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Intel Core i7-5960X, -5930K And -5820K CPU Review: Haswell-E Rises

Intel Core i7-5960X, -5930K And -5820K CPU Review: Haswell-E Rises
By , Igor Wallossek

Editor’s Note: Eager to show off what it's doing with Intel’s Haswell-E architecture, system builder CyberPower PC is offering the Tom’s Hardware audience an opportunity to win a complete system based on Intel’s Core i7-5820K processor. Read through our review, and then check out the last page for more information on the configuration, plus a link to enter our giveaway!

A little more than 10 years ago, Intel introduced the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition 3.4 GHz. It boasted one Hyper-Threaded core, 512 KB of L2 cache, a 2 MB L3 cache, and a quad-pumped 800 MHz front-side bus. Haven't seen that term in a while, have you? Back then, the Pentium was manufactured at 130 nm and composed of 178 million transistors. Intel sold the thing for $1000, dropped it into the now-ancient Socket 478 interface, and gave the chip a thermal ceiling just over 100 W.

None of us could have guessed that, a decade later, Intel’s cutting-edge flagship would sport a lower base clock rate, accelerating to 3.5 GHz only in situations when thermal headroom allows. And yet, that’s exactly where the new Core i7-5960X lands. Of course, the difference is we’re dealing with an immensely more sophisticated piece of technology, and the world now knows frequency isn’t always the answer to improving performance.

The Core i7-5960X plays host to eight physical cores able to work on 16 threads concurrently by virtue of Hyper-Threading. So, applications optimized to break tasks into pieces are sped up through parallelism. Each core has its own 32 KB L1 instruction and data caches, along with 256 KB of L2 space. A massive 20 MB of L3 cache is shared between them, working out to the magical 2.5 MB per core Intel’s architects aim for.

And while 2004’s Extreme Edition handled host processing duties exclusively, 2014’s integrates a lot more functionality. The -5960X has its own on-die PCI Express controller, exposing up to 40 lanes at 8 GT/s (that’s official PCI Express 3.0 support). It’s also armed with the world’s first quad-channel DDR4 memory controller, officially rated for data rates as high as 2133 MT/s out of the gate.

In-Depth Reading

If you’d like to learn more about Intel’s Haswell architecture, which is the foundation for every core in a Haswell-E-based CPU, please check out The Core i7-4770K Review: Haswell Is Faster; Desktop Enthusiasts Yawn

Drilling down a bit deeper, the -5960X centers on Intel’s modern Haswell architecture. However, because this is the server/workstation-oriented version, it’s referred to as Haswell-E. You get the additional PCIe connectivity (Haswell-based desktop CPUs only come equipped with 16 lanes) and aforementioned memory controller (existing Haswell processors are limited to two channels of DDR3 support), but lose the on-die HD Graphics engine featured so prominently back when those fourth-gen Core CPUs launched.

Intel rightly assumes that anyone buying a powerful workstation or gaming box will install discrete graphics cards. Rather than eating into the transistor budget with a built-in GPU, all available resources are thrown into creating a more capable host processor.

Despite this smart accounting, the Haswell-E die still measures more than 355 mm² and is composed of 2.6 billion transistors—nearly 15x the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition’s count. It’s manufactured using Intel’s 22 nm node and specified for a 140 W TDP. Expect to see the CPU surface immediately at a familiar $1000 price point.

Core i7-5930K And Core i7-5820K

Any time we test one of Intel’s thousand-dollar showpieces, we acknowledge its gravitas, all the while contending that most enthusiasts prefer to spend less and lean on their technical acumen to maximize performance through overclocking. In the case of Haswell-E, only the Core i7-5960X is an eight-core model. Buying one of the lesser models means cutting a couple of cores and some cache, at least.

Fortunately, games typically don’t penalize you for dropping from eight to six cores, particularly when you’re running on Intel’s efficient architectures, and doubly so when frequency increases at the same time. As a result, the Core i7-5930K is a better candidate for gamers with money to spend on ultra-high-end hardware. It’s based on the same physical die as the -5960X. Intel simply disables two cores and 5 MB of shared L3. What remains is six cores, 15 MB of last-level cache, all 40 lanes of PCI Express 3.0, and the quad-channel memory controller. Base clock rate jumps to 3.5 GHz, while the peak frequency, controlled by Turbo Boost technology, increases to 3.7 GHz. The Core i7-5930K is priced at $583, potentially "saving" you more than $400.

If that’s still a little rich, the Core i7-5820K lands at a palatable $389. It too is a six-core chip with 15 MB of shared L3 and a four-channel DDR4 controller. However, Intel lops off some of the PCI Express, exposing 28 lanes instead of 40. Frankly, that’s not a particularly painful wound. It leaves lots of room for single-, dual-, and even triple-card graphics configurations, so long as AMD and Nvidia certify x8/x8/x8 arrays. The official word from Intel is that the -5820K supports bifurcation of its lanes into that arrangement; however, the breakdown has to be enabled at the motherboard level.

The Core i7-5820K does lose some frequency compared to the -5930K: its base clock rate is 3.3 GHz, while Turbo Boost accelerates as high as 3.6 GHz.

Core i7-5000 Series Turbo Boost Clock Rates

An Enthusiast-Friendly Trio

Still, all three of the models we’re testing are either Extreme Edition or K-series parts, meaning they feature unlocked multipliers and can be overclocked much more freely than most of Intel’s mainstream Haswell-based processors.

Even better, Intel uses solder as an interface material between its Haswell-E die and the large heat spreader covering these Core i7-5000-series CPUs. That’s in contrast to the lower-end Haswell parts, which utilize a less effective thermal compound. Even in our own lab, those dies topped with paste heat up quickly, limiting the amount of voltage we can put through them with air or liquid cooling. A solder-based interface material facilitates faster heat transfer, potentially raising the ceiling on what we can coax from Haswell-E.

It goes without saying, then, that the companies selling high-end hardware are excited about Core i7-5960X and its derivatives. We have big air coolers like Noctua’s NH-D15 in the lab, along with closed-loop systems like Intel’s own BXRTS2011LC. Memory maker G.Skill seeded us with DDR4-3000 modules rated for CAS 15 timings. ASRock and MSI armed me with a handful of impressive-looking motherboards for today’s launch, while Thomas works on our first round-up of LGA 2011-3 boards from every relevant player.

Wait, what? LGA 2011-3? Ah, yes—there’s a new platform in play, too.

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Top Comments
  • 23 Hide
    CaptainTom , August 29, 2014 9:57 AM
    Yeah the real winner of a cpu here is definitely the 5820K. If I were building now, that is what I would use.
  • 18 Hide
    JamesSneed , August 29, 2014 9:26 AM
    Out of curiosity why were so many of the gaming tests only done at 2560x1440? Seems like you would be more GPU bound at this resolution. I'm not sure it really matters but I do like gaming at 1080p for the very high frame rates was curious if these would push frame rates higher. Otherwise nice review.
  • 13 Hide
    ohim , August 29, 2014 9:27 AM
    Quote:
    Affordable 8-cores from Intel are finally coming. Awesome.


    1000$ is affordable to you ? :) )

    Quote:
    Out of curiosity why were so many of the gaming tests only done at 2560x1440? Seems like you would be more GPU bound at this resolution. I'm not sure it really matters but I do like gaming at 1080p for the very high frame rates was curious if these would push frame rates higher. Otherwise nice review.



    Though you have a point here, the guy buying such CPUs most likely will game at above 1080p .. but this would have implied using 2 GPUs at least in the test.
Other Comments
  • -9 Hide
    dovah-chan , August 29, 2014 9:08 AM
    Oh boy here we go...
  • 0 Hide
    B4vB5 , August 29, 2014 9:23 AM
    Chris and Igor @ TomsHW,

    Bit disappointed to not see a comparison with the Xeon E5-1650v2(or 1660v2), as the 2600 is a bit overkill comparing prices. Some of us just need a workstation with ECC ram and not just a free-for-all(ie someone else is paying) Xeon 2600 fest.
  • 18 Hide
    JamesSneed , August 29, 2014 9:26 AM
    Out of curiosity why were so many of the gaming tests only done at 2560x1440? Seems like you would be more GPU bound at this resolution. I'm not sure it really matters but I do like gaming at 1080p for the very high frame rates was curious if these would push frame rates higher. Otherwise nice review.
  • 13 Hide
    ohim , August 29, 2014 9:27 AM
    Quote:
    Affordable 8-cores from Intel are finally coming. Awesome.


    1000$ is affordable to you ? :) )

    Quote:
    Out of curiosity why were so many of the gaming tests only done at 2560x1440? Seems like you would be more GPU bound at this resolution. I'm not sure it really matters but I do like gaming at 1080p for the very high frame rates was curious if these would push frame rates higher. Otherwise nice review.



    Though you have a point here, the guy buying such CPUs most likely will game at above 1080p .. but this would have implied using 2 GPUs at least in the test.
  • -1 Hide
    chiefpiggy , August 29, 2014 9:37 AM
    Why do they call these their "5th generation" of Intel core processors if they're refreshes of the Haswell processors? I get that they have revolutionary technology within but with the release of broadwell so soon I doubt that anyone would buy these processors..
  • -4 Hide
    envy14tpe , August 29, 2014 9:40 AM
    I need this system to play Minecraft. with that aside, Intel finally has made a jump in i7s value and performance.
  • 4 Hide
    therogerwilco , August 29, 2014 9:44 AM
    Meh, looks like I'll be keepin my uber delid'd oc'd 4770k a bit longer
  • 5 Hide
    srap , August 29, 2014 9:53 AM
    "Single-threaded software is so last decade, though."
    I have a hunch that we will never see anything like this in the comment sections of AMD reviews. Not sure why :D 
  • 23 Hide
    CaptainTom , August 29, 2014 9:57 AM
    Yeah the real winner of a cpu here is definitely the 5820K. If I were building now, that is what I would use.
  • 7 Hide
    ingtar33 , August 29, 2014 10:01 AM
    so that 8 core monster pretty much caps out around 4.3-4.5ghz... shame. if it was a little higher i might be inclined to open the pocket book for that.
  • 4 Hide
    mctylr , August 29, 2014 10:09 AM
    From page 14, last paragraph:
    Quote:
    As Intel’s first official eight-core processor, the top Haswell-E model


    Er, no. No it's not the first eight core processor. It is the first eight-core consumer or Core iN series processor though.

    I also don't know of any unofficial 8-core processors either.
  • 4 Hide
    DoDidDont , August 29, 2014 10:14 AM
    Great news for people wanting to speed up their single socket systems in apps like Mental Ray, v-ray etc. I understand why Tom’s compared these new processors with the E5-2687w v2 in this review, but anyone splashing the cash on an E5-2687w v2 is going to buy two in a dual socket set-up making the system twice as fast as the top end 5960x in the majority of these benchmarks. It would be a waste of cash just buying one for a single socket system and not taking advantage of the QPI. For business users needing to produces multiple HQ images a day to meet deadlines I would still choose the Xeon’s over the I7. The Xeon’s pay for themselves within a few months. Waiting 48 hours for a batch of animation frames to render instead of 96 hours make a lot of difference.
  • 0 Hide
    dgingeri , August 29, 2014 10:18 AM
    Not really any significant CPU change from the SB-E or IB-E. The big changes come from the platform, and the x99 has the same interface as the x79. Technically, the x99 could support a SB-E processor, if Intel would let it. Again, I'm held back from making a change because Intel decided to force a CPU upgrade to make a technology upgrade cost $1500 instead of only about $400. I'll have to stick with my x79 for a while longer. It is just not worth the cost.
  • 1 Hide
    dovah-chan , August 29, 2014 10:19 AM
    Quote:
    Were you disappointed by last year's Ivy Bridge-E launch? Core i7-5960X, -5930K, and -5820K promise more excitement, sporting up to eight cores, DDR4 memory, a new X99 chipset, and an LGA 2011-3 interface. Should you jump to upgrade, though?

    Intel Core i7-5960X, -5930K, And -5820K CPU Review: Haswell-E Rises : Read more


    I was wondering how often you writers read the comments? Just wondering.
  • 5 Hide
    pierrerock , August 29, 2014 10:31 AM

    Gee. DDR4 save about 5 W with 4 modules. And i was worried of pwer consumption when i overclocked my FX 8350 at 4.7 GHz :o 
  • 5 Hide
    dragonsqrrl , August 29, 2014 10:39 AM
    Quote:
    Yeah the real winner of a cpu here is definitely the 5820K. If I were building now, that is what I would use.

    Ya, the 5820K really stands out, especially in comparison to Intel's previous lowest SKU processors on X79. For the first time the x820 actually looks like a great option to go with. It's the same as a 3960X in clock speed and core count, except it's Haswell which seems to result in a 10-15% performance boost, and it's over $600 cheaper. The only drawback might be if you have a lot of high bandwidth PCIe cards, but I doubt that'll be an issue for most enthusiasts.

    And omg that price:
    http://www.microcenter.com/product/437203/Intel_Core_i7-5820k_33_GHz_LGA_2011_V3_Tray_Processor

    ... I love Microcenter.
  • 2 Hide
    maroon1 , August 29, 2014 10:41 AM
    Quote:
    Not really any significant CPU change from the SB-E or IB-E. .


    THe improvement in multi-threaded workloads are good. It is the biggest improvement per generation we have seen since gulftown
  • 0 Hide
    Pavel Pokidaylo , August 29, 2014 10:45 AM
    Um I'm a total noob. Can someone tell me approximately how much of an increase in performance I'd see using any of these over my i5 4670k? My CPU is not overclocked.
    I'm running a 780 ti and Gskill Ripjaw 1600 RAM.
  • 1 Hide
    Champion_hero , August 29, 2014 10:46 AM
    Hmm so for gaming, we're looking at either the 5820 or 4690..

    How would the cost of said systems compare, assuming we could create them as equal as possible? Would the performance benefits of the 5820 justify the additional cost?

    I'm still running on my old x58 i7 920, but it's starting to BSOD on CPU intensive games (although I suspect its my mobo that's the issue)...

    I wanted to build a new system this year, but don't want to make the same mistake I did with the x58 and be left with something that simply can't be upgraded after a year or so. At the same time, I don't want to buy into old tech if that too won't last..

    I have had a good run with my x58 mind, but am wary Intel may do what they did with my Gen 1 i7, and change something fundamental with the platform/DDR4 to mean I'll be 'stuck' with whatever I buy now...
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