During Computex Taipei 2009, Intel’s Sean Malone took his Keynote Speaker role very seriously: the "Desktop Is Not Dead" statement was supported by a slew of very impactful machines, some of which I’ll elaborate on here in detail.
Core i7 "1105" – 5.07 GHz!
Intel Core i7 975 processor clocked to 5.07 GHz using nothing else but a specially designed air cooler.
This is the fastest ever air cooled processor in the history of the IT industry: If you take the 133 MHz QPI base clock and multiply it 38 times, a nice lucky number in Chinese, you’ll get a whopping 5.07 GHz. Eh, that’s how fast the show demo Acer’s gaming box ran, all air-cooled. Of course, do not expect Intel’s default el cheapo air cooling unit, but rather a very expensive Intel Labs setup by Mr. Francois Piednoel, Intel Performance Guru. Still, even with Intel-assisted air cooling design the sheer speed and reasonable voltage needed [no it wasn’t the 1.07 Volts shown, but more like 1.5 Volts, a recommended OC maximum by the French Wizard himself] was impressive nevertheless.
Intel speed-bins all of the Core i7 Extreme 975s
The key point here was that Intel’s trying to avoid the "handpicking" issue that some of the competition may be using when trying to impress the press or the overclockers. You might have noticed the 1000 CPU units story a while ago, and we can now confirm that the story was true, but we didn’t have access to some key details.
Essentially, every Core i7 975 benchmarking sample is a standard production part – even though marked "ES" – and should be no different from the retail units you buy. So, everyone’s got an almost equal chance at reaching the stratospheric numbers, and that’s without the air-sucking liquid helium danger.
Intel decided that every Core i7 975 is "the best of breed". Since Nehalem is equally built as a Xeon and a Core i7 processor, Intel will "hand-pick" the best chips and slap a copper IHS [Integrated Heat Spreader] with a "Core i7 975" mark on it. All that we can say to Intel is "Good morning, nice to remember to do that now" – after all, if you buy a Core i7 Extreme processor, you are spending $999 on a CPU that should be the best of breed, not getting a $999 dud. Intel got the message loud and clear and from 975 onwards, you should be out of the woods – every 975 is "speed-binned". For starters, Intel prepared over a thousand 975 CPUs for retail and we feel that is an adequate number. Just 1000 units is needed to create a million dollar revenue – and Intel expects to sell more than that.
You can go two ways there – up your i7 975 to high clocks while staying below the 1.5 Vcc, or stay at the standard 3.33 GHz clock with all the Turbo bins enabled and push the voltage down to below 1.1 Volt to reduce power and heat quite a bit – 1.07 Volts is what Francois had running stable, and you could maybe go even lower, the results may vary.
Core i5 bonanza
The Hyatt room 1014 where Francois was, which held more interesting stuff: yes, the plenty of P55 based desktops with wonderful multi-bin Turbo boosts [nearly twice as many bins up as in the Core i7 as of now] as well as one lovely Core i5 Mobile based quad-core FullHD gaming notebook running smoothly with all eight threads, half a year before Intel actually releases these beasts into the wild.
The secret weapon of this affordable successor to Core 2 Quad is exactly the dynamic Turbo boost feature. Intel build an overclocking feature directly into the Nehalem CPU architecture, and the company will exploit the capability to the maximum. If you’re running a single-threaded app, Turbo will boost one core, if you’re running a dual-threaded app, Turbo will boost two cores – the only limit here is the TDP and cooling capabilites. Turbo feature won’t give benchmarkers easy sleep, since apple-to-apple comparisons will be harder than ever.
Intel’s Capella notebook platform will be the home of 45nm quad-core octa-thread Lynnfield processors and 32nm Clarkdales [dual-die CPU: 32nm dual-core quad-thread CPU with 45nm integrated GPU], and that will open a field for nVidia and ATI, who will no longer have to battle the Intel’s GPU inside the chipset [until the Larrabee comes, Ed.]. According to what we saw, nVidia simply dominates the Capella notebook platform, which comes off as a surprise when we compare the performance between ATI and nVidia. It looks like nVidia’s sales team is kicking, and well – does anyone even remember ATI’s XGP?
To sum things up, Intel is ramping up hard with products coming in H2’2009 and beyond. Socket compatibility between 32nm Westmere and the current 45nm Nehalem generation warrants an upgrade path, and seeing that a 45nm CPU can run at 5.07 GHz on nothing else but air conditioned air [room temp was around 23deg Celsius] is just – impressive.