Intel Previews Six-Core Gulftown Desktop Chip At GDC

The 3.33GHz Core i7-980X, formerly codenamed Gulftown, is Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel's first six-core processor for client PCs and will reportedly be priced at $999, the same price tag currently held by the quad-core Core i7-975 Extreme Edition desktop part, which also has a 3.33GHz clock.

The Core i7-980X is expected to be officially released March 16. It's a 130-watt processor with a hefty 12MB of L3 cache, and features the full assortment of Intel's latest technological bells and whistles, including Turbo Boost, Smart Cache, Intel Virtualization Technology and Hyper-Threading -- meaning 12 computing threads, or two per core.

Intel has actually offered six-core Xeon server processors since September 2008, but none feature the chip maker's current-generation Nehalem microarchitecture or its 32-nanometer process technology, also known as Westmere. The Core i7-980X has both, as will a whole new series of six-core Xeons that are also tipped to be released early next week.

Those six-core server and workstation-optimized chips also bear the codename Gulftown, and like the Core i7-980X, mark the next stage of Intel's transition to its 32nm Westmere process node, a "tick" in the chip maker's famous "tick-tock" product roadmap. Intel is also scheduled to release eight-core Xeons in March, but those will be 45nm chips.

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The addition of two more cores and loads more L3 cache, the integration of the memory controller as per the Nehalem architecture, and the process shrink all put the Core i7-980X in pretty rarified territory when it comes to key performance benchmarks, according to Intel.

Pitting the Core i7-980X against the Core i7-975, Intel reported that the new six-core is 34 percent better at video effects than its quad-core predecessor, 37 percent better at 3D rendering, and achieves 49 percent better game physics and AI performance.

The configuration Intel used to compare the two chips featured Gigabyte's GA-X58A-UD7 motherboard -- both the Core i7-980X and the Core i7-975 drop into the same LGA 1366 socket -- as well as ATI Radeon HD 5970 discrete graphics from Advanced Micro Devices on a Sapphire video card.

In addition to the Gigabyte board, platforms supporting the Core i7-980X and Intel's X58 Express chipset that will be available upon release include Intel's own DX58SO board, the P6X58D Premium from Asus, MSI's X58 PRO-E and more motherboards from Foxconn, EVGA and Biostar, according to Intel.

Over the past 16 months, Intel has fully transitioned to the triple-channel DDR3 memory architecture with its Core i7-branded desktop processors. Initially a point of contention for some system builders who reported DIMM kit sourcing issues, DDR3 memory DIMM kits certified for triple-channel mode are now readily available from vendors like Corsair, Kingston Technology, OCZ and Patriot Memory, according to Intel.