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Intel's Core 2 Extreme QX6800 processor

Why simply win when you can dominate?

DO YOU KNOW the one about the rabbi, the chimp, the Catholic priest, and the jar of peanut butter? No? Neither do I, which is a shame, because I could use some filler material right about now. You see, I have to write a review of the Core 2 Extreme QX6800 processor. It's not that this CPU is a boring subject per se; this is, after all, a quad-core monster that runs at 2.93GHz and costs a whopping twelve hundred dollars. It's just that the previous fastest CPU on the planet was its predecessor, the Core 2 Extreme QX6700, and the competition from AMD wasn't really all that close—especially once you figure in things like power consumption, motherboard selection, and overall system costs. Watching the Core 2 Extreme slice through our benchmark suite is much like watching Michael Schumacher's Ferrari start at the pole and lead every lap to the finish in an F1 race. There may be some high-speed twists and turns along the way, but the outcome is never really in doubt.

Now that we've moved from the chimp and the peanut butter to the race car analogy, my work here is almost done. Can I manage to mail in the rest of this one without losing my job? Of course! I'm my own boss. Keep reading if you dare.

The QX6800's pedigree and required reading
The uninitiated should fear not. Through the power of the web, we'll bring you up to speed in a mere paragraph. You see, the Core 2 Extreme QX6800 is basically just a speed bump—a clock frequency increase for an existing product, not a substantially new chip. It's based on the excellent dual-core Intel Core 2 Duo processors, first released last summer. This past fall, Intel upped the ante with a product code-named "Kentsfield" during its development. It packed a pair of Core 2 chips into a single package to yield a total of four cores in a single CPU socket. Kentsfield first came to market as the Core 2 Extreme QX6700, running at 2.66GHz, and impressed the world with its formidable number-crunching prowess. AMD countered with the dual-socket Quad FX platform, but as we noted in our review, Quad FX was saddled to a single (and pricey) motherboard choice, drew tremendous amounts of power at the wall socket, and still couldn't perform entirely on par with the QX6700. Those same problems plague Quad FX today, as we noted when we revisited desktop quad-core solutions recently.

So the Core 2 Extreme QX6800 is positioned nicely to take the overall CPU performance crown from its predecessor and then dance around, holding it in the competition's face and talking trash, just because it can. Beyond that, there's only a little to know about the QX6800. I've already mentioned the price, all written out in words so you could absorb it slowly and avoid psychological shock. Officially, the list price is $1199, though, so I was fudging things a bit. Also, you'll want to note that as an Extreme edition processor, this product has an unlocked upper multiplier, which means it's very easy to overclock. Once you've paid the ransom for their fastest CPU, the folks at Intel see no reason to stand in your way. Unfortunately, the laws of physics tend to think differently on that subject—the real frequency headroom is typically found in lower speed chips.

The Core 2 Extreme QX6800. 'taint much to look at.

If you were looking for things to say about it, you could say that the QX6800 is a milestone of sorts in several ways. This is really the first speed bump we've seen for the Core 2 series since Intel introduced it last July. The dual-core Core 2 Extreme X6800 started life at 2.93GHz, and Intel has elected to add cores rather than ratchet up the clock speed since then. Thanks to that strategy, the QX6800 has caught up with its dual-core siblings in terms of clock frequency. This situation may not last forever, but as of now, even single-threaded games and applications will run as quickly on this top-end CPU as on any other from Intel.

The QX6800 represents progress on the power efficiency and thermal fronts, too. Despite its higher clock speed, it's rated at the same 130W TDP as the QX6700 before it. Intel has no doubt refined its 65nm manufacturing progress since the QX6700's debut, and that allows this speed bump to fit into the same thermal envelope as its predecessor. To be clear, 130W is not a thermal window through which minty-cool breezes waft. You will need a substantial air cooler to keep the QX6800 happy without making too much racket. But a hefty TDP rating doesn't necessarily equate to poor energy efficiency, as our test results will illustrate.