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Intel didn’t have to launch the Core i7-3970X. Its -3960X was already the fastest single-socket workstation processor you could buy. But, in the year that has passed since Sandy Bridge-E first debuted, Intel also introduced its Ivy Bridge architecture. Better per-cycle performance gave enthusiasts something to consider: do you save some money by buying a quad-core Ivy Bridge-based processor, or splurge on an older architecture for its higher core count and more generous PCI Express connectivity?
With the Core i7-3970X, Intel gives power users with money to spend a little more reason to lean in favor of Sandy Bridge-E. An extra 200 MHz under full load is reflected in apps like Adobe Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Autodesk 3ds Max, Microsoft Visual Studio, and Maxon Cinema 4D. A 100 MHz-higher Turbo Boost bump helps iTunes, PowerPoint, and Lame.
Although Intel is maintaining its $1000 pricing on this desktop flagship, you’ll need to pay closer attention to cooling. A massive 150 W TDP is more than Intel’s LGA 2011-oriented heat sink can handle. Instead, the company recommends its closed-loop thermal solution, adding nearly $80 to the already-steep CPU's cost.
Unfortunately, at least in our suite of tests, the extra infusion of performance isn’t significant enough to counteract higher power consumption. Efficiency suffers as a result. There’s a good chance you won’t care if more speed in a money-making application covers the difference.
Though, in that case, we’re obligated to mention Intel’s Xeon E5-2687W. It’s a $1900 processor, yes. It’s also rated for 150 W. But if you need your software to run as quickly as possible, this eight-core monster armed with 20 MB of L3 cache tears through threaded workloads—and it does so more efficiently than even a year-old Core i7-3960X.