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Core i7-3930K: The Smart Sandy Bridge-E Choice

Intel Core i7-3930K And Core i7-3820: Sandy Bridge-E, Cheaper
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After my review of Intel’s Core i7-3960X, I heard second-hand comments from several sources at Intel wondering why everyone else seemed to love the chip, and yet I pretty much recommended against buying it.

Knowing that the Core i7-3930K was just 100 MHz off of its mark and down 3 MB of shared L3 cache, I just had to know how it compared. So, I went and dropped $600 on the thing at Newegg. As an enthusiast making an actual purchase, and now with both the -3930K and -3960X in my possession, I can unequivocally affirm what I suggested in Intel Core i7-3960X Review: Sandy Bridge-E And X79 Express: mainly, that smart enthusiasts who need the effective Sandy Bridge architecture and raw compute power of six cores will buy Core i7-3930K instead of-3960X.

We’ve seen a ton of variance in the overclocking headroom of C0, C1, M0, and retail Sandy Bridge-E-based chips, so it makes little sense to crank our engineering sample as high as it’ll go to compare against this store-bought -3930K. What I can say, though, is that at 4.5 GHz and 1.36 V, you can’t do much better from a single-CPU daily-driver platform.

And that’s why I’m pleased to hand out my first ever Best of Tom’s Hardware award to Intel’s Core i7-3930K. Obviously, this isn’t something you see very often. It’s a distinction reserved for the best of the best, price be damned. Except, in this case, the price (relative to the flagship that just launched ahead of it), actually isn’t obscene.

We’ve seen that it’s super-easy to build a very expensive Sandy Bridge-E-based machine, and prices on high-end X79 motherboards like the ones featured in Thomas’ recent Ultimate X79? Five $320+ LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed only perpetuate that stereotype. But I was able to snag the cheapest LGA 2011-equipped board on Newegg, ASRock’s X79 Extreme4-M, and construct a fairly feature-rich machine capable of potent two-card graphics configurations. It’s not the most purpose-built overclocking motherboard. However, the company deserves big credit for its ability to create a platform up to my little experiment.

And while it’s tempting to think a quad-channel memory controller needs to be populated with 4 GB modules, at least, 8 GB is still ample for most folks. G.Skill’s 8 GB F3-12800CL9Q-8GBZL kit gave me the data rate I wanted (1600 MT/s) at a modest 1.5 V using XMP settings. And that’s priced at $55 bucks (again, I went with the cheapest kit on Newegg). Done deal. Of course, After Effects demonstrated to us that some workloads can utilize more memory if it’s available, so if you’re in that category of high-end buyer ready to run workstation-class apps (and not as concerned about building on Sandy Bridge-E for half the price of my launch review), then step it up to 16 GB at least.

Want A -3930K Of Your Own?

Would you like to win your own Intel Core i7-3930K? How about a DX79SI motherboard and SSD 320 drive? Click here to enter for your chance!

The contest opens on December 8, 2011 9:00 PM PST and closes on January 12, 2012 9:00 PM PST.

Four Winners Will Be Chosen Randomly.

Prizes (provided by Intel):
Four (4) prizes consisting of one (1) Core i7-3930K CPU, one (1) DX79SI motherboard, and one (1) 320 Series 120 GB SSD. Approximate Retail Value Each: $600+$280+$200=$1,080

DUE TO LEGAL REQUIREMENTS, THIS CONTEST IS LIMITED TO LEGAL RESIDENTS OF THE USA (EXCLUDING RI) AND 18 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER.

UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED, ALL PERSONAL INFORMATION WILL ONLY BE USED TO QUALIFY AND CONTACT THE WINNER.

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Top Comments
  • 27 Hide
    Dacatak , December 9, 2011 4:31 AM
    JOSHSKORNFor gaming (the high end CPU intensive), is there any noticeable difference between the 2500k and the 3960X?


    If by "noticeable" you mean "perceivable to mere mortals", then no.

    If you can in fact notice the difference between 105 vs 110 FPS, then you are a god, and you deserve only the best.
  • 17 Hide
    gmcizzle , December 9, 2011 8:11 AM
    Why would you use Crysis 2 as a CPU benching game? Use Starcraft 2 instead.
  • 14 Hide
    spunkyddog , December 9, 2011 4:35 AM
    I bought the i7-3930K with 32GB of DDR3 1600 RAM last week and assembled a couple days ago. I have two Kingston 120GB SSDs in RAID that have been benched on my system at a theoretical 1,100MB/S Read and 1,300MB/S Write. Coming from a Pentium D 3.0GHz, this was like night and day. My renders went from 40minutes to 1minute. I'm not overclocking purely for the fact that this thing's a beast already and I'm doing high-end 3D work using Maya, Photoshop, After Effects, Video, etc. Also - I like the peace and quiet.

    Intel did an awesome job with the SBE line - despite the fact that we're missing some wanted/promised features (native support for USB and PCI-Express 3.0. I'm waiting out for the PCI 3.0 cards before I upgrade my graphics... curious if the Asus P9X79 Pro will hold it's promises.

    Thanks Chris for reviewing this processor. I felt like I went out on a limb getting this processor over the Extreme, but the $600 was well worth it.
Other Comments
  • 11 Hide
    compton , December 9, 2011 3:41 AM
    This is a really excellent analysis. Clearly, I must be drinking at the wrong places because I never leave the pub with any hardware nicer than a hangover.
  • 0 Hide
    theuniquegamer , December 9, 2011 3:54 AM
    So nice overclocking at 4.5ghz. I can expect that the upcoming ivy bridge unlocked series may be stable atleast 4.2 will all 4 cores active. I can't wait till Q2 next year to see benchmarks .
  • 0 Hide
    Dacatak , December 9, 2011 4:10 AM
    Possible TYPO in the bottom graph for Dirt 3 benchmark.
    FX-8150 benchmark with no AA says "68.8" FPS. I think it's more like "48.8".
  • -5 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , December 9, 2011 4:22 AM
    For gaming (the high end CPU intensive), is there any noticeable difference between the 2500k and the 3960X?
  • 27 Hide
    Dacatak , December 9, 2011 4:31 AM
    JOSHSKORNFor gaming (the high end CPU intensive), is there any noticeable difference between the 2500k and the 3960X?


    If by "noticeable" you mean "perceivable to mere mortals", then no.

    If you can in fact notice the difference between 105 vs 110 FPS, then you are a god, and you deserve only the best.
  • 14 Hide
    spunkyddog , December 9, 2011 4:35 AM
    I bought the i7-3930K with 32GB of DDR3 1600 RAM last week and assembled a couple days ago. I have two Kingston 120GB SSDs in RAID that have been benched on my system at a theoretical 1,100MB/S Read and 1,300MB/S Write. Coming from a Pentium D 3.0GHz, this was like night and day. My renders went from 40minutes to 1minute. I'm not overclocking purely for the fact that this thing's a beast already and I'm doing high-end 3D work using Maya, Photoshop, After Effects, Video, etc. Also - I like the peace and quiet.

    Intel did an awesome job with the SBE line - despite the fact that we're missing some wanted/promised features (native support for USB and PCI-Express 3.0. I'm waiting out for the PCI 3.0 cards before I upgrade my graphics... curious if the Asus P9X79 Pro will hold it's promises.

    Thanks Chris for reviewing this processor. I felt like I went out on a limb getting this processor over the Extreme, but the $600 was well worth it.
  • 3 Hide
    cangelini , December 9, 2011 4:41 AM
    spunky,

    Glad you're enjoying. You do, actually get PCIe 3.0 support, but no USB 3.0, unfortunately.

    Dacatak,

    Yup, typo--fixing now!
  • 3 Hide
    sna , December 9, 2011 4:42 AM
    the only good reason to get X79 is the more ram .. u can get cheap 32G ram system , or go for 64G of ram and enjoy a ram disk

    it is a good thing
  • 2 Hide
    soccerdocks , December 9, 2011 5:24 AM
    The Overclocking Sandy Bridge-E On A Budget page states, "With all of that said, 4.5 GHz was rock-solid down at 3.61 V". I'm pretty sure you meant 1.36 V.
  • 7 Hide
    cangelini , December 9, 2011 5:28 AM
    soccerdocksThe Overclocking Sandy Bridge-E On A Budget page states, "With all of that said, 4.5 GHz was rock-solid down at 3.61 V". I'm pretty sure you meant 1.36 V.


    Indeed, fixed! At 3.6 V, we'd have dead Sandy. :) 
  • -1 Hide
    agnickolov , December 9, 2011 5:37 AM
    Hmm, 7% improvement over 2600K in Visual Studio isn't all that impressive... Perhaps 3930K isn't such a smart choice for a developer workstation after all.
  • -2 Hide
    cactus45 , December 9, 2011 6:21 AM
    Its interesting there is no core/core and clock/clock comparison with the 4 core 3820 and 2600k. If there was it would highlight just how little the X79 platform offers when compared to Z68.

    Intel has made sure reviewers dont highlight on this factor, and instead asks reviewers to focus on the 6 core performance.

    Intel didnt release the 4 core 3820(at launch) for this reason, it makes it easy to compare to normal sandy bridge and would show that even with a socket that is double the size, and quad channel memory X79 doesnt give you any better performance than Z68.

    I always buy the high-end but X79 is a big letdown, Intel knows it and they're trying to control the reviews so it doesnt look as bad as it is
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , December 9, 2011 6:37 AM
    For games and people who search for price/performance, i7 2600K/2700K is and will remain the best solution. With the price difference between the old Sandy and the new ones, you could buy a better video card, another one, or a SSD that would boost you system better.
  • 9 Hide
    cangelini , December 9, 2011 6:54 AM
    cactus45Its interesting there is no core/core and clock/clock comparison with the 4 core 3820 and 2600k. If there was it would highlight just how little the X79 platform offers when compared to Z68. Intel has made sure reviewers dont highlight on this factor, and instead asks reviewers to focus on the 6 core performance. Intel didnt release the 4 core 3820(at launch) for this reason, it makes it easy to compare to normal sandy bridge and would show that even with a socket that is double the size, and quad channel memory X79 doesnt give you any better performance than Z68. I always buy the high-end but X79 is a big letdown, Intel knows it and they're trying to control the reviews so it doesnt look as bad as it is


    This shouldn't be necessary. Same architecture = same per-clock performance. If you need numbers, look at iTunes, WinZip, and Lame benchmark results. If you need yet additional proof, check out the original Sandy Bridge-E review, where I explicitly run the results you're saying don't get run.

    Finally, as is mentioned in *this* story, the CPUs didn't come from Intel. -3930K came from Newegg and -3820, which isn't out yet, came from an unnamed other source.

    Thanks,
    Chris
  • 2 Hide
    tomfreak , December 9, 2011 7:10 AM
    Intel should have sell the 2011 CPU as 8 core instead of disable the 2 cores and sell at six core. 2011 cpu may be an enthusiast CPU, but it is still a high volume CPU compared to server cpu,

    it cant be the yield in Intel fab are so bad that all 2011 CPU produce by Intel have only 6 working cores at best.
  • -3 Hide
    Haserath , December 9, 2011 7:19 AM
    cactus45Its interesting there is no core/core and clock/clock comparison with the 4 core 3820 and 2600k. If there was it would highlight just how little the X79 platform offers when compared to Z68. Intel has made sure reviewers dont highlight on this factor, and instead asks reviewers to focus on the 6 core performance. Intel didnt release the 4 core 3820(at launch) for this reason, it makes it easy to compare to normal sandy bridge and would show that even with a socket that is double the size, and quad channel memory X79 doesnt give you any better performance than Z68. I always buy the high-end but X79 is a big letdown, Intel knows it and they're trying to control the reviews so it doesnt look as bad as it is

    This is the same as LGA 1366 v. LGA 1155 once the later was released. 1366 offered higher memory bandwidth and more Pci-e lanes, but even most enthusiasts wouldn't get the higher end platform due to price for performance.

    Most settled for the i5-750(or lower since you could overclock anything then) just like most are settling for the 2500k now.
  • -2 Hide
    assassin123 , December 9, 2011 7:47 AM
    wow.. . . Great intel is so good
  • 17 Hide
    gmcizzle , December 9, 2011 8:11 AM
    Why would you use Crysis 2 as a CPU benching game? Use Starcraft 2 instead.
  • 8 Hide
    Anonymous , December 9, 2011 9:46 AM
    It's just a shame that you didn't overclock the 2600K & 2500K during this article to give it a better perspective.
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