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Reviewed by: Carl Nelson [11.02.08]
Manufactured by: Intel


Platform Price

Okay, so Core i7 is faster than Core 2 Quad in every way imaginable. At the very least, a $300 Core i7 is as fast as a $300 Core 2 Quad. At best (which is more often than not), that same $300 Core i7 is faster than a $550 Core 2 Quad as well as a $1500 Core 2 Extreme.

Case closed, right? Start counting the days until Core i7 hits the stores (later this month).

Wrong. Well, maybe. With a new architecture, you're going to have to invest in a new platform; you can't simply buy a CPU, and replace what you're using now. Hell, you probably can't even reuse the memory from your current system.

So let's build a couple systems, based on the pricing that is available to us.

CPU i7 965 EE i7 940 i7 920 C2E 9770 C2D 9650 C2D 9550
CPU Cost $999* $562* $284* $1499 ($1399) $549 ($530) $319 ($316)
Motherboard Cost $250** $250** $250** $240 $110 $110
Memory Cost $129 $129 $129 $60 $60 $60
TOTAL COST $1378 $941 $663 $1799 $719 $489

There are a few things I need to mention for the above chart. First of all, we only have Core i7 prices in 1000-unit quantities. However, for reference I have included the current 1000-unit prices for the Penryn chips that are being compared. As you can see, retail prices aren't very high at all compared to typical wholesale costs. Of course, brand new processors are going to be a hot commodity, and it really depends on how much volume Intel can deliver. I am betting that these chips will be pretty easy to come by, judging by Intel's eagerness to get the word out there (this review date was actually pulled back from the original date of mid-November.

Also, we don't know how much X58 motherboards are going to cost. However, it looks like the chipset costs about the same as X48 in 1000-unit quantities, so unless motherboard makers decide to gouge the public, X58 motherboards should cost roughly the same as X48 motherboards (which is still absurdly high if you ask me).

Finally, the prices used above are considering buying a good low-latency 2x4GB DDR2 kit for the Penryn processors (both G.Skill and PQI offer some nice deals at this point). So while you can find 4GB kits for a bit less, $60 is pretty reasonable. For the DDR3 price, I used a 3x1GB kit to make full use of triple-channel memory provded by Core i7. In this case, it's the Corsair XMS3, available at Newegg for $129.

With that out of the way, we can see that because of overall platform costs, Core i7 is 30-35% more expensive than the Penryn CPUs they are replacing (if you're only looking at sub-$1000 CPU/Mobo/Memory combos). If you're looking at combos that cost over $1000, by all means get Core i7.

Reviewing Nehalem has been pretty fun, I have to admit. A few years ago, Intel set forth a plan to alternate between releasing a brand new CPU microarchitecture, and refreshing it every other year. So far, they have stuck to that plan well, going from Netburst to Core, then refreshing it with Penryn. One year later, and here we are with Nehalem. Next year, we should be talking about the 32nm Westmere.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The design of Nehalem is impressive in itself; Intel has built a clever modular system that allows them to use the same microarchitecture for desktops, as well as servers and mobile, while being able to finally differentiate each platform significantly.

However, you can tell that the focus is on servers, with things being ramped down for desktops and mobile. QPI offers a ridiculous amount of bandwidth, and it just gets better with multi-socket systems. Things ramp up incredibly well with a well-designed execution engine made even better with a cleverly designed cache system and Hyper-Threading.

So while we're not quite witnessing the best Nehalem has to offer on the desktop, it's more than enough to not only win the performance crown, but tip it forward in a cocky manner. At the very least, Core i7 is faster than similarly priced (some prices are estimates) Penryn systems. At best, it just smokes everything in its path.

As far as AMD goes, I almost felt bad when I had to compare their fastest quad-core to some of Intel's slowest. I guess we'll see what they have in store; considering the similarities between Nehalem and Barcelona, AMD obviously knows what they are doing when it comes to designing a microarchitecture. I just wish they would get their act together, and create chips that perform at their best potential.