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.

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