In January Intel launched its flagship Core i5-5xx and i7-6xx series processors. Based on the new 32nm Nehalem architecture, these chips are Intel’s current state of the art products.
No doubt the Core i7-6xx series will be a popular choice in server systems and with people looking for the very highest performance workstations for video editing software and other specialist applications. The new chips will also prove interesting to people running hypervisors on their desktops for software testing. For example, I was chatting to an IT consultant recently who was eagerly awaiting a new Core i5 laptop so he could begin testing server configurations using VMware Workstation.
The new chips include a new feature called Turbo Boost, which allows the CPU to run faster than its normal clock speed when the operating system asks it to. But there are a few catches to watch out for. For a start, Turbo Boost works only with supported operating systems – Windows Vista or Windows 7 would do the trick, but good old faithful XP would not.
Also, a number of environmental factors could kick in to limit the Turbo Boost feature. For example, the number of active cores, estimated current consumption, estimated power consumption and processor temperature all play a part in determining how much and how long Turbo Boost would be allowed to operate.
It remains to be seen how effective Turbo Boost really will be in home computers. It could turn out to be another saga reminiscent of HyperThreading, which was introduced with great hullaballoo in the Pentium 4 and then Xeon chips, before being withdrawn, perfected and finally relaunched in the Core architecture.
Meanwhile, even Intel’s marketing gurus tacitly admit the Core i7 chips may be just a tiny bit too fabulous for many users. And when it comes to buying desktop PCs for normal office software, you’ll probably find older chips offer much better price/performance.