Intel Core i7-980X Extreme Edition Performance Preview: 6-Core Processing Arrives
The state of multi-threaded games
It's been over three years since Intel ushered in the quad-core era of computing with their introduction of the Core 2 Extreme QX6700 in November 2006. Back then we couldn't find a single game capable of taking advantage of the CPU's four processing cores; at best games of that era were only dual-threaded, leaving half of the QX6700's cores idling away unused. Unless you were into 3D rendering, or a mega-tasker running multiple apps in the background while gaming, the CPU just wasn't a feasible option for most users, especially given its $999 price tag.
Today however the software landscape has changed drastically.
Capcom's MT Framework engine is easily our favorite example of a game application that's been coded to run multiple threads simultaneously. The MT Framework engine was first used in Lost Planet, and now can be found in games like Devil May Cry 4 and Resident Evil. Now Capcom is putting the finishing touches on MT Framework 2.0, which will be showcased in Lost Planet 2 later this year. All of these games scale well with CPUs that contain multiple cores.
Many RTS games are also multi-threaded. Relic's Essence 2.0 engine used in Dawn of War II is one example, and Gas Powered Games Supreme Commander is another. World In Conflict is another popular RTS from a few years back that's designed for multiple cores.
And just last week Terminal Reality announced that their Infernal Engine has been updated to support the Core i7-980X. The Infernal engine was used in Ghostbusters last year.
Gulftown die shot
Unfortunately, first-person shooters aren't quite as far along on the multi-threaded track. While Crysis was coded with multiple threads in mind, the game just doesn't seem to take advantage of quad-core CPUs. We'll see if Crysis 2 changes things when it ships later this year. Epic's Unreal Engine 3 is also supposed to be multithreaded, but we can't think of a single game out there that uses the UE3 engine that's scaled well beyond two cores.
UE3 is a big deal because it's the game engine that's used in most first-person shooters, and based on comments from Epic's Mark Rein
, "Unreal Engine 4 is designed for the day we get massively multi-core processors", and UE4 is "still a long ways off", so clearly UE3 isn't going away any time soon.
Intel provides the following list of games that are coded for multi-core (note: the list is not meant to be 100% comprehensive):
|Games that utilize 4 or More CPU Threads|
|Capcom Lost Planet Colonies|
|Capcom Resident Evil 5|
|CJ Internet Prius Online|
|Codemasters GRID (with patch)|
|Codemasters Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising|
|Crytek Crysis Warhead (WinXP only)|
|EA Need for Speed: SHIFT|
|Havok SDK v5.5 (Tool/Middleware)|
|Illuminate Labs Beast 5 (Tool/Middleware)|
|Kingsoft Mission Against Terror|
|Kingsoft JX Online III|
|NCSoft Lineage II|
|Neowiz Alliance of Valient Arms|
|Sega Football Manager 2009|
|Sega Football Manager 2010|
|Sega Empire: Total War (with patch)|
|Simul Software Simul Weather (Middleware)|
|THQ Relic Company of Heroes|
|Trinigy Vision Engine v7 (Middleware)|
|Ubisoft Assassin\\'s Creed|
|Ubisoft Far Cry 2 (with patch)|
|Ubisoft World In Conflict: Soviet Assault|
In addition to the games listed above, Intel says over three dozen apps have been released with multi-core support including Adobe Photoshop/Premiere, 3D Studio Max/Maya, Cyberlink Power Director/Power Producer, Windows Live Movie Maker, Excel, WinRAR, and Sonic Roxio Creator.
Fortunately, unlike the QX6700, even if your favorite game or app doesn't take advantage of multi-core, the Core i7-980X can deliver tangible performance improvements with software that isn't multi-threaded. This is due in part thanks to its Turbo Mode feature, but more importantly, its larger L3 cache. 12MB. The QX6700 merely grafted two Core 2 Duo E6700 chips onto one package, so if your app wasn't multi-threaded, it performed just like an E6700.