For those willing to spend $999 USD on a new processor, Intel has a new Core i7 part out that is stunningly fast. The Core i7 990X is the $999 successor to the previously reviewed Core i7 970 that ups the core frequency to 3.46GHz and provides a 3.73GHz Turbo Boost frequency. This six-core CPU with Hyper Threading works wonderful with Linux.
The Core i7 990X is not based upon Intel's new "Sandy Bridge" microarchitecture but rather is still Gulftown-based. Intel is expected to roll out their six-core Sandy Bridge CPUs to replace the Core i7 990X later in the year. With this still being a Gulftown CPU, the i7 990X is not too different from the i7 970. The Core i7 970 had a 3.2GHz base frequency and 3.46GHz Turbo Boost while the Core i7 990X ramps that up to a 3.46GHz core frequency and 3.73GHz Turbo Boost. The QPI link also goes from 4.8GT/s to 6.4GT/s. Besides that the Core i7 990X is quite similar with its six physical cores plus Hyper Threading, 256KB of L2 cache per core, 12M of L3 / Intel Smart Cache, 32nm manufacturing process, SSE4.1/SSE4.2 and AES support, and a 130 Watt TDP.
Jumping in between the Core i7 970 and Core i7 990X is also the Core i7 980X that has a 3.33GHz base clock and 3.60GHz Turbo Boost while the rest of the specs is similar to its Gulftown siblings.
The benefit at least of not moving to a six-core Sandy Bridge Extreme CPU right away is that no motherboard upgrade is required. The Intel Core i7 990X is for Intel X58 motherboards and not the new Intel 6-Series chipsets. Fortunately, as nearly all Intel X58 motherboards are well supported under Linux, this means the Linux experience is rather pleasurable. Simply popping in any of the Gulftown CPUs into an Intel X58 motherboard should work just fine on a modern Linux distribution.
The Core i7 990X Linux testing at Phoronix was done on an ASRock X58 SuperComputer motherboard with 3GB of DDR3 system memory, 320GB Seagate SATA HDD, and NVIDIA GeForce 9800GTX graphics card. The operating system was Ubuntu 10.10 x86_64 with a stock configuration except for upgrading to the Linux 2.6.38 vanilla kernel. In the same configuration, the Intel Core i7 920 and Core i7 970 were also re-benchmarked.
For comparison there is also benchmarks of the two Sandy Bridge processors we have our hands on: the Core i3 2100 and Core i5 2500K. These Sandy Bridge CPUs were running on a Sapphire Pure Black P67 Hydra motherboard.
For those interested in the /proc/cpuinfo output for the Intel Core i7 990X, its output can be found on the OpenBenchmarking.org log page.
Executed via the Phoronix Test Suite were x264, LAME MP3 encoding, 7-Zip compression, Parallel BZIP2 compression, Bullet Physics, C-Ray, Smallpt, HMMer, NAS Parallel Benchmarks, OpenSSL, GraphicsMagick, TTSIOD Renderer, and timed Linux kernel compilation.