Retail Core i7-920, i7-940 have unlocked RAM multipliers

In our Core i7 review, we pointed out that the cheaper two i7 models—the 920 and 940—both had lower QuickPath Interface and L3 cache clock speeds than the i7-965. We also said the cheaper CPUs only supported DDR3 memory speeds up to 1066MHz. However, Intel apparently neglected to tell us about a small detail: retail-boxed Core i7-920 and i7-940 processors have no such restrictions on QPI and RAM speeds.

As Maximum PC reports, the two CPUs have the right multipliers for 4.8GT/s QuickPath and 1066MHz DDR3 memory speeds out of the box. However, users are free to pop into the BIOS and raise those multipliers, pushing the QPI speed to 6.4GT/s and the memory to 1600MHz—just like on a Core i7-965.

The interesting thing here is that Core i7 engineering samples did have limitations in place, so testers couldn’t bump RAM or QPI speeds without raising the 133MHz base clock and potentially impacting stability. However, Intel quietly lifted the restriction from retail CPUs because of “requests from some . . . customers.”

We received direct confirmation from Intel about the unlocking business, so that means one thing is certain: higher QPI and RAM speeds are possible no matter which Core i7 you get. And, as we’ve seen ourselves, going from DDR3-1066 to DDR3-1600 on a Core i7 can impact performance in some applications.

Additional performance factors may be at play, too. On the Core i7-965, we found that the speeds of the L3 cache and memory controller (and thus memory) were linked. That means running a low-end Core i7 with 1600MHz RAM might push the L3 cache to 3.2GHz, which could improve performance further. We’ll obviously have to do some additional testing to get to the bottom of this, though. In the meantime, you can peruse our revised Core i7-940 review for the skinny on all that uncore, QuickPath, and memory controller mumbo-jumbo.

Comments closed
    • phejjeff
    • 11 years ago

    For the retail CPUs, you and I are not Intel’s customers. In this case, the customer is Frys or your local mom-and-pop computer store. It doesn’t surprise me that Intel would unlock the QPI and RAM multipliers for retail CPUs. I would heartily expect the OEM CPUs to be locked tight. The key reason that Intel limits multipliers is to prevent CPU overclocking by shady OEMs. Overclocking isn’t bad, but if the CPU is run out of spec, it may fail, which leads to increased increased warranties or worse: bad press for CPU failures.

    The higher cost for the retail CPU will prevent a shady OEM from using these CPUs because it will cut into their costs.

      • Forge
      • 11 years ago

      You also fail. The CPU clock is still locked, it’s the northbridge/memory controller speeds that are unlocked.

      I really doubt shady remarkers would be looking to pimp out some 2GHz uncore overclocking as a sales point.

    • slash3
    • 11 years ago

    More reason to make special mention during reviews that features and performance may vary on the engineering samples that are used for most previews or launch reviews. Disclaimers are often used, but it’s becoming more important that they are made loudly and frequently. 🙂

    • A_Pickle
    • 11 years ago

    That’s… kinda BS, if you ask me. Awfully deceptive…

      • Farting Bob
      • 11 years ago

      What is deceptive? This is just a free bonus to overclockers. I dont see how thats a bad thing.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      You buy something and then discover you got more than you paid for… and that’s deceptive? I guess in the sense what you got was not /[

        • SomeOtherGeek
        • 11 years ago

        It is deception cuz the people that bought the 965 didn’t know that they could get the 700 buck cheaper one to do the same. It is kinda BS. Intel just raked in millions by fooling people that the 965 is only for OC. Sounds like dirty business to me. But I guess that is business.

          • wibeasley
          • 11 years ago

          I don’t think many victims fall in your category of ‘Nehalem consumers being ripped off’. I think those buying a $1,000 chip aren’t worried about getting a good deal. Those who wanted a good bargin were either buying Phenoms, Core 2s or cheaper Nehalems.

          Among those buying Nehalems, if they (1) desire a good performance/price ratio and (2) want faster memory than 1066MHz …they can just change some of the uncore clock speeds. There’s a good chance these same people would have overclocked the core clock speeds too, right? Or am I out of touch with enthusiasts?(which I concede is possible).

          They always have been able to run faster memory speeds, but now it’s a little easier to do.

            • UberGerbil
            • 11 years ago

            There are a few crazed enthusiasts who spend that kind of money, but I believe the majority of customers for the higher-end i7 CPUs are business workstation customers who wouldn’t overclock anyway.

            If anything, Intel’s pricing probably drove more enthusiasts to the 920 where they got more than they thought they were paying for.

          • Dr_b_
          • 11 years ago

          the 965 core multiplier is unlocked, it is not now nor ever has been unlocked in the 920 or 940. You aren’t OC’ing the cores when you run the memory faster.

          saying that people were forced into spending a grand to uh…. what the hell is it you are saying?

    • Kurkotain
    • 11 years ago

    what about the L3 cache speed? still a big performance hit?

    • Convert
    • 11 years ago

    Good news for my 920, now if only I had known this sooner I would have purchased 1600MHz ram…

    • Voldenuit
    • 11 years ago

    Reaction to Phenom X3 unlocking? /conspiracy theorist

      • Farting Bob
      • 11 years ago

      Unlikely since the i7 came out first…

        • _Sigma
        • 11 years ago

        It just adds to the conspiracy

          • lycium
          • 11 years ago

          yes, probably they conspired to make such an obvious target for conspiracy theorists that it would never be taken seriously.

            • eofpi
            • 11 years ago

            The easiest place to hide anything, even a conspiracy, is in plain sight.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 11 years ago

            stop it. you’re encouraging them.

    • moshpit
    • 11 years ago

    I don’t see why this is news. Those of us overclocking i7 920’s have seen this for some time now. QPI multi and mem multi are totally unlocked and can be set to any multi that the board supports.

    Looks like even Intel doesn’t know what is locked and what isn’t locked in their chips. Just more reason to love my 920 :p

      • Ragnar Dan
      • 11 years ago

      But sometimes Intel locks things down after they discover what some have been able to do with their processors. But here, they’re saying a customer asked them to, basically, make it so the cheaper CPU can perform better, undercutting sales of the higher-clocked units.

      • UberGerbil
      • 11 years ago

      I rather suspect Intel knows exactly what’s locked and what’s unlocked, though there may be Intel people (particularly PR types) who don’t. But in this case, it looks like either they changed their policy and decided to make the final versions unlocked, or they had an issue that was showing up in the early samples that they avoided by locking the multipliers (and then they fixed the issue in a respin, allowing them to unlock it).

      But I see no reason not to take their statement at face value: they had some OEMs, or perhaps some of their memory partners (they’re teamed up with Micron), who wanted the option of using higher performance / higher-margin fast memory. In this economy sales are slow so Intel will be more flexible than usual to move chips.

        • moshpit
        • 11 years ago

        I think you misunderstood me. I wasn’t insulting Intel for this, I’m actually quite happy that their right hand doesn’t know what their left hand is going on about. Just more value added to my beloved chip 😉

          • MadManOriginal
          • 11 years ago

          But that’s the thing…it’s not a right hand/left hand thing at all, they did it on purpose and knew about it. Sure they didn’t advertise it and maybe were hoping it would stay a bit more under wraps since most reviews were with locked chips but I think at this time they’ll take any i7 sales they can get and this gives enthusiasts one more reason to get one. The 920 was the best choice (others too expensive) regardless for anyone not making money with their computer.

    • Ragnar Dan
    • 11 years ago

    That’s amazing, especially Intel’s statement on the matter. Quite a bonus feature, and I think we’re going to see a lot of extra sales (among enthusiast types, anyway) because of it.

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