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Intel Core i7-3930K And Core i7-3820: Sandy Bridge-E, Cheaper

Intel Core i7-3930K And Core i7-3820: Sandy Bridge-E, Cheaper
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Core i7-3960X is undeniably fast. But at more than $1000, it’s hardly an option for most enthusiasts. We got our hands on the Core i7-3930K and Core i7-3820 to gauge their overclocked performance and determine if they’re able to best the flagship part.

Editor's Note: As you'll see by the end of this story, we liked the Core i7-3930K for its specific purpose quite a bit. It's a pleasure, then, to offer four of these CPUs to our readers. Of course, we realize that the platform is still pricey, so we also have a quartet of Intel DX79SI motherboards and as many 120 GB SSD 320 drives. Four lucky winners will walk away with a trio of parts to get them started on their next machine. Read to the end of this story for your chance to win!

We love to lust after the latest hardware, no matter the cost. But when it comes time to buy, sexy takes a back seat to sensible. That’s why a thousand-dollar processor like Intel’s Core i7-3960X doesn’t really add up. According to Intel’s official price list, you can get the Core i7-3930K for exactly $416 dollars less, sacrificing 3 MB of shared L3 cache and 100 MHz in the process. There’s an Epic Meal Time phrase I could use to illustrate the intelligence of that trade-off, but I’ll just leave it as: smart.

And so today’s story is brought to you by a couple of different ideas. First, we got our hands on the other two LGA 2011-based parts: Core i7-3930K and Core i7-3820. We’ll give you the performance data on those chips running at their stock settings.

The former launched alongside Core i7-3960X, although it looks like Intel took a look at the competitive landscape, realized there wasn’t anything to contend with Sandy Bridge-E, and tacked an extra $10 onto its -3960X and $33 to its -3930K. As a result, the $550 I cited in my launch coverage is now officially $583, but closer to $600 once the online guys add their mark-up.

The latter wasn’t as easy to track down. Although Core i7-3820’s specifications are known, it’s not officially available until 2012. But since we’ve heard that a lot of really sensitive stuff gets left behind at bars, we’ve been drinking ourselves silly, hoping to scoop up a lonely Sandy-E with only half of her faculties intact.

The darnest things wind up in bars...The darnest things wind up in bars...

Sandy Bridge-E finds itself in a tough position no matter which model you flag for its potential superiority over the other two, though. Stepping away from Intel’s flagship platform, you’re faced with Sandy Bridge, the mainstream architecture we’ve praised over the last 11 months for its stock performance, reasonable cost, efficiency, and overclockability. At $1000, $600, and an undisclosed third price (a bar fly suggested $285), it’s hard to see any conceivable way to have a serious discussion about Sandy Bridge-E’s value compared to unlocked alternatives like Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K.

And then there’s Ivy Bridge, expected to land in the first half of next year. Informed enthusiasts have to be wary of buying into Sandy Bridge-E knowing that Ivy Bridge could deliver better performance in basic desktop applications.

How much of a threat will the quad-core Ivy Bridge-based chips be to six-core Sandy Bridge-E processors? It’s too early to say for sure, since production-quality hardware is still months away. But we were able to scoop up an Ivy Bridge-based 55 W Core i3 at the very same watering hole and run a handful of tests. My numbers are quite a bit lower than what Intel suggests on these leaked slides though, so we’re going to wait and see how the early processors evolve before posting charts. Should enthusiasts worry that Ivy Bridge will usurp their Sandy Bridge-E-based systems? I don’t think so. It kind of sucks that the high-end crowd has to wait another year or so for Ivy Bridge-E, but these two segments want different things, and a 77 W quad-core CPU isn’t going to displace a 130 W hexa-core processor in those environments.

Besides, I’m not 100% convinced that the Ivy Bridge/6-series chipset compatibility story is going to end as harmoniously as many folks with P67 and Z68 boards hope.  

Deriving Value From The High-End?

I read all of the comments from my review of Core i7-3960X proclaiming Sandy Bridge-E fodder for chumps with too much spare change. And although I agree insofar as Intel’s flagship isn’t the right model to buy for maximizing bang for your buck, you simply have to concede that, in threaded applications, it’s faster than both the Core i7-990X it replaces and the four-core Core i7-2600K to which it’s so easily compared. As a result, there will be affluent early adopters and professionals eager to pay top dollar for the fastest single-processor system available.

Here’s the thing, though. Having the money to spend shouldn’t compel anyone to blow it. Now that the Sandy Bridge-E launch is history and prices are publically available on sites like Newegg and TigerDirect, we can add up the cost of the parts we used and consider scaling back to save some cash.

The Intel DX79SI motherboard we used for our launch piece (and continue to use today) just hit Newegg's virtual shelves at $280. Add to that $1050 for a Core i7-3960X and $800 for two 16 GB DDR3-1333 kits from Crucial, and you’re looking at a total of $2130 for the three platform-specific components. Now, it’s clear that the insane price of high-density memory is throwing that number off. So let’s avoid sensationalizing the bottom line and swap over to the 16 GB DDR3-2133 kit from G.Skill that I used to test memory scaling in the original story. At $180, we end up with a (relatively) more palatable $1530.

Can we pare back the parts list to make Sandy Bridge-E a better buy for a larger group of enthusiasts…without sacrificing performance? I’ll explore the benchmarks shortly, but here’s the parts list that I’m going to use on my quest:

Components From Today's Experiment
Price on Newegg
Intel Core i7-3930K
$600
ASRock X79 Extreme4-M
$225
G.Skill F3-12800CL9Q-8GBRL (4 x 2 GB DDR3-1600)
$55
Total:
$880


At $225, ASRock’s X79 Extreme4-M is the least-expensive (and conveniently microATX-sized) X79-based motherboard available. G.Skill’s 8 GB, DDR3-1600 Ripjaws kit isn’t particularly flashy, but it gets the job done at a capacity point we’d still consider beefy. And of course, the Core i7-3930K gets us as close to Intel’s flagship as possible without giving up any cores. The grand total? $885. That’s an almost $650 chunk off of the original setup after dropping the high-density memory kit.

Although you’re still paying nearly $400 more than the cheapest Z68-based board, the same 8 GB memory kit, and a Core i7-2700K, six cores simply aren’t available in the mainstream space. Suddenly, the prospects of a fast hexa-core beast look a lot rosier for the folks who skipped over Sandy Bridge entirely in anticipation of higher-end hardware.

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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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