The Core i7 980X Extreme is an astounding processor with a number of unique strengths and very few weaknesses. Although we have known all along that the first Core i7 processor to feature six cores would use a 32nm manufacturing process, we still expected it to be larger and more power hungry than existing quad-core Core i7 CPUs.
As it turns out, this is not the case. In spite of featuring more cores and cache the Core i7 980X Extreme is more compact and fuel efficient. With an aggressive 3.33GHz clock speed, the chip flies along no matter if it is running applications that can only utilize one or two cores, especially when Turbo Boost is enabled.
When time comes to work with applications that can utilize all six cores, the 980X Extreme enters a league of its own. These will fall in specialty areas for some time to come, like our tests showed we experienced larger boosts with video editing software or 3D intensive applications. Productivity software like Microsoft Excel also allowed the Core i7 980X Extreme to provide considerable performance gains against its quad-core processors counterparts.
Another big strength of this new six core part is its ability to work on motherboards that are over a year old. In fact, any X58 motherboard currently on the market should be able to accommodate the Core i7 980X Extreme.
Indeed, Intel's enthusiast-oriented platform has retained its original value rather well. The least expensive Core i7 920 (or 930) is still retailing for the same ~$280 price it debuted over a year ago, and you can even overclock this chip to match the next model up. Coupled with a decent sub-$200 X58 board you've got the workings for a seriously powerful system. If your budget permits and you are not comfortable overclocking your hardware, the Core i7 950 or 960 will give you that extra 10-25% of performance out of the box as long as you are willing to pay roughly double the price.
As is the case with all Intel "Extreme" processors, the Core i7 980X has been slapped with an insane $1,000 price tag -- like the Core i7 975 EE and the 965 EE before it. At that price it is hard to recommend the Core i7 980X to anyone but people with deep pockets and a thirst for bragging rights, or those in specific fields like video production, who will benefit the most from the extra horsepower and can justify spending that kind of money on a processor.
Also, although the Core i7 980X Extreme is currently retailing for a premium at around $1,140, it's worth mentioning that unless you already own a Core i7 975 EE it really makes no sense purchasing one now at $1,000. In any case, the good news for those that buy a Core i7 980X Extreme is that it should remain king of the hill for at least another year.
The Core i7 980X is an impressive demonstration of what six-core, 12 thread CPUs have to offer and what can be achieved with the 32nm process. The fact that we were able to overclock this processor well beyond 4.0GHz on air was a real shock. Although it may be some time before these processors filter down to the masses, early next month AMD is expected to release their more affordable six-core Phenom II X6 chips. Watch out for our review.