The central processing unit (CPU) is the brain that powers all PCs. Intel and AMD form a near-perfect duopoly as far as CPUs for the consumer market are concerned. Based on the x86 architecture and retailing from £30 to £750, Intel currently enjoys an 80 per cent share of chip sales, according to the latest estimates.
Intel's CPU architecture is based around what it calls the 'tick-tock' model, where, broadly speaking, a new chip design is launched in one year and followed by a refinement and die-shrink the following year. The current performance-orientated architecture is known as Nehalem, introduced in November 2008, and debuted as quad-core chips branded Core i7 900-series and, later, the Core i7 800-series.
The premier Core i7 900-series runs from the £210 Core i7 920 through to the £750 Core i7 975 Extreme Edition. Intel is able to charge a sizeable premium for higher-clocked models because rival AMD has no real competing product in that space.
But now there's a new chip that will wrest the title of 'world's fastest desktop x86 CPU' from the 975 EE in no uncertain terms. Ladies and gentlemen, let's welcome the Intel Core i7 980X Extreme Edition - the new six-core, 12-threaded goliath based on the new 32nm Westmere architecture.