,500 CPU that uses Intel's X48 chipset. Time constraints prevented us from testing that CPU as well, but based on early results from PC World Greece (via Engadget), it appears that Core i7 trounces that chip as well. We expect the Web will flood with reviews of the entire Core i7 family at the same time that this review launches. We encourage anyone considering a new CPU purchase to read as much coverage as possible to make the most informed buying decision. Any CPU with a $999 price tag merits careful consideration.

Power consumption
You'll note from our power-consumption tests that the Core i7 consumes almost the exact same amount of energy both at idle and while under load. We didn't expect major gains here, as each chip uses the same 45 nanometer process, runs at a similar clock speed, and with roughly the same number of transistors. Typically Intel gains power efficiency with chips introduced in a "tock" year, which involves a more efficient design of the chips from a "tick" year such as these. The Core i7-965 Extreme may have improved its relative power usage, in that it uses fewer transistors to do more work and at faster clock speeds than the older Core 2 Extreme chips. But anyone building a system with this new processor should expect to need an equivalently beefy power supply, especially if you intend to add multiple graphics cards and hard drives.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:
Intel Core i7-956 Extreme Edition
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit; Intel DX58SO motherboard 4GB Kingston 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 280 graphics card; 74GB Western Digital 10,000 rpm hard drive

Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650
Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit; Asus Maximus Formula Special Edition motherboard; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GTX280; 74GB Western Digital 10,000 rpm hard drive

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Where to Buy See all prices

Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition

Part Number: BX80601965 Released: Nov 2, 2008
Low Price: $1,472.76 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Nov 2, 2008
  • Packaging Type FC-LGA8