Unless you have been living under a rock for the last year, one of the buzz words in the industry right now is Nehalem ... this is the exciting new platform that Intel are due to release very shortly.
We have been beavering away behind the scenes for our review due for publication very shortly, however in the interim Intel suggested that we open up a Q&A session and the end result is that some of our public had direct access to the boffins at Intel HQ. Think of this as a taster of what is to come from Driver Heaven next week....
At what stage in Core 2's development did work on i7 begin? - Derek, USA
Our tick-tock model means we will come out with a revolutionary product (i.e. Conroe) followed by an evolutionary product on a new manufacturing technology (i.e. Penryn). We actually started work on Nehalem in 2003 which means work began on Nehalem before the Penryn design team started their project.
It is widely believed that the Core2 range is the dominant brand in the CPU market, at every price point it seems to be more desirable than your competitors products. What was the reason for releasing I7 now when Core 2 is doing so well instead of expanding your existing range?- Steve, Bahamas
Intel first publicly announced its 'tick-tock' strategy in September 2006. This, essentially, was a roadmap of our products detailing how we intended to leverage our manufacturing and design leadership by shipping new steps of product every year. The 'ticks' would be the products based on a new manufacturing process (currently Intels 45nm hi-k metal gate process), and therefore more evolutionary in nature, and the 'tock' products would be new, grounds up designs that would take the architectures further, and therefore revolutionary. Nehalem is one of the 'tock' products and we are delivering it as planned. If you think more in terms of Core (Core microarchitecture, Core Duo, etc.) then Core i7 is simply a new part of that. We hope that it continues to be the leading brand and product.
Will users who wish to stay on Socket 775 processors still see some new CPUs released or is the roadmap looking like Socket 1366 will see all of the new releases from here on in? - Lui, Taipei
Even though Intel brings new products to market we offered (and keep doing so) products for existing platforms if we saw customer demand. Theres no change to that practise this time.
Can you let us know the preferred memory configuration for i7?. Should we be opting for more sticks of a smaller volume e.g. 6x1gb or fewer sticks with higher volume such as 3x2gb? - Alan, Birmingham
The answer to this really depends on your configuration and for what workloads you want to build your PC. There are three channels of memory for Intel Core i7 and obviously it is important to make sure that all three of these are populated, so that you are deploying maximum bandwidth. For 32-bit OS configs then 3x1GB modules should be fine, but if youre moving into 64-bit then 6GB, 9GB or even 12GB is a possibility. That really is dependent on what workloads you run.
There was a period recently where some pictures of the Asus P6T causes widespread "panic" from enthusiasts as a warning sticker showed that memory running at more than 1.65v could damage i7 CPUs. Can you explain to us exactly why this is and what, if anything, they should be concerned about. - Joe, Scotland
I would argue that there is nothing to be concerned about. There are always specified limits above which a manufacturer will not warrant any product and that is just one of those limits. It is always advisable to buy products within certain specifications in order to make sure that you have a decent base from which to start. It is important to remember that the JEDEC spec for DDR3 is 1.5v. The voltage number of which you speak refers to voltage running to the memory controller, and it is possible to run memory modules that are running above 1.65v as long as the voltage of the memory controller on the processor is not pushed up above 1.65v. This may all sound very discouraging, but we think that enthusiasts who wish to push their systems will be pretty pleased with the overclocking features available on the Core i7 platform and the DX58SO in particular. At the time of writing, a new BIOS has been issued for the DX58SO which should benefit overclockers in particular. At the end of the day though, the risks in overclocking are the same as they have always been.
It seems there is a heavy focus on energy efficiency nowadays, as the i7 platform matures how well do you expect it to compare to Core 2 in this area? - Stefan, Holland
There is a focus on energy efficiency these days, and the new Core i7 CPU is no different. It has new features that bring new levels of performance while also keeping a watchful eye on power consumption. The design approach taken was to look at all ideas for improving performance, but only use those which did not come with a power penalty. As a result, the average power numbers for Core i7 should compare very well with the current generation of 45nm Intel CPUs.
Is there a minimum level of PSU that Intel recommend for use with the I7 CPUs which will be launched initially? - Brian, London
Given that the PSU feeds the entire PC, it really does depend on the configuration of your system. You need to take a look at all the components and make a decision based on that. As always, the better quality unit used, the more satisfied you are likely to be.
How closely have Intel worked with AMD and Nvidia on Nehalem? - Bob, Paris
Nehalem is the architecture of the CPU and in that respect there will have been no cooperation. At the platform level however, it is important to make sure that technologies such as Crossfire and SLi work well on Nehalem-based systems. To that extent there will have been rigorous testing to make sure that the user gets as good an experience as possible when using such technologies.
Have Intel any recommendations for a gaming configuration with a Nehalem processor, meaning AMD or Nvidia hardware? - Mark, Toronto
This is where sites such as Driver Heaven come into their own. Im sure their testing will be extensive and help you out with this one. We'll hand that over to Stuart and Allan!
Are Intel bringing out any dual CPU Nehalem systems like Skulltrail? - Eric, Sweden
This is currently being looked at internally, but we dont comment on unannounced products.
How far do you think Nehalem will scale in regards to mhz performance? - Luke, California
This is very hard to predict. In general though we think that MHz is still one of the important metrics to measure CPU performance, nevertheless there are other features which are equally important (e.g. number of cores, cache size, additional technologies such as Hyper-Threading Technology, etc
For a while now intel boards have supported CrossFire, how easy was it to implement SLI compared to this and is there an Intel recommended solution between the two? - Jon, Canada
From our side it is about making sure that Intel chipsets and motherboards support the PCI Express industry standard and we unfortunately cannot recommend any graphics card vendor over the other. In terms of support is not the case that Intel supports CrossFire over SLI. PCI Express allows both technologies to run on Intel platforms and it is up to those graphics card manufacturers to provide the drivers to run on Intel platforms.
Are we likely to see any chipsets for i7 with onboard graphics in the near future? - Gillian, USA
We have made public announcements that with the Nehalem family of CPUs there will be integrated GFX ... but on the CPU and not on the chipset.
On a clock per clock ratio, how much more efficient are the cores compared to Core 2 ? - Dill, USA
Because the Intel Core i7 processor is a 'Tock' in our Tick-Tock model it is a revolutionary design and does indeed have compute core with many new features and improvements that increase the IPC (instructions per clock) ratio. These are new SSE4.2 instructions, Hyper-Threading Technology, faster Virtualization and a better branch prediction to mention just some of them. How this will compare to Core 2 Duo/Quad will be heavily dependent on the software one uses to compare. We recommend looking at the various benchmark reviews.
What will be the maximum rated core voltage Intel recommend on Nehalem for hardcore overclockers? - Fred, UK
We recommend nothing other than running at all the specified parameters as published in the CPU datasheet. As hardcore overclockers go in search of the extra performance they seek, there are a number of options available to them and as always you'll need to maintain a balance between multiple factors, but I think you'll enjoy that particular challenge!
Special thanks to Intel for their time, and be sure to check out our DH review next week !!