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Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 review: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650

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The Good Fastest high-end desktop chip on the market; new specialized instructions should further improve performance with supporting software.

The Bad Expensive; new chips coming out from AMD are an unknown factor; more complete Intel architecture redesign only a year away.

The Bottom Line The CPU market is due for a lot of upheaval over the next 12 months, so you might be wise to wait for a clearer picture before plunking down $1,000 or so on Intel's new Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quad-core desktop processor. But if you want to claim ownership of the fastest multicore CPU around today, look no further.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 9

Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650

It's a "tick" year for Intel. If you follow processors, you'll know that means any new Intel chips in 2007 will lay the foundation for major advances to come, but won't introduce any game-changing leaps in performance like those you see in a "tock" year. Intel's new Core 2 Extreme QX9650 quad-core CPU represents that "tick." It's the first of what's sure to be a flood of Intel chips manufactured with a more power-efficient method. The result actually does bring some performance gains over Intel's previous flagship processor, making the very high-end QX9650 the performance CPU of choice when it hits the street on November 12, with an expected price of $999. You would still be reasonable to wait for Intel's 2008 "tock" chips, or even AMD's forthcoming quad-core chips, due out in a few months. But if you need a new PC now for gaming, digital-media creation, or other processor-intensive purposes, this is the CPU we'd choose to anchor that system.

The general implication of a "tick" is that it signals a move to a new manufacturing process. Intel built all of its previous Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, and Core 2 Extreme chips with a 65-nanometer (nm) design, nanometers referring to the size of an individual transistor on each chip. The QX9650 is the first consumer CPU built with a 45nm design, which allows room for more transistors and thus more processing capability than a 65nm chip. The smaller process also means less space between the transistors, so the electrical current that flows between them doesn't need to travel as far, which makes the 45nm chips more power efficient. They also generate less heat, since it doesn't need as much energy to do the same amount of work as a 65nm chip.

With the generally more-efficient design, Intel has made the QX9650 an improved chip over this summer's 65nm Core 2 Extreme QX6850. Here's a rundown of their basic specs:

  Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 Intel Core 2 Extreme QX6850
Clock speed 3.0GHz 3.0GHz
L2 cache 2 x 6MB 2 x 4MB
Front-side bus 1,333MHz 1,333MHz

The more-efficient design of the QX9650 let Intel give its new chip a larger pool of L2 cache to draw from. The cache is basically a way station for data to be processed. The more each chip can bite off at once, the less time it has to spend acquiring the date in the first place. The results are immediate performance gains for the newer CPU across all of CNET Labs benchmark tests.

Multimedia multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In seconds  
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In seconds  
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650

Adobe Photoshop CS3 test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
In seconds  
Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650

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