Reviews of Intel's Core i7 processors can be found all over the web today. Two years ago Intel came out with its first Core 2 processors, these chips gave AMD a very hard time and soon you'll be able to build your own Core i7 system. Lets take a look at a trio of reviews to see how the new Bloomfield chip shapes up.
First up is a review from AnandTech, they say this new chip continues what was started in 2006. In general purpose applications you can expect performance gains of around 5-10 percent over Penryn chips at the same clockspeed but in 3D rendering of video encoding the gains can be as high as 20-40 percent. However, in some applications like iTunes it doesn't offer a performance advantage over its predecessor but the reviewer does note that the gaming performance was better than expected. Here's a snip from the conclusion:
It seems odd debating over the usefulness of a processor that can easily offer a 20 - 40% increase in performance, the issue is that the advantages are very specific in their nature. While Conroe reset the entire board, Nehalem is very targeted in where it improves performance the most. That is one benefit of the tick-tock model however, if Intel was too aggressive (or conservative?) with this design then it only needs to last two years before it's replaced with something else. I am guessing that once Intel moves to 32nm however, L2 cache sizes will increase once more and perhaps bring greater performance to all applications.
Quite possibly the biggest threat to Nehalem is that, even at the low end, $284 is a good amount for a microprocessor these days. You can now purchase AMD's entire product line for less than $180 and the cost of entry to a Q9550 is going to be lower, at least at the start, than a Core i7 product. There's no denying that the Core i7 is the fastest thing to close out 2008, but you may find that it's not the most efficient use of money. The first X58 motherboards aren't going to be cheap and you're stuck using more expensive DDR3 memory. If you're running applications where Nehalem shines (e.g. video encoding, 3D rendering) then the ticket price is likely worth it, if you're not then the ~10% general performance improvement won't make financial sense.
Another good review can be found over at HotHardware, they say the Core i7 is markedly faster than the Core 2 on a clock for clock basis and that the Core i7 Extreme 965 + X58 combo put up the best performance they've seen from a desktop PC platform to date. AMD's fastest quad-core is no match for the Core i7 920 and the reviewer says the higher-clocked 940 and Core i7 Extreme 965 were simply in another league. The new Nehalem chips are very fast and have an excellent power efficiency.
What can we say about the Core i7 and X58 Express that the benchmarks haven't already told us? Looking back through the results, it is obvious Intel has raised the desktop CPU performance bar yet again and in a big way. The Core i7 920, 940 and Core i7 Extreme 965 put up some of the best benchmark scores we have seen to date. In a few instances, the Core 2 Extreme is able to come close clock-for-clock, but overall there is no denying the Core i7 represents a significant step up in performance. Even at this early stage, we were also impressed by the X58 Express chipset-based motherboards we tested. Throughout our entire battery of tests, which took place over the better part of week, we did not experience any instability whatsoever and everything we connected to the boards "just worked". We also had a good experience overclocking with the Core i7, which bodes well for the enthusiasts and modders out there contemplating a purchase of on of these new processors.
Last but not least, there's also an indepth review of the Core i7 over at TechReport. Just like the other sites, The Tech Report writes the Core i7 delivers progress on all fronts and wonders whether Intel has now built an insurmountable lead over AMD.
Even so, one has to appreciate what Intel has accomplished here. The Core i7 is another solid step beyond its last two product generations, the 45nm and 65nm versions of Core 2. As our power testing showed, the larger Core i7's power draw at idle is similar to a quad-core Penryn's. Although its peak power draw is higher, the Core i7 can use less energy to complete a given task, as it did in our Cinebench rendering example. And the new system architecture established by the Core i7 will likely be the basis for Intel systems for the next five years, at least. On all fronts, progress.
One question that remains: Has Intel now built an insurmountable lead over AMD? Almost seems like it. But one never knows. AMD's 45nm quad cores are coming soon. Perhaps they'll have a few surprises in store for us.