Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Intel i7-860 Processor best bang for the buck.

I had not planned on buying a new motherboard or processor, but I have been watching the intel i5 and i7 line of processors. I was waiting for prices to come down a bit, after all I didn't need a new motherboard. I was looking for the price performance sweet spot in this series. I didn't write down the prices prior to purchasing the processor but I did have an idea. A primary difference between the i5 and i7 series is hyper-thread capability, the i5 doesn't. The prices and some specs as of this blog are:

            i5-750        i7-860        i7-870        i7-920

Price    $199.99        $289.99        $549.99        

Price    $199.99        $289.99        $549.99        $279.99

Base CPU Frequency    2.66 ghz    2.80 ghz    2.93 ghz    2.66 ghz

Turbo CPU Frequency    3.20 ghz    3.46 ghz    3.60 ghz    2.93 ghz

Internal Bus Speed    2.5 GT/s    2.5 GT/s    2.5 GT/s    4.8 GT/s (QPI bus)

Concepts new to the i5 and i7 series is the Turbo CPU Frequency. Intel lets the processor control it's Frequency based on temperature. As a result, the i- series almost never run at the base frequency. My observations on the i7-860 for instance show it running from a low of 1.3 ghz when idle (no load) to 3.46 ghz under full load and cool. When the cooling was not sufficient the hyper-threading stopped and the core speed was reduced to 3.2 ghz.

The days of selecting a processor based on some frequency setting are officially over. Intel has made it rather difficult selecting a processor due to such a wide and somewhat complex variety options. There are other i-series processors Intel is offering but they are much more expensive so they were not on my radar. I read a review from PC Perspective on the i7-860 which was favorable and made me more aware of some of the options not mentioned in the specifications. This forced me to look into the specifications with a new perspective. I was beginning to think the i7-920 was the better option because of the internal bus speed, but the turbo frequency limited it. All of that changed when Fry's came out with one of their weekend sales and the i7-860 sold for $199.99, it was bundled with an ASUS P7P55D Deluxe motherboard. None of the mother boards I have would work with the i7-860, so I needed a new one anyway, and I like ASUS, so the bundle worked for me. The bundle price was $399 which cut $120 off fry's normal price at the time.

My experience with this processor has been very good. It's temperature control pushed me into upgrading the CPU cooling, (see my blog in the Corsair H-50) I have installed a CPU usage Gadget and find it interesting to see 8cpu's working. If you do some CPU intensive processing like video editing, conversion, or graphics, may be even a Server then this chip would work well for you. If I could get the i7-920 for the same price, I would still select the i7-860, I just like it's turbo speed, and the turbo works, that is just cool.

Corsair H50 the best High Performance CPU Cooler

I was in need of a better CPU cooler. I was doing some video processing and conversion which was very CPU intensive and it was maxing out my CPU. The system is an ASUS P7P55D Deluxe Motherboard with 4 gig of memory and an Intel i7-860 CPU (see my blog on this CPU) rated at 2.8 ghz. (see my blog about this) This particular CPU has 4 cores and is hyper-thread capable. I installed the Intel CPU cooler, a rather small fin air cooler. Primarily I wanted to see how this would work out of the box. I had read a review on the 17-860 at which reported that this chip never ran at it's rated clock speed and was temperature driven. They reported that when 1 or 2 cores were in use they observed the chip speed bumping up to 3.1ghz. This fascinated me and I wanted to see this for myself as I had never seen a CPU actively control it's speed like that. The ASUS P7P55D user guide supports IntelSpeedStep and Intel TurboMode Tech, both enabled by default. So this should be interesting.

I am using a program called TMPGEnc 4.0 Xpress Multi format Video Encoding Software, and converting 1080p mpeg 4 video to 720p mpeg 4. You can get more information at: Pegasys web site . I used an ASUS system monitor utility that came with the motherboard to monitor CPU speed and temp. When I started the encoding the CPU temp immediately went to 208 degrees F. (98C) and stopped. The fan speed maxed out at about 2600rpm. When I looked at CPU performance it was still over clocked a bit at 3.2ghz and they were all running at 100% but there was NO activity in the hyper-thread mode. I found out later that this was a CPU imposed restriction as a result of temperature. TMPGEnc Xpress was reporting the duration of the encoding would be about 41 hours. This was going to take a bit, but I didn't want to temp stress the CPU that long so I aborted the encoding and started looking for a better CPU cooler.

I was just looking for something a little bit better until I ran across the user comments on about this innovative water cooled factory sealed CPU cooler, the Corsair H50 hydro series. More details at: Corsair H50 . Should you decide to purchase this cooler follow the instructions and the video on the corsair H50 web site was also helpful.

The improvement in performance was dramatic. This same project when run again dropped the CPU temperature a full 50 F to about 155 degrees F (68C) and all four Hyper-Thread processors were running. The time to complete the project dropped from 41 hours to 33 hours, a 25% improvement. If you are looking at an Intel i-series processor and you and going to use a CPU intensive task then this cooler is the one to get. It cools better than any air cooled / heat pipe system and is cheaper and more reliable than a whole system liquid cooled setup.