When Intel pushed the Core i7 out the door it was not to top its rival, AMD, but to top its own Core 2 CPUs. We saw the i7 simply trounce on just about all other single socket systems (and some multi-socket systems as well).
Intel did not sit back and relax, though; they took the C0 stepping and tweaked it to give it an extra edge. Soon everyone was talking about the D0 stepping of the i7; it had better headroom, better thermal tolerance and even seemed slightly faster than the same clocked C0 CPU.
Again Intel did not stop there. Instead they pushed out another flagship CPU. This is the i7 975, a D0 stepping monster that looks like it can take on all comers.
We managed to get our hands on one and take it for a spin against the current champ, the i7 965 C0 stepping CPU. Let's see if it really is worthy of the crown.
A brief mention on what's new
Since the D0 has been out for a little bit now I am not going to bore you with the details here, but will simply say that the i7 975 has a couple of differences.
The first is the increased multiplier. Where the 965 has a multiplier of 24(x133 for a 3.2 GHz clock), the i7 975 gets a bump up to 25 (x133 for a 3.3 GHz clock). The voltage is slightly reduced on the 975 as well.
Test System Setup and 3DMark Vantage
Core i7 Test System
CPU: Intel Core i7 975 XE (D0 Stepping Engineering Sample)
CPU (For Comparison): Intel Core i7 965 XE (C0/C1 Stepping Engineering Sample)
Motherboard: GIGABYTE X58 Extreme Mainboard (BIOS Version F5)
Memory: 6GB Qimonda Aneon DDR3 1600 (CL9) Kingston DDR3 1600 (CL9) for overclocking
Graphics Card(s): 2x Zotac GTX 280 AMP! Edition 1GB GDDR3 GPUs (in SLI)
Storage: LSI MegaRAID w/ 2x Seagate Cheetah 15k RPM 147GB SAS Drives (RAID 0)
Power Supply:Cooler Master UCP 1100
Cooling: Swiftech H20 220 Apex Ultima Kit (with Apogee GTZ for i7)
Case: Cooler Master ATCS 840 Enclosure
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate RC1
For testing we ran a couple of new tests and of course there's also the regular ones you are used to.
For our new tests we brought in two new synthetics and two real-world tests. The new synthetics are HyperPi 0.99b and CINEBENCH R10 x64.
Our two new real-world tests are Lightwave 3D 9.3 x64 and AutoGK for video transcoding. We also changed the in-game tests with frame rates measured by FRAPS at typical gaming resolutions and settings.
Let's now dive in and see what the new i7 can do.
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/3dmarkvantage
Buy It Here
3DMark Vantage is the new industry standard PC gaming performance benchmark from Futuremark, newly designed for Windows Vista and DirectX10. It includes two new graphics tests, two new CPU tests, several new feature tests, and support for the latest hardware.
3DMark Vantage is based on a completely new rendering engine, developed specifically to take full advantage of DirectX10, the new graphics API from Microsoft.
Although gaming has become more and more GPU dependant, we still see the CPU having an impact in the realm of physics (if you do not have NVIDIA card in your system). The CPU also plays a role with AI and positional audio in some cases.
3DMark Vantage tests the CPU for its ability to properly run these types of codes inside the gaming context and here we see that the i7 975 has the upper hand right off the bat. When we overclocked it to 4.183 GHz it simply walks away.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage
Version and / or Patch Used: 110
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage//
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
PCMark Vantage is a series of tests designed to test your system for common computing tasks. Although certainly not the end all of performance testing, it can give you a quick indication of where you might have weak spots.
Our PCMark Vantage scores were interesting; while we see the i7 975 perform well in the 32-bit version, we see it fall behind the 965 in the 64-bit test suite at stock speeds.
Benchmarks - Sisoft Sandra
Version and / or Patch Used: 2009 SP3
Developer Homepage: http://www.sisoftware.co.uk
Product Homepage: http://sisoftware.jaggedonline.com/index.php?location=home&a=TTA&lang=en
Buy It Here
SiSoft Sandra (System ANalyser, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) is a synthetic Windows benchmark that features different tests used to evaluate different PC subsystems.
Sandra measures raw throughput of your CPU. We tested for CPU computational power, multi-media performance and of course multi-core efficiency.
Interesting results again as we see the i7 965 beat out the stock 975 and even manage a tie when the 975 was overclocked almost 1GHz higher.
Benchmarks - CINEBENCH R10 x64
CINEBENCH R10 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: Release 10
Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/
Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net
CINEBENCH is a real-world test suite that assesses your computer's performace capabilities. MAXON CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software, CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.
MAXON CINEBENCH runs several tests on your computer to measure the performance of the main processor and the graphics card under real world circumstances. The benchmark application makes use of up to 16 CPUs or CPU cores and is available for Windows (32-bit and 64-Bit) and Macintosh (PPC and Intel-based).
CINEBENCH is one of our new tests for CPUs and is made by Maxon, the same people behind Cinema 4D. The purpose behind the test is to measure CPU based rendering of an image. To do this it uses a stock image and renders in with one CPU core and then with all cores (if you are using a multi-core CPU).
As you can see from the results above, to put it simply the i7 975 is king of this hill.
Benchmarks - Hyper Pi
Hyper Pi 0.99b
Hyper Pi is a great application that allows you to seamlessly run multiple instances of SuperPi on a multi-core CPU. The application checks for the number of CPU cores and lists them as an option for testing. There are also some quick troubleshooting selections to help if you encounter problems running HyperPi.
For our testing purposes we ran the 32M test on all four physical cores and all four logical cores. This meant that there were eight instances of SuperPi running at once. Since this size test will continually buffer to and from the memory and HDD, it is a great test of stability and CPU to memory performance.
The stock i7 975 wins out here as the overclocked 975 seems to have an issue buffering the data to memory. Due to time constraints we were not able to resolve this before publication, but you can bet we will resolve this and let you know with an update in the near future.
Benchmarks - LightWave 3D 9.3 x64
Now we get to look at some real, every day applications that people use. All of these tests were run as you would if working with the application directly; there are no scripts to execute and the actual applications are used.
LightWave 3D 9.3 x64
Version and / or Patch Used: 9.3 x64
Developer Homepage: http://www.newtek.com
Product Homepage: http://www.newtek.com/lightwave
These days, with the creative process, artists need to move at maximum speed in order to tackle incredible deadlines, demanding work and high expectations. Using LightWave either exclusively or in a pipeline, makes it possible for an individual, a small team or a major facility to see their dreams and ideas come to life with award-winning quality work on time and on budget. Artists all over the world say the speed, flexibility, value and control they gain with LightWave throughout the creative process lets them get it done.
LightWave is a complete modeling, rendering and animation system. Used extensively in broadcast television production, film visual effects, video game development, print graphics and visualization, LightWave is responsible for more artists winning Emmy Awards than any other 3D application.
For testing I ran version 9.3 in discovery mode and rendered frame 32 of the moon base scene (which can be found on the content CD1). Our settings were :-
Resolution - 1080i
Segment Memory - 512MB
AA filter - 7-Pass PLD
Reconstruction Filter - Gaussian Sharp
Threads - 8 (one for each physical and logical core)
Viewer resolution - 640x480
Things are pretty self explanatory here. The i7 975 knocks almost 20 seconds off of the render time while the overclocked 975 gets us close to the two-minute mark.
Benchmarks - AutoGK 2.55
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk
Product Homepage: http://www.autogk.me.uk
AutoGK is a compilation of applications used for transcoding video from one source to another. It is very efficient and is pretty much a click and go solution for transcoding.
For our testing we transcoded a 2 hour DVD to XviD maintaining 100% quality levels.
I think there might be a problem with the i7 975 and multi-media performance. As with HyperPi and with PCMark we see the 965 outperform the 975 in our transcoding testing.
Benchmarks - Crysis Warhead
For our gaming tests I chose Crysis Warhead and Cryostasis. Both are new games and can have a pretty heavy impact on your system. Cryostasis is especially demanding with its fluid physics, although almost all of that is handled by the PhysX processing on the GPUs. I have included the settings screen shots for each game.
Version and / or Patch Used: unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Call me Ishmael
Developer Homepage: http://www.crytek.com
Product Homepage: http://crysiswarhead.ea.com/
Buy It Here
Crysis Warhead updates and refines the gameplay of the original game through a sidestory plot involving Psycho, one of previous protagonist Nomad's allies. The game is a parallel story that follows Sergeant Michael "Psycho" Sykes, a character from the original Crysis, as he faces his own trials and challenges on the other side of the island during the time period of the first game.
It also showcases a new, enhanced and optimized version of CryEngine 2 using full DX10 extensions and is the first game developed by Crytek's Budapest studio.
I chose the "Call me Ishmael" level and ran it through to the end of the level.
Benchmarks - Cryostasis
Version and / or Patch Used: unpatched
Timedemo or Level Used: Beginning through to third spirit journey
Developer Homepage: http://www.action-forms.com
Product Homepage: http://www.cryostasis-game.com
Buy It Here
Cryostasis takes place in 1981 on a nuclear ice breaker called the North Wind, which has become shipwrecked near the North Pole. The main character, Alexander Nesterov is a Russian meteorologist who must investigate what happened onboard the ship.
This game is the first to make use of Nvidia PhysX real-time water physics as displayed in a tech demo of the game engine.
I ran the game from the beginning until you complete your third spirit journey.
As I mentioned earlier, gaming is no longer CPU bound. As you can see from the frame rates there is almost no difference between the two CPUs, even when the 975 is overclocked. That is not to say that future generations of games might not require more CPU power, just that with today's games you are not going to get a big boost between the top-end CPUs.
I was actually quite surprised at the overclock I was able to get stable on the i7 975. I was expecting more with all of the buzz on the internet about 5GHz overclocks on air. But in the end I was only able to get 4.183GHz stable.
I had to change the RAM I was using from the Qimonda to Kingston just to get this OC.
We will be tinkering around with the i7 975 some more and hope to get a better overclock out of it soon.
The i7 975 is a nice CPU and one that will fit nicely at the top of the Intel i7 line-up. The performance in rendering was very impressive and cannot be overlooked, but in the end if you are doing media encoding or are a gamer there is not much to be had with this CPU.
Overclocking was a little bit of a disappointment with all of the hype about people getting 5GHz on air cooling. However, we will be looking further into this issue and we expect that many will hit a similar wall as we did.
If you want the best of the best the i7 975 is the best single socket CPU solution you can get and it will certainly improve any content creation you are considering. But for the majority of us the i7 975 is still a little on the expensive side and the gains might not be worth the extra cost right now.