Why Intel's Core i7 is great for games

Tested and benchmarked - but is it that much better than Core 2?

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As part of our thorough testing of Intel's new Core i7 architecture, we've been able to check out just what the top-end Intel Core i7-965 Extreme Edition can do for games. Clocked at 3.2GHz in the factory, this £1,000 quad core part means serious performance. And if there's one thing Intel's Extreme Edition chips do well, it's playing games - especially when you crank it up courtesy of the unlocked multiplier.

While compiling our review we put Core i7, alongside the outgoing Core 2 QX9770 Extreme Edition and AMD's top Phenom chip, through possibly the toughest set of tests we've yet conducted. We also gave specific features such HyperThreading a good seeing to and clocked the twangers off the poor thing in our overclocking tests. Finally, just for good measure, we pitted Core i7 against the monstrous Skulltrail, Intel's exotic dual-CPU platform. You can download all the results as a PDF from our benchmarkathon page.

The key message is that Core i7 has stunning multi-threaded performance, but it's not a massive leap forward for single-thread grunt. In key multi-threaded metrics such as video encoding and professional rendering, Core i7 utterly decimates the opposition. Single-threaded performance remains extremely important and Core i7 is strong here too, if not quite as dominant. However, it is more power-hungry than its predecessor. As for how AMD's Phenom compares, it's an absolute massacre. Intel's finest is now often twice as quick as the best AMD can deliver.

As for individual game benchmarks, the difference between the Core i7-965 Extreme Edition and AMD's top-end Phenom 9950 Black Edition is marked, though the contrast between the Core i7 Extreme Edition and its predecessor, the Core 2 QX9770 Extreme Edition, isn't anywhere near as marked. Here are the figures:

Crysis Warhead
Core i7-965 Extreme Edition: 57fps
Core 2 QX9770 Extreme Edition: 49fps
Phenom 9950 Black Edition: 25fps

Call of Duty 4
Core i7-965 Extreme Edition: 118fps
Core 2 QX9770 Extreme Edition: 108fps
Phenom 9950 Black Edition: 69fps

Lost Planet
Core i7-965 Extreme Edition: 165fps
Core 2 QX9770 Extreme Edition: 105fps
Phenom 9950 Black Edition: 75fps

Half-Life 2
Core i7-965 Extreme Edition: 236fps
Core 2 QX9770 Extreme Edition: 216fps
Phenom 9950 Black Edition: 138fps

And it's not all about performance. Installing games faster also cuts time - though not as much as you'd think due to the bottleneck of the DVD drive. Installing the popular strategy game Company of Heroes: Opposing Front is a 13-minute chore on our average-Joe machine. By contrast, the finest PC technology available to man only cuts that down by around 30 seconds.

There are three Core i7s available at launch. The entry level chip is the 2.66GHz Core i7-920, yours for £200, or perhaps a touch less. Next up is the 2.93GHz 940 processor, likely to sell for £400. Last is the 965 Extreme Edition. It costs a cool £1,000, runs at 3.2GHz and adds a few overclocking-friendly features such as an unlocked multiplier. All three chips have 8MB of L3 cache and support up to 24GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 memory.