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Build Your Own Intel Core i7 Machine - A HardwareZone DIY Special
By Kenny Yeo
Category : DIY Guides
Published by Vijay Anand on Sunday, 31st May, 2009

An Overview of the Core i7 Processor & Platform

Let us begin with what's new with the Intel Core i7. Strictly speaking, Core i7 is the name given to the family of Intel's new processors based on their new Nehalem microarchitecture. These new processors are currently manufactured using a 45nm engineering process (32nm is in the works for future generations) and boast a number of improvements over the older Core microarchitecture.

The first thing you'll probably notice is that the Core i7 processors require the newer and larger LGA-1366 socket. The biggest reason for the increase in pin-out count is because the processor now integrates the memory controller within the CPU to reduce latencies and boost performance. This new memory controller is also a tri-channel version, which means support for greater memory bandwidth and capacity over the previous generation. Speaking of memory matters, the new Core i7 will support DDR3 memory only, which unfortunately still commands a premium over DDR2 memory.

Another important change to the new Core i7 processors is the absence of the old front-side bus. In its place is a new interconnect bus dubbed Intel QuickPath Interconnect (QPI), which is somewhat similar to AMD's HyperTransport in that it acts as a direct point-to-point (chip-to-chip) interconnect.

A close up look at the Core i7 die structure with all its various units.

And to get the new processors up and running, Intel has also released an appropriate new X58 chipset which all the major motherboard brands use to build their respective Core i7 compatible motherboard models. The new Core i7 processors are currently only compatible with the new X58 chipset. Also, the X58 chipset supports both CrossFireX and SLI natively - both of which are technologies that allow multiple ATI and NVIDIA graphics cards respectively to boost gaming performance by many folds. This suggests that the Intel X58 chipset based board is truly for the hardcore gaming enthusiasts.

In terms of performance, the new processors are certainly decent high-end offerings, but its effectiveness is heavily dependent on software optimization to take advantage of the quad processing cores and HyperThreading technology built-in. However, there's no doubt that Core i7 system will shine even brighter once software is able take advantage of the Core i7 processor's full abilities. For a more detailed report of features and performance, we would like to direct you to our Core i7 review .

** Updated on 10th June 2009 **

Introducing the Core i7 Processor Models

And with that, let's us take a look at the current line-up of Core i7 processors. There are only a handful of processors now, five to be exact, and all are equipped with four cores and are targeted specifically at the enthusiast crowd. Two of the processors were just recently launched (the Core i7-950 and Core i7-975 Extreme), and both processors are the new flagships for the Core i7 and Core i7 Extreme models respectively. These will replace the Core i7-940 and i7-965 models respectively.

Technical Specifications of Core i7 Processors
core i7
Processor Core i7 Core i7 Extreme
Model No. i7-920 i7-940 i7-950 i7-965 Extreme Edition i7-975 Extreme Edition
Processor Technology 45nm
No. of Transistors 731 million
Die Size 263mm┬▓
Packaging LGA-1366
Processor Frequency 2.66GHz 2.93GHz 3.06GHz 3.20GHz 3.33GHz
No. of Cores 4 cores (8 threads)
QuickPath Interconnect 1 x 4.8 GT/s 1 x 6.4 GT/s
L1 Cache (data + instruction) (32KB + 32KB) x 4
L2 Cache 256KB x 4
L3 Cache 8MB
 Memory Controller Integrated Triple Channel (up to DDR3-1066)
TDP (W) 130
Instruction Set Support MMX, SSE, SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3, SSE4.1, SSE4.2
Execute Disable Bit Yes
Intel EM64T Yes
Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology (EIST) Yes
Virtualization Technology Yes (Enchanced)
Price (at launch) US$284 US$562 US$562 US$999 US$999

Let us now introduce the components we'll be using.

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