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Intel's new Core i7 Extreme Edition series: Gaming power for those who can afford it

Mark Hachman | Sept. 4, 2013
Surprise! Intel's most powerful CPU isn't based on its new Haswell architecture. Meet the Ivy Bridge-E series.

Overclocking: the need for (even more) speed
Here's another angle to consider: improved overclocking. You can push the cores on these unlocked processors to a CPU/bus ratio of 63, versus 57 for prior chips. Assuming a 100MHz bus, that means the CPU should overclock up to 6.3GHz—though temperature, voltage, and speed-path hurdles must be surmounted along the way, an Intel spokesperson said. (Each of the chips has Intel's Turbo Mode, which can automatically overclock a single core while running a single-threaded application, built in.)

Intel has also included a new feature: real-time core overclocking and turbo voltage control. "The previous generation Extreme Edition parts (Sandy Bridge-E) required that any change to individual per active core states, power limits or additional turbo voltage via CPU register controls required a reset to take effect," Intel's spokesperson explained in an email. "The new Intel Core i7 processors (Ivy Bridge-E) provide a new dimension of flexibility in that all three of these items can be controlled at the OS level without resetting the system. Therefore if an end user wants to easily toggle through overclocking states without ever leaving their application or work, it is achievable (using a tool like XTU or other ODM applications), where it was not as readily achievable in the previous generation."

Intel's Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) has been upgraded to version 4.2, integrating support and adding an AppTune beta for application-specific tuning.

One take: Ivy Bridge-E offers a small improvement
So is it worth it? Kelt Reeves, chief executive of boutique builder Falcon Northwest, weighed in.

"It's a really nice step for the 6-core audience, with its lower power consumption and faster clock-per-clock performance," Reeves said via email. "I don't think it'll blow the press away though, as the chipset remains unchanged, and the top overclock speeds are a bit lower than last gen. So the net result at the benchmark drag-races in the press are scores that are pretty similar to the last generation—not an exciting story. But for the normal professional buyer that buys their 6-core systems at standard speeds, [Ivy Bridge-E] is a win for them."

Enthusiasts won't need to buy a top-of-the-line i7-4960X to realize a healthy performance boost over Intel's best Haswell processor. The "low-end," $310 Core i7-4820K runs at a higher clock speed, has more onboard cache, and supports more memory channels—and faster memory—than a $350 Core i7-4770K (but it also requires a video card, since the Ivy Bridge-E series doesn't have an integrated GPU).

Naysayers might turn up their nose at "just" six cores, and figure that the Ivy Bridge-E generation will close out the LGA 2011 infrastructure, forcing gamers to buy another motherboard—plus memory and a CPU—for next year's revision. That could represent an investment of at least $1200 or so.


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