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Intel’s Core 2 Extreme QX9650 was the first CPU to use Intel’s new 45nm fabrication process. Aside from this, and despite the impressive performance, especially if you run applications that take advantage of SSE4, there wasn’t a great deal about the QX9650 to cause much excitement, unless the prospect of 12MB of L2 cache is enough to float your boat.
This was a deliberate policy on Intel’s part, a policy known as tick-tock. In a ‘tick’ year Intel would move on the process technology, in this case the 45nm process, and then in 2008, a ‘tock’ year, the front-side bus would be raised from 1,333MHz to 1,600MHz. Moving one step at a time should keep problems to a minimum and enable Intel to iron out technical issues in an orderly fashion instead of in a terrible rush.
The tick-tock logic makes perfect sense provided Intel has dominance in the processor market and is able to dictate the speed at which it rolls out new technologies and speed bumps. So what were we to make of the arrival of a Core 2 Extreme QX9770?
This is a new quad-core Penryn processor that runs at 3.20GHz on the 1,600MHz front-side bus that we didn’t expect to see until some time in 2008. The clock speed increase compared to QX9650 is a relatively small 200MHz. Pricing is the usual USD $999 per processor for a tray of 1,000 units but no-one will buy a thousand of the things, and that’s assuming that Intel will ever even make one thousand QX9770s.
The timing of the QX9770 is especially odd as Intel doesn’t currently have a chipset that officially supports the 1,600MHz front-side bus as X38 tops out at 1,333MHz and we won’t see the X48 chipset 1,600MHz support until early in 2008. This means that the new CPU relies on the Taiwanese motherboard manufacturers to add BIOS support for the QX9770, which isn’t the sort of thing that we expect from Intel. It rather suggests that AMD’s launch of the quad-core Phenom has caused Intel some concern and in response it has launched this new processor in something of a rush
I’ve got a decent stash of motherboards but the only X38 model I had to hand is an MSI X38 Diamond that doesn’t have BIOS support for the QX9770. Ironically then, Intel couriered aGigabyte GA-X38T-DQ6 to me, a board I reviewed last October.