Intel is starting the week by officially shipping its first Core i7 processors. The technology is just the seventh major x86 architecture from the company and is designed more explicitly for multi-core processors than the earlier Core 2 architecture. It marks the return of Hyperthreading from the Pentium 4 and allows each core to theoretically run two program threads at once; the overall processor also has the option of a Turbo Mode that can disable as many as three cores and overclock the remaining cores for apps that depend only on one or two threads.
It also represents a significant increase in memory efficiency and raw performance, according to Intel. A conventional front side system bus has been dropped in favor of the QuickPath Interconnect format that establishes a point-to-point link between the processor and peripherals, removing the bottleneck of a single path. The chipmaker has likewise moved the memory controller from a separate chipset to the processor die to reduce lag and has added a third DDR3 memory channel to provide as much as 25.6GB per second of bandwidth across three 1,066MHz RAM sticks.
The optimizations let Intel reduce the total Level 3 cache per chip for its initial lineup, which includes three mainstream desktop quad-core parts. The 2.66GHz Core i7-920, 2.93GHz Core i7-940, and 3.2GHz Core i7-965 Extreme Edition all have 256KB of Level 2 cache per core and 8MB of Level 3 (down from 12MB) to be shared between the four cores. Prices for retail kits are set at about $320, $600 and $1,070 respectively and should be available on Monday.
The new processors use the new LGA 1366 socket and, with the new memory architecture, also need Intel's new X58 mainboard chipset to work; in addition to supporting Core i7's features, boards based on the platform can handle up to 24GB of memory and two full-speed PCI Express X16 video cards in either AMD's CrossFire or NVIDIA's SLI modes. Manufacturers such as ASUS, MSI and Intel itself are shipping boards as of Monday.
Complete systems based on Core i7 will also be available at the same time and should include systems from Dell, its sub-label Alienware, Falcon Northwest and other performance-focused PC builders.
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