I HAVE DAYDREAMED ABOUT ridiculously fast computers since childhood. Many of those daydreams seem positively puny by today's standards, but at the time, they were outrageous, if not entirely far-fetched. What if they could double the RAM on the Atari 800 all the way to 128K, or even 256K? What if the new Atari STE could show 16 colors at 640x400 resolution? Could they give the new Amiga 16-bit audio with eight channels? That was crazy talk, much of it--until I switched to the PC and started answering some of those questions with concrete results. What if I could overclock this Celeron 300A to 464MHz? And run two of them in SMP? What if they made a chip with 3D graphics abilities on it, just like an SGI workstation? Turns out having those questions answered is really quite nice.
Nowadays, we get incremental improvements in computing power so often, such questions seem almost naive or somehow inappropriate. Yet I'm sure there are some among us who have wondered about what's coming down the road. Most of us have dual-core systems by now, and sitting there enjoying the speed of a Core 2 Duo E6600, one might engage in a little fanciful speculation: What would it be like to have, say, eight of these cores running at 3GHz on dual, independent 1333MHz buses with a torrent of memory bandwidth?
If you're prone to such speculation, you'll be pleased to hear Intel has concocted an answer to that very question in the form of its "V8" media creation platform. V8 is Intel's tentative first response to AMD's dual-socket enthusiast platform, Quad FX. Like Quad FX, V8 draws on workstation/server-class technology to take desktop PCs to new heights. Unlike AMD's effort, though, V8 doesn't involve an enthusiast-class mobo or any sort of processor bundle or discount. If you want to grab a slice of the future now, with eight cores of glory at your disposal, you're going to have to pay a pretty penny for it. Happily, though, we've tested a V8 system against a slew of today's best desktop processors, and we can give you a glimpse of how the future may look, free of charge.