Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU

Intel is stepping up the game with the release of the Core i7 980X; their 32nm, 6-core, 12-thread productivity monster for the 1366 socket.

Manufacturer: Intel
15 minutes & 12 seconds read time


Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 01

In the current market our CPUs are multi-core. It is almost unheard of to have a CPU with a single core, unless you are buying a netbook or a very low-end system. Starting at the mainstream level the dual core is king. You find them in all shapes and sizes. Moving up, AMD has their tri cores. From there both AMD and Intel have quads and finally Intel has the quad with Hyper Threading; the 8 thread monster called the Core i7.

Well, Intel is looking to add a new level at the very top. This is a 6 core, 12 thread behemoth called Gulftown. Once it hits the retail channels it will be the Core i7-980X. But Gulftown is more than just 6 cores on a CPU die. Intel has moved to 32nm and also stuffed in some new instructions (including AES encryption).

So, let's see what you can expect from this new monster and if it will be worth looking at.

The Box and What's Inside

Package and Contents

Normally with CPUs from both Intel and AMD we do not get the retail packaging. Instead we get the CPU and whatever the stock cooler for the CPU is inside a plain box.

The same thing happened again with the Core i7 980X. This is not a bad thing, though, and I am sure it saves both AMD and Intel money while at the same time does not clog up reviewers work spaces with extra packaging.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 02

However, that having been said, we do know what you will get and what the retail packaging will look like.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 03

One of the new and interesting things that comes with the new CPU is a new Intel designed cooler. This is called the DBX-B and it is a pretty big mass of aluminum and copper. The fan has a switch at the top that offers multiple settings.

Q is for quiet operating and does what it says. P is for performance, but could also stand for loud as it increases the fan noise significantly. We will test out the new DBX-B at a later date to let you know how it stacks up against other 1366 coolers on the market.

What's new in the CPU

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 04

We all know the big thing that the new Gulftown CPU brings to the table. This is the introduction of six cores on the same die combined with Hyper Threading for an impressive 12 threads per cycle from a single CPU. But as they say on the late night TV ads, "But wait, there's more".

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 05

Gulftown also arrives on a new 32nm process. This allows the CPU to increase transistor count while maintaining roughly the same size as a 45nm one. In fact, Gulftown has increased the transistor count by 439 million while reducing the actual size of the die.

Gulftown is 248mm^2 with 1.17 billion transistors, while Bloomfield is 263mm^2 with 731 million transistors. It also allows the new Core i7 980X to use less power and generate a little less heat than other CPUs in the 9xx line-up. But aside from the size and transistor count differences, there are some other new additions to the 980X.

As with the Clarkdale CPU, we see Intel dropping in a new set of AES [Advanced Encryption Standard] instructions. In a fit of non-inspiration, this is called AES-NI. The NI stands for New Instructions. This is a set of 12 new instructions that are executed in the CPU to improve encryption/decryption performance.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 06

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 07

Gulftown also brings about an increase in the Intel Smart cache, as we get a nice jump from 8MB to 12MB to coincide with the number of threads active on the CPU. The rest of the features on Gulftown are what you have come to expect from the new Core iX CPUs such as Turbo Boost, High-K metal gate [no lead in the CPU], Triple Channel memory support for up to 1066MHz and so on.

So, while we do get some great new stuff; we are not seeing an amazing revolution in terms of CPU design. But then again, as Gulftown is the 'Tick' part of Intel's 'Tick-Tock' roadmap, it is not really meant as one. That will be the next in line when Sandy Bridge comes around.


Overclocking the Gulftown was not too difficult; there are a few new things to consider. As you increase the core count you increase the chances of errors between the cores and in cache. This does make it a little bit trickier to get a good 24/7 stable OC.

Thankfully you have more room to play with voltages; even at 1.375 we never peaked over 69c under 100% load (during our HyperPi testing). At the time of this writing we have gotten into Windows at 4.47GHz, but it is far from stable.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 09

4.47GHz, but not stable just yet.

You can see the validation for our stable OC at 4.2GHz here.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 08

Stable OC at 4.2GHz

Of course, if you want to go all out and peg the voltages you can get a lot more than we did with our air cooled rig here.

As all overclocking results are dependent on the hardware you use, your results may vary. Results of our overclocking tests are included in the performance section with the stock scores.

Important Editor Note: Our maximum overclocking result is the best result we managed in our limited time of testing the motherboard. Due to time constraints we weren't able to tweak the motherboard to the absolute maximum and find the highest possible FSB, as this could take days to find properly. We do however spend at least a few hours overclocking every motherboard to try and find the highest possible overclock in that time frame. You may or may not be able to overclock higher if you spend more time tweaking or as new BIOS updates are released. "Burn-in" time might also come into play if you believe in that.

Test System Setup and Comments

Test System

Processor: Intel Core i7 980X
Mainboard Asus P6X58D Premium (Supplied by Asus)
Memory: 4GB Kingston KHX12800D3T1K3/6GX (Supplied by Kingston)
Hard Disk: Kingston SSD Now M (Intel X25-M 80GB SSD) (Supplied by Kingston)
Graphics Card: AMD Radeon HD 5870 (Supplied by AMD)
Graphics Card: Zotac GTX 285 AMP! Edition 1GB (flashed to stock BIOS) (Supplied by Zotac)
Cooling: Cooler Master Hyper 212 (with an extra fan) (Supplied by Cooler Master)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Drivers: Intel INF, ForceWare 196.21 AMD Catalyst 10.2


The new Core i7 980X will slide right into your existing X58 motherboard, usually with no more than a quick BIOS update. So you do not have to go out and dump a bunch of money on another motherboard to get those two extra cores in your system.

With the launch of Gulftown we also saw the introduction of a couple of new benchmarks. Cinebench R11.5 came out and we shifted to using AMD's Radeon HD 5870 to allow us to test DX11 gaming and CPU utilization.

Another shift in our reviews is the move from classic cameras in LightWave 9.6 to perspective cameras. These new cameras are more thread efficient and also allow the use of the ray tracing engine for rendering the scene. We will be using this mode moving forward, especially given that both Intel and AMD will be pushing more and more cores our way in future CPUs.

Overall our testing will remain a good blend of synthetic and real-world applications to give you the best idea of how any product will work once you get it home.

Synthetic Tests - Part I

With any system you will want to see a combination of synthetic testing and real-world. Synthetics give you a static, easily repeatable testing method that can be compared across multiple platforms. For our synthetic tests we use Everest Ultimate, Sisoft Sandra, FutureMark's 3DMark Vantage and PCMark Vantage, Cinebench as well as HyperPi. Each of these covers a different aspect of performance or a different angle of a certain type of performance.

CPU Raw Performance

For CPU Raw Performance we want to look at the theoretical performance numbers. This means how many GigaFlops you can get, how many megapixels etc. We also test for memory bandwidth. As memory controllers are moved onto the CPU and away from the Northbridge we see memory performance increasing, but also becoming much more CPU dependent than mainboard dependent.

To test memory and Raw CPU performance we use a combination of Sisoft Sandra and HyperPi 0.99.

Sisoft Sandra

Version and / or Patch Used: 2010
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
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Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 10

I am sure you can see by the scores above that the Core i7 980X is simply king of the hill here. In all tests (with the exception of memory performance) the Core i7 980X simply stomps on the rest of the pack.

HyperPi 0.99

Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Download It Here

HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.

For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 (four total on the PII x4 955 and Core i5) is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 11

Here things are a little different. Unfortunately as we have noted in the past the more complex the computation the bigger the hit. Trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 Million places twice on the same CPU core is going to slow things down. Just look at the i5 750 times vs. any of the HT enabled Core i7s.

Synthetic Tests - Part II

Overall System performance and Gaming

Here is where we dig out the FutureMark tests.

PCMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used:
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

For overall system performance we use PCMark Vantage. This is run in both x86 and x64 mode to give the best indication of performance.

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For PCMark we see an increase in performance of about 18%. This is an interesting shift and although 18% is not bad, I would have thought the extra four threads combined with the new AES-NI instructions would have shown a better gain here. Still, there is no doubt that even at stock speeds the Core i7 980X is the winner here.

3DMark Vantage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.2
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

For synthetic gaming tests we used the industry standard and overlockers bragging tool 3DMark Vantage. This is a test that strives to mimic the impact modern games have on a system. FutureMark went a long way to change from the early days of graphics driven tests to a broader approach including physics, AI, and more advanced graphics simulations. 3DMark Vantage uses the DX10 API in addition to having support for GPU and CPU based PhysX. However, with our move to using the AMD HD 5870 GPU, PhysX is no longer present in our scores, so the numbers you see here are only the CPU.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 13

Ok, the only thing I can say here is 'Good Lord!' - Remember, these scores are CPU only; you are not seeing NVIDIA's PhysX coming into play here. With the CPU alone we get an almost 33% performance increase over the i7 975 at stock speeds.

Cinebench R10 x64

Version and / or Patch Used: R10
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Download It Here

Cinebench is a synthetic rendering tool developed by Maxon. Maxon is the same company that developed Cinema4D another industry leading 3D Animation application. Cinebench R10 tests your systems ability to render across a single and multiple CPU cores. It also tests your systems ability to process OpenGL information.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 14

This will be the last time we use Maxon's Cinebench R10. As such it is nice to see it go out with a healthy bang. We did see an interesting shift in single core rendering where the 975 did slightly better than the 980X, but in terms of multi-core rendering the 980X walks over all of them.

Cinebench R11.5 x64

Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5 x64
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Download It Here

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 79

Cinebench R11.5 is the newest version of the popular animation benchmark. Maxon has improved the render engine to allow for more efficient threading (sounds like a trend here). They have also included a few extras to make sure they stress all cores in the CPU (up to 64 threads).

The new test gets away from the older Single Core plus Multi-Core testing and just dives into your CPU to push it to its limits. They have also improved the OpenGL testing for the GPU half of the story. Maxon has also included a handy reference to see where your system stands in comparison to others. This is similar to Sisoft's Sandra.

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These are really some impressive numbers here as they fall logically right behind some of the dual CPU systems running 16 threads. In fact, our overclocking tests put us almost directly in line with some of those systems.

Real-World Tests Part I

Real-world testing allows us to see how well a product will perform when used in the same manner as it would be in your house or office. It is an important side to performance testing as it can uncover hidden glitches in the way a product performs.

For real-world testing we use some common applications and functions. We test with LightWave 3D for rendering performance, AutoGK for transcoding from DVD to AVI and two games for gaming testing.


Rendering of 3D Animation is a system intensive endeavor. You need good CPU, memory and HDD speed to get good rendering times. For our testing we use LightWave 3D. This software from Newtek is an industry standard and has several pre-loaded scenes for us to use.

LightWave 3D

Version and / or Patch Used: 9.6
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Buy It Here

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 80

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 16

As we mentioned above, we have changed how we do things with LightWave. I used to be a huge fan of the Classic Camera and its multi-pass rendering. However, after a discussion with a few animators and Newtek I was informed that Classic Cameras are not that great in terms of threading efficiency.

This has prompted TweakTown to move to Newtek's newer perspective camera mode. This can get up to 100% CPU usage and also uses both ray tracing and a newer AA mode that is much more efficient. To give you an idea, we have included times for the old 7-pass PLD rendering using classic cameras and the newer perspective cameras both rendering a 4k (4096 x 3072) frame. The difference, as you can see, is impressive.


Version and / or Patch Used: 2.55
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:
Download It Here

AutoGK stands for Auto Gordian Knot; it is a suite of transcoding tools that are compiled into an easy to install and use utility. It allows you to transcode non-protected DVDs and other media to Xvid or Divx format. For our testing purposes we use a non-DRM restricted movie that is roughly 2 hours in length. This is transcoded to a single Xvid AVI at 100% quality.

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This is another time when I can honestly say Wow! - The transcoding times here are simply astonishing and actually come close to some of the times I have seen for GPU based transcoding.

Real-World Tests Part II

Here we have our real gaming tests. Each of the games we chose use multiple cores and GPUs. They are able to stress the system through use of good AI. Both have decent positional audio that adds impact to the sound subsystem of the board. We ran each game through the level or parts listed and recorded frames per second using FRAPS. This brings the whole game into play.

*** A word on gaming as a CPU test; ***

Gaming is no longer a good indication of true CPU performance. As you push over 1024x768 resolutions you see the GPU take over and dominate the performance scale. This is even evident in 3DMark Vantage testing. The CPU score can be through the roof and still not add more than a handful of points to the overall score.

This does not mean the gaming is not of value for testing. It can show an issue with the CPU and gaming if the CPU is unable to meet the speed expected of a certain GPU. But for the most part you are not going to see great differences in performance between CPUs in high resolution gaming.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (DX9)

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0
Timedemo or Level Used: First combat until the school is cleared
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

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Most of you know about the game Modern Warfare 2; it caused quite a bit of controversy in the latter half of 2009. The game is a first person shooter with a heavy combat emphasis. It follows the events in the first Modern Warfare very closely and brings back several characters from the original.

As with most games in the Call of Duty franchise, it features a heavy AI load. This is not because of a complex AI routine, but more due to the sheer number of enemies in any given combat situation. It is also our single DX9 based game in our testing suite. Settings are shown below.

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Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 82

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 18

As you can imagine, you are not going to have any issues with CPU performance from the Core i7 980X. But then again, this is true of just about any high-end CPU these days.

Far Cry 2 (DX10)

Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: Clearing the Safe house through to the Rescue
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Buy It Here

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 56

Far Cry 2 is a large sandbox style game. There are no levels here so as you move about the island you are on you do not have to wait for the "loading" sign to go away. It is mission driven so each mission is what you would normally think of as the next "level".

In the game you take the role of a mercenary who has been sent to kill the Jackal; unfortunately your malaria kicks in and you end up being found by him. Long story short, you become the errand boy for a local militia leader and run all over the island doing his bidding. The settings we used for testing are shown below.

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 83

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 19

Again, no problems playing Far Cry 2. Of course, I am sure that most of that performance is from the Radeon HD 5870.

Battlefield Bad Company 2 (DX11)

Version and / or Patch Used: V1.00
Timedemo or Level Used: From washing up on the beach to the mine fields.
Developer Homepage:
Product Homepage:

Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 57

Battlefield Bad Company 2 is another sequel and also another game "franchise". Bad Company 2 is also our DX11 shooter game. The game follows a fictitious B company team on a mission to recover a Japanese defector. This puts you back in World War II while the multi-player game is centered on much more modern combat. For our testing we used the single player mode. Settings are shown below.

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Intel Core i7-980X 32nm LGA-1366 Six Core CPU 20

DX11 poses no issues for either the HD 5870 GPU or the Core i7 980X. Frame rates in the 60s should make just about everyone happy.

Gaming Conclusion

Now, I know that this is a limited sampling of games and none of the ones we tested are designed to use more than two to four threads. This means that most of the Core i7 980X is a sleep during these games. Of course, that will not always be the case. Intel (and more than a few game developers) are working hard to come out with games that not only use the latest version of DirectX, but also make use of the growing number of cores and threads available.

Some of the games that can use this are games like the recently released Napoleon Total War and the upcoming game R.U.S.E. These offload physics and AI to the CPU efficiently and allow for better gaming performance across the board. Then there is the Trinigy game engine that also uses the 12 threads that Gulftown has to offer. I know we have all heard this before; but to be realistic game developers have to move in this direction as the single core CPUs and systems die off rapidly. I mean, how many gamers do you know with single core systems?

Final Thoughts

Hmmm, what to say here? I could say that I was a little disappointed that Gulftown/ Core i7 980X did not perform better, or that I expected to see more headroom in overclocking. However, that is not the case. I saw a great performing CPU and there was still plenty of headroom for OC.

It is true that the i7 980X is not going to boost your gaming performance by much (if at all). What the i7 980X will do is increase your ability to get more done. The 12 available threads are going to weigh in heavily as more applications become multi-thread aware. The number of applications in both the professional space and the consumer space is increasing every day. Of course, this is not a CPU for the weak of heart or tight of wallet. It is meant for those that want/need the most power they can get from a single CPU.

As you can see in our render and transcoding testing, the 980X simply cannot be touched by any other single CPU and gives more than one GPU a run for its money. We have comparison of this planned for a later article. For right now the Core i7 980X is simply the fastest single CPU you can buy. Intel has made a smart move here; you get two extra cores, four more threads and four more MB of cache at the same price level the i7 975 was at less than a year ago.

If you are a person that needs the extra headroom or simply want to have the best that is out, then the 980X is the way to go.

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