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Intel Core i7-4960X Review: Ivy Bridge-E, Benchmarked

Intel Core i7-4960X Review: Ivy Bridge-E, Benchmarked
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Update (9/3/2013): The following story was originally published on July 16th, 2013. After receiving a second Core i7-4960X sample, we validated the correctness of our numbers and updated the piece with official information from Intel.

Recently, Gartner published numbers showing that shipments of PCs dropped a staggering 11 percent in the second quarter of this year, primarily attributed to tablets replacing entry-level machines. Wall Street, at least, is all doom and gloom about the PC’s future prospects.

But the boutique builders I talk to say that interest in super-fast gaming systems is at an all-time high thanks to the efficiency of certain processor and graphics architectures. So, while now might be a bad time to get stoked about mainstream hardware, performance-oriented power users have some pretty quick components to choose from.

None of this is news to enthusiasts. In fact, two and a half years ago, Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture was serving up compelling performance under 100 W. Those were exciting times. The Ivy Bridge architecture that followed nudged our benchmark results forward a bit, but dropped power to less than 77 W. That was pretty cool, too. More recently, Haswell added another few percentage points to the performance picture, but bumped maximum consumption back up to 84 W.

Now, if you’re upgrading an old Core 2- or Phenom II-based machine with a $5000 boutique build, the latest parts are going to feel wicked-fast, no matter how incremental the previous two or three generations look on paper. The difference is simply less perceptible to those of us working with these components day in and out.

The point is that, for a do-it-yourselfer like me, Sandy Bridge was exciting, Ivy Bridge a little less so, and Haswell…well, I called that one The Core i7-4770K Review: Haswell Is Faster; Desktop Enthusiasts Yawn.

We all know where Intel’s collective mind is: the mobile space where those Gartner guys are telling us the low-end PCs continue getting slaughtered. In that context, spending $350 on a -4770K and another $250 on an LGA 1150-capable motherboard just to keep up with the Kardashians doesn’t sound so hot.

If, a year and a half ago, you snagged a Core i7-3930K (which won a very rare Best Of award from us in Intel Core i7-3930K And Core i7-3820: Sandy Bridge-E, Cheaper), you’d still be sitting pretty, potentially overclocked to 4.5 or 4.6 GHz, and outclassing the -4770K in a great many threaded applications. You’d also be using the same X79-based platform. And, with the revelation that Intel’s upcoming Ivy Bridge-E architecture will drop into an LGA 2011 interface, you’re also going to face your first opportunity in two years to buy something faster.

Meet Ivy Bridge-E, The Upgrade Path For X79 Express

From most angles, the Ivy Bridge-E-based parts look a lot like Sandy Bridge-E, except for the adoption of Intel’s Ivy Bridge architecture. That means a handful of IPC-oriented improvements in the core, cache, and memory controller, similar to what we described in Intel Core i7-3770K Review: A Small Step Up For Ivy Bridge. Of course, gone is the emphasis on graphics. That means Ivy Bridge-E is really about the updated core, a memory controller rated for 1866 MT/s (instead of 1600), official PCI Express 3.0 compliance (remember, Sandy Bridge-E only claimed 8 GT/s signaling support), and 22 nm manufacturing. Ivy Bridge-E-based CPUs are also unlocked up to 63x multipliers (versus SNB-E's 57x), you should be able to hit memory data rates beyond 2400 MT/s, Ivy Bridge-E supports XMP 1.3 (compared to SNB-E's XMP 1.2), and you'll have access to real-time ratio, voltage, and power limit settings.

Intel's Ivy Bridge-E die; six CPU cores are clearly visible, along with shared L3 cache and the memory controller up topIntel's Ivy Bridge-E die; six CPU cores are clearly visible, along with shared L3 cache and the memory controller up top

You still get 40 lanes of PCI Express connectivity, divisible into as many ports as you need for four-way CrossFire and SLI. You’re still dealing with a quad-channel memory controller, though the higher data rate increases peak bandwidth to 59.7 GB/s from 51.2 GB/s. And you’re dropping Ivy Bridge-E into the aging X79 Express platform. The good news is that your old motherboard still works; you don’t have to buy a new one. Unfortunately, the chipset only offers two SATA 6Gb/s ports, it doesn’t feature native USB 3.0, and you don’t get to enjoy new capabilities like SATA Express, which is expected to surface alongside Haswell-based 9-series chipsets early in 2014.


Core i7-4960X
Core i7-4930K
Core i7-4820K
Core i7-3970X
Code Name
Ivy Bridge-E
Ivy Bridge-E
Ivy Bridge-E
Sandy Bridge-E
Base Clock Rate
3.6 GHz
3.4 GHz
3.7 GHz
3.5 GHz
Maximum Turbo Boost
4 GHz
3.9 GHz
3.9 GHz
4 GHz
PCI Express Link Speed
8 GT/s
8 GT/s
8 GT/s8 GT/s
TDP
130 W
130 W
130 W
150 W
Processor Cores
6
6
4
6
Shared L3 Cache
15 MB
12 MB
10 MB
15 MB
Max. Memory Data Rate
DDR3-1866
DDR3-1866
DDR3-1866
DDR3-1600
Processor Interface
LGA 2011
LGA 2011
LGA 2011LGA 2011
Price
$990
$555
$310
$1020 (Street)

Again, Core i7-4960X is a six-core part with 15 MB of shared L3 cache. No doubt that’ll disappoint the folks who were hoping a 22 nm process would make it easier for Intel to arm enthusiasts with eight or 12 cores (it actually does, as we saw in Intel's 12-Core Xeon With 30 MB Of L3: The New Mac Pro's CPU?). But, at the same ~$1000 price point, there’s really no reason to give you a more complex CPU when it’s already charging $1900 for an eight-core Xeon E5-2687W. And so, anyone considering a move from today’s Core i7-3970X can expect an additional 100 MHz base frequency, the same 4 GHz peak Turbo Boost clock rate, and the other incremental improvements.

The Core i7-4820K is a little more interesting. Realizing that there was almost no reason at all anyone would want a multiplier-locked, quad-core -3820, Intel gives its successor an unlocked ratio. It’s still a quad-core chip with 10 MB of shared L3 cache based on a previous-gen architecture in a previous-gen platform. But perhaps the additional PCI Express connectivity, memory bandwidth, and L3 cache, coupled with the ability to overclock, makes the -4820K competitive against Intel’s Haswell-based Core i7-4770K.

And then there’s the Core i7-4930K, which retains six cores, sheds a little of its shared L3 cache (dropping to 12 MB), and drops a little frequency (200 MHz base clock and 100 MHz peak Turbo Boost), but also costs close to half of what you’d pay for the flagship. That’s the model we were most excited about last generation. We reserve some of that excitement today, realizing that enthusiasts who bought a -3930K probably won’t step up to a -4930K for another $500+ dollars.

Curiously, all three Ivy Bridge-E-based parts are accompanied by 130 W thermal design power limits. Remember that the move from Sandy to Ivy Bridge yielded a more complex CPU with a significantly lower power ceiling, thanks in no small part to a shift from 32 to 22 nm manufacturing. Here, we have the same process transition. The die shrinks from Sandy Bridge-E's 434 square millimeters down to 257. Intel even cites a lower transistor count for Ivy Bridge-E (1.86 billion versus SNB-E's 2.27 billion). And yet, this new CPU shares the same 130 W rating as Core i7-3960X and -3930K. Keep an eye on this. Power may just become Ivy Bridge-E’s greatest strength.

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Top Comments
  • 37 Hide
    ingtar33 , July 16, 2013 10:35 PM
    about all i'd expect. shame really, but it looks like the enthusiast market is at a standstill till AMD starts to compete again.
  • 14 Hide
    designasaurus , July 16, 2013 9:46 PM
    There's a rumor going around that Ivy-E is going to have a soldered heatspreader instead of using thermal paste. Obviously this would be a big differentiator for enthusiasts picking between Haswell and Ivy-E. Given your access to Ivy-E, do you guys at Tom's have any opinions on this rumor?
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    naihan , July 16, 2013 9:29 PM
    Boring. Call me when X99 platform is available.
  • -2 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , July 16, 2013 9:30 PM
    Probably would have been nice to be 8-core. Isn't the actual die on these things just a cut-down 12-core chip? Think I read that somewhere.

    EDIT: Minor error:
    Quote:
    surface alongside Haswell-based 9-series chipsets


    Shouldn't that be Broadwell?
  • 14 Hide
    designasaurus , July 16, 2013 9:46 PM
    There's a rumor going around that Ivy-E is going to have a soldered heatspreader instead of using thermal paste. Obviously this would be a big differentiator for enthusiasts picking between Haswell and Ivy-E. Given your access to Ivy-E, do you guys at Tom's have any opinions on this rumor?
  • 8 Hide
    killerchickens , July 16, 2013 9:46 PM
    I bet it overclocks like a beast. :) 
    Lol now time to spend $1000 to save on my power bill.
  • 37 Hide
    ingtar33 , July 16, 2013 10:35 PM
    about all i'd expect. shame really, but it looks like the enthusiast market is at a standstill till AMD starts to compete again.
  • -8 Hide
    sna , July 16, 2013 10:46 PM
    too early to judge...

    The 6 cores ivyBridge-e "K" version is the real thing.

    and I dont get it , how Tomshardwae fails to say about the SandyBridge-e not having PCIE 3.0 support , while the ivy-E has PCIe 3.0 support . this is a Big factor here.
  • 7 Hide
    ingtar33 , July 16, 2013 10:56 PM
    Quote:
    too early to judge...

    The 6 cores ivyBridge-e "K" version is the real thing.

    and I dont get it , how Tomshardwae fails to say about the SandyBridge-e not having PCIE 3.0 support , while the ivy-E has PCIe 3.0 support . this is a Big factor here.


    they did say it. You didn't read the beginning of the review. Of course pci-e 3.0 is a gimmick and not a reason to buy a new 2011 mb and ib-e chip... and it will remain a marketing gimmick untill gpus can actually be bottlenecked by pci-e 2.0 x16... high end gpus barely bottleneck on pci-e 2.0 x8 atm... it will be a little while (another generation or 3) before gpus will NEED pci-e 3.0.

  • 2 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , July 16, 2013 11:24 PM
    Quote:
    official PCI Express 3.0 compliance (remember, Sandy Bridge-E only claimed 8 GT/s signaling support), and 22 nm manufacturing.


    That's pretty much saying it did it unofficially.

    Besides, you have to look hard to find something bottlenecked by PCIe2.0x8; even high-end GPUs won't run into bandwidth limitations.
  • 9 Hide
    shin0bi272 , July 16, 2013 11:29 PM
    still no gaming benchmarks eh? I guess I'll save my money and stick with my i7-920 for a little bit longer.
  • 6 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , July 16, 2013 11:41 PM
    First off, yes it is largely a gaming machine. If not, it would likely be using Xeons.

    I'd like to see a situation in which you need 4GB/s each way SAS/SATA, but can't afford a Xeon based platform

    LAN cards. At 500MB/s each way (for an PCIe2.0x1 card, plus you're more likely to use an x4 card). You got something with 10GbE?

    Even a Titan 2x could run on PCIe2.0x16.

    Most people don't like running many addin cards. Besides, where's the room given the expected use of this platform is multi-GPU systems?
  • 2 Hide
    ingtar33 , July 16, 2013 11:42 PM
    Quote:
    :)  PCIe 3.0 is a Gimmick ?

    you people think this is a Gaming only Machine?

    try to buy PCIe 3.0 8x/4x Raid Card for example ... they are around starting at $300

    LAN cards as well , and coming cards etc ..

    and who knows ? maybe Titan 2X cards apper :) 

    And Many people Compalind about their SandyBridge-e not supporting PCIe 3.0 speed..

    as for the lack of USB3.0 and few Sata3 ports , this is a 40 Lanes CPU , just buy that 4X PCIe usb 3.0 card and add it problem solved.


    psh... there ARE pci-e 2.0 x16 boards with multiple card support you know. And pci-e 2.0x16 is identical speed to pci-e 3.0 x8... just as pci-e 3.0 x4 is equal to pci-e 2.0 x8... and as we pointed out, pci-e 2.0 x8 is about the upper limit for gpu to mb interface speed at the moment, and pci-e 2.0 x16 is well beyond any gpu to max out as of now.
  • 3 Hide
    tomfreak , July 17, 2013 12:06 AM
    expensive X version clocked high 3.6GHz 6 core.... why not 150w tdp and 8 core @ 3.1-3.3GHz? Do I need a reason to pay extra when the 4930K is doing almost the same performance?
  • 1 Hide
    slomo4sho , July 17, 2013 12:21 AM
    Wasn't this easy enough to predict by observing the modest improvements trend set forth by Sandy to Ivy and then to Haswell?
  • 3 Hide
    flong777 , July 17, 2013 12:53 AM
    Wow SB is looking better and better. IB was at least a modest upgrade to SB but Haswell is just a loser and that's sad.

    There is one exception; the Haswell processors for laptops are much more efficient and provide huge increases in run time without losing any speed. But for desktops, Haswell appears to be a complete bust.
  • 2 Hide
    daglesj , July 17, 2013 1:05 AM
    A nice chip for someone I'm sure but surely the market for these high end chips is dwindling really?

    I'd be intrigued to see the sales figures for Intels high-end chips today compared to say eight years ago.
  • 2 Hide
    ingtar33 , July 17, 2013 2:05 AM
    Quote:
    Wake me up when they gonna sell 12 core i-somethings for 400 bucks


    considering they're selling 6 cores for 1000, they wouldn't sell a 8 core for less then 1500 (probably 2k)... anyone expecting less is kidding themselves. this will remain true as long as AMD is uncompetitive.
  • 0 Hide
    orca_sweets , July 17, 2013 2:36 AM
    Wow. 30% more efficient means with power consumption means use a less powerful light bulb in one of the lamps you use every day. No real performance increase compared to its predecessor. This is depressing. GPU competition right now is awesome. Makes powerful GPUs inexpensive. Now that Intel has passed AMD too much they dont even have to compete with price or performance upgrades. Intel is garbage for what price they charge for some of their processors. Granted, there are several awesome $180 and less options, but anything higher then that and you are paying for BEATS by Dre price premium. We all know how mediocre those are. Sorry. I am done ranting now.
  • -2 Hide
    daglesj , July 17, 2013 2:45 AM
    Really though, what's the issue?

    You can pay $200 and get 90FPS or pay $800 to get 95-100FPS.

    Intel's high-end chips are dead men walking really. More and more niche as time goes on.

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