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The Core i7-980X Extreme gets a fancy cooler
Gulftown processors will drop into an LGA1366-style socket, like those used on all X58 motherboards, and should generally be compatible with current boards with the help of a BIOS update. Intel's own DX58S0 "Smackover" board can handle a Core i7-980X after a quick BIOS flash, as did the Gigabyte X58A-UD5 in our test system. As is often the case, though, the move to a smaller fab process has prompted some voltage changes, so you'll want to check with your motherboard maker to verify compatibility. Like Bloomfield, the i7-980X supports three channels of DDR3 memory at up to 1066MHz. Oddly, Intel has withheld its official endorsement of higher memory frequencies, although the chip's memory controller will easily run at higher speeds.

Model Cores Threads Base core
clock speed
Peak Turbo
clock speed
L3 cache
TDP Price
Core i5-750 4 4 2.66 GHz 3.20 GHz 8 MB 2 95W $196
Core i7-860 4 8 2.80 GHz 3.46 GHz 8 MB 2 95W $284
Core i7-870 4 8 2.93 GHz 3.60 GHz 8 MB 2 95W $562
Core i7-920 4 8 2.66 GHz 2.93 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $284
Core i7-930 4 8 2.80 GHz 3.06 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $294
Core i7-960 4 8 3.20 GHz 3.46 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $562
Core i7-975 Extreme 4 8 3.33 GHz 3.60 GHz 8 MB 3 130W $999
Core i7-980X Extreme 6 12 3.33 GHz 3.60 GHz 12 MB 3 130W $999

The table above shows Intel's current Core i7 lineup. The Core i7-980X is the first—and so far only—Gulftown-based product to come to market. As an Extreme edition, the 980X has an unlocked multiplier to facilitate overclocking. If you're willing to cough up a grand for its best processor, Intel won't stand in the way of you having a little fun with it. As you can see, the 980X essentially supplants the Core i7-975 Extreme at the same price and frequency, with more cores and cache.

That's about it for the Core i7-980X's competition. We have included the fastest desktop processor from AMD, the Phenom II X4 965, in our testing, of course, but it lists for only $185 and simply can't match the performance of the fastest Intel CPUs. AMD does have a six-core version of its Opteron processor that fared pretty well in our last round of server/workstation CPU tests, but the firm has so far elected not to bring it to the desktop.

Pictured above is the Core i7-980X (trust me, it's under there) installed in our Gigabyte X58A-UD5 mobo, along with Intel's nifty stock cooler for this CPU. That's 12GB of Corsair Dominator DIMMs in the picture, by the way—a new arrival in Damage Labs—although we tested with just three DIMMs and 6GB for the sake of continuity with our existing results.

The new stock cooler will come with retail boxed versions of the Core i7-980X, and thank goodness, it has a screw-based installation mechanism with a retention bracket that goes on the underside of the motherboard. Intel claims the retention mech has been tested with shock forces up to 50 Gs, which should prevent it from breaking off and bouncing around inside the case of a pre-built PC—like the tab-based Intel cooler that I installed in my brother-in-law's PC did, killing a GeForce GTX 260 in the process.

The cooler has both Quiet and Performance modes, which can be set with a switch on the heatsink. We found it to be fairly hushed in quiet mode and pretty darned effective in performance mode, as you'll soon see.

And now, we have an incredibly large set of CPU test results to navigate, comparing the Core i7-980X to everything from a Core i7-870 to a five-year-old Pentium 4. I'm going to keep the commentary to a minimum since we're still fresh off of our last massive CPU roundup, and the only big change here is the addition of the i7-980X. Let's get started.