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A Symbolic King In A Crowd Full Of Value

Intel Core i7-3960X Review: Sandy Bridge-E And X79 Express
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When I first learned about the three processors Intel planned to launch, I petitioned the company at its own Developer Forum in San Francisco to sample the Core i7-3930K either in addition to or instead of the Core i7-3960X. “There is no way,” I argued, “that the thousand-dollar model can come close to the value of a $550 SKU during a serious buying decision.”

That didn’t happen, though, and as such, I can’t see any reason to recommend paying $990, plus the price of a cooling solution, plus a new motherboard, plus a quad-channel memory kit for Intel’s Core i7-3960X. Stepping down to the $555 Core i7-3930K really only costs you 3 MB of shared L3 cache—at a savings that’d cover a really nice motherboard and water cooler. That’s the processor enthusiasts with money (and an SSD full of threaded workloads) should be lusting over.

What about the Core i7-3820? I wouldn’t hold my breath. Expected in the first quarter of next year, Intel won’t yet comment on its price, though we assume it’ll be high $200s/low $300s. The savings is nice, but it involves losing 2 MB of shared L3 cache, two cores, and the unlocked multiplier. Although six additional 100 MHz bins, plus some BCLK flexibility, will be available, you also have to remember that Ivy Bridge won’t be far off at that point.

Also slated to sell in quad-core configurations, Ivy Bridge-based CPUs will work in existing LGA 1155-equipped motherboards, they won’t necessitate new memory kits or coolers, and, depending on the IPC improvements Intel’s engineers extract, could wind up being faster than Sandy Bridge-E in software limited to eight threads or less.

If it’s value you seek, Sandy Bridge-E isn’t the platform for you. Ivy Bridge stands a much better chance of satisfying that niche. However, for the folks who bought into Bloomfield/Gulftown and skipped Sandy Bridge altogether in anticipation of today’s introduction, a marriage of the Sandy Bridge design, more cores, more cache, and more bandwidth yields impressive double-digit performance gains, on average.

Should we see PCI Express 3.0-capable hardware in the next couple of months, Sandy Bridge-E will have yet another opportunity to set itself apart. No other chipset includes this feature, and we expect graphics cards and RAID controllers to exploit it within the first half of 2012.

Just don’t feel compelled to splurge on the $1000 Core i7-3960X. We’re trying to get our hands on a Core i7-3930K—there’s a good chance that’s the Sandy Bridge-E-based chip for savvy enthusiasts looking to overclock.

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Top Comments
  • 28 Hide
    Maziar , November 14, 2011 6:23 AM
    Wow,lots of details and benchies.Great review as always Chris !
  • 24 Hide
    ohim , November 14, 2011 7:12 AM
    This article tells me 2 things , either our current software is a total piece of crap since it has absolutely no clue of multi core cpus, or the future without AMD is so grim that intel makes you pay 1000 bucks for a cpu that doesn`t perform really that fast ... but for sure the software industry needs to take a better look at those multicore optimisations.
  • 17 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , November 14, 2011 7:40 AM
    So, are we getting any overclocked measurements in the near future?

    The funny thing is that cores don't scale well. They do, but it's far from ideal as the percentages from the 2600K show (and the FX-8150 but that's a different story).


    But the takeaway:

    -If you're playing games the i5-2500K is the best purchase you can make and it's enough for Tri-580 SLI. Only WoW shows any difference, but most games ignore it.

    -X79 is Intel being just plain lazy. No matter how you slice it- the X79 should have been called X67 and left like that. It's also a wildcat platform that will only support at most 6 CPUs that aren't terribly crippled.

    -A Phenom II 955BE (or unlocked 960T, or a 1090T/1100T) is still a fine CPU to have unless you're gaming with dual graphics cards or doing time-intensive tasks.
Other Comments
  • 28 Hide
    Maziar , November 14, 2011 6:23 AM
    Wow,lots of details and benchies.Great review as always Chris !
  • 17 Hide
    SpadeM , November 14, 2011 6:50 AM
    So no SAS/Full Sata 3 ports but u do get PCIe 3 ... no Quicksync but u do get 2 more cores and the added cache ... no USB 3.0 but u get quad channel memory which in real life every day computing is a minimal gain at best. Feels an awful lot like a weak trade if you ask me. I'm basically asked to buy the P67 chipset with sprinkles on top. And for 1000$ it feels like it falls short. For heavy workloads it's cheaper and faster to make yourself 2 systems based on 1155 or bulldozer and render, fold, chew numbers that way. X79 should have launched with an ivy bridge based cpu inside and a better chipset to live to it's name.
    What we have today is simply a platform for bragging rights not a serious contender to the X38, X48, X58 family.
  • 3 Hide
    nikorr , November 14, 2011 6:58 AM
    Enjoyed the review Chris ! WoW.
  • 13 Hide
    redsunrises , November 14, 2011 7:07 AM
    Illfindu, you are beating a dead horse... Old news, lets move on (sorry, just tired of the same thing being said over and over, which will end in an amd fanboy fight). Great review though!
  • 24 Hide
    ohim , November 14, 2011 7:12 AM
    This article tells me 2 things , either our current software is a total piece of crap since it has absolutely no clue of multi core cpus, or the future without AMD is so grim that intel makes you pay 1000 bucks for a cpu that doesn`t perform really that fast ... but for sure the software industry needs to take a better look at those multicore optimisations.
  • -4 Hide
    stonedatheist , November 14, 2011 7:12 AM
    I think Intel would be raking in the dough if they left all 8 cores enabled for the 3960X. I doubt that a later revision will enable them. 8c/16t will probably hit the desktop with IB-E (can't wait) :) 
  • -9 Hide
    joytech22 , November 14, 2011 7:13 AM
    :| Well AMD is fighting a losing battle.. (In High-End CPU's, which I actually use for rendering etc..)
    I would LOVE to see them pick up their game and provide me with a worthy upgrade over my 4GHz i7 2600 (Non-K). I would swoop it up.

    Look, BD had 4 modules with two "cores" each, each module is equivalent to a Sandy Bridge core.
    They should just combine both of those cores or make them a single core, so we get 4 threads.

    Then create 4-6-8 core versions of those CPU's..
    Think about it.. the FX8150 is more of a 4-core CPU where the resources are halved pretty much so you get two threads per core, it would have been MUCH MUCH better if they just kept 4 strong cores.


    Not sure why either but I always seem to start an AMD related comment :\
  • 3 Hide
    sudeshc , November 14, 2011 7:21 AM
    great but too expensive....
  • 0 Hide
    JeanLuc , November 14, 2011 7:23 AM
    Hi Chris,

    The labels are wrong on the graphs on this page the last ones should read DDR2-2133 on the last two shouldn't it?

    JeanLuc
  • -2 Hide
    Yargnit , November 14, 2011 7:33 AM
    The 3930k certainly appears to be the chip to watch for out of this bunch. The 3820 is basically a 2600k/2700k on a more expensive platform, and the 3960x needed to be the full 8c/16t version of the processor to sell for $1000. (If you are dropping that much A dual socket EVGA SR2 setup still makes more since)

    The only use for the 3820 really seems to be a cheap placeholder processor if you need a new PC now, but want to wait for a likely full 8c/16t version to come out around the time Ivy Bridge is released. The 3930k should prove to be a very good high end gaming/ mid range workstation part though for people who invest close to $1k in graphics cards.
  • 17 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , November 14, 2011 7:40 AM
    So, are we getting any overclocked measurements in the near future?

    The funny thing is that cores don't scale well. They do, but it's far from ideal as the percentages from the 2600K show (and the FX-8150 but that's a different story).


    But the takeaway:

    -If you're playing games the i5-2500K is the best purchase you can make and it's enough for Tri-580 SLI. Only WoW shows any difference, but most games ignore it.

    -X79 is Intel being just plain lazy. No matter how you slice it- the X79 should have been called X67 and left like that. It's also a wildcat platform that will only support at most 6 CPUs that aren't terribly crippled.

    -A Phenom II 955BE (or unlocked 960T, or a 1090T/1100T) is still a fine CPU to have unless you're gaming with dual graphics cards or doing time-intensive tasks.
  • 5 Hide
    halcyon , November 14, 2011 9:07 AM
    Irrevocably thorough review Chris. Excellent work, as usual. Oh, and I and do want a 3960X. Don't need it. Can't justify it. Just want it.
  • 5 Hide
    cangelini , November 14, 2011 9:19 AM
    JeanLucHi Chris,The labels are wrong on the graphs on this page the last ones should read DDR2-2133 on the last two shouldn't it?JeanLuc


    Yessir! Working on it now!
  • 0 Hide
    rahulkadukar , November 14, 2011 9:22 AM
    If this is coming out now, when is Ivy Bridge scheduled to come out
  • 2 Hide
    undead_assault , November 14, 2011 9:44 AM
    hmmm, nice review, Chris! Can you do some overclocking review on these chips?
  • 16 Hide
    iam2thecrowe , November 14, 2011 9:48 AM
    everyone saying its too expensive, no sh%t!!! Top end cpus have and will always be expensive. Lets go back to 2006 - amd FX-62 - over $1000 at launch. and back to 1999 - AMD athlon 700mhz - near $900 http://www.sharkyextreme.com/hardware/reviews/cpu/athlon_700/ . pentium III http://www.firingsquad.com/hardware/pentium3/prices.asp $700+. Has everyone lost their memory???
  • 5 Hide
    machvelocy , November 14, 2011 9:51 AM
    any chances to unlock the disabled core?
  • -6 Hide
    halcyon , November 14, 2011 9:56 AM
    Quote:
    everyone saying its too expensive, no sh%t!!! Top end cpus have and will always be expensive. Lets go back to 2006 - amd FX-62 - over $1000 at launch. and back to 1999 - AMD athlon 700mhz - near $900 http://www.sharkyextreme.com/hardware/reviews/cpu/athlon_700/ . pentium III http://www.firingsquad.com/hardware/pentium3/prices.asp $700+. Has everyone lost their memory???

    Yes. Its expensive. In other news the Earth orbits the Sun. I wish I had enough $$$ that the costs of this CPU was inconsequential to me.
  • 4 Hide
    srgess , November 14, 2011 9:59 AM
    I heard when windows 8 come out this processor will get more benefit lawl
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