Intel's six-core i7-990X is its fastest desktop chip yet

The 3.46GHz Westmere-based processor is designed for gaming PCs

Intel started shipping the six-core Core i7-990X Extreme Edition processor on Monday, calling it the fastest Intel desktop processor ever.

The processor runs at a clock speed of 3.46GHz and has overclocking features that allow users to manually crank up the speed, Intel said. The chip includes 12MB of cache and draws 130 watts of power.

The processor's overclocking features could appeal to hardcore gamers, 3D artists and media enthusiasts, Intel said in a blog entry on Monday.

In addition to manual overclocking, the chip includes a feature called Turbo Boost, which can ratchet up the clock speed to as high as 3.73GHz, depending on the power drawn and the performance demanded by an application.

The Core i7-990X Extreme is Intel's top-of-the-line desktop processor. Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices routinely up the ante in desktop chip performance in order to gain the performance crown.

PC makers announced new gaming systems to coincide with Intel's chip announcement. CyberPower announced the Black Mamba gaming desktop that runs on the Core i7-990X. The US$4,465 system includes 12GB of DDR3 RAM, two Nvidia GeForce GTX 580 graphics processing units, a 64GB SSD and a 2TB hard drive. It runs the Windows 7 OS.

The chip is based on the old Westmere architecture and is not affected by Intel's recent announcement of a chipset flaw. The chipset issue is related only to chips based on Intel's latest microarchitecture, called Sandy Bridge.

Pricing for the Core i7-990X was not immediately available.

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