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Sandy Bridge-E: Core i7-3960X Is Fast, But Is It Any More Efficient?

Sandy Bridge-E: Core i7-3960X Is Fast, But Is It Any More Efficient?
By , Achim Roos

Ironically, when it comes to performance, Intel’s Core i7-3960X is the real Bulldozer. Since its power consumption levels are lower than the Gulftown-based Core i7, it should also deliver amazing performance per watt as well. Is that really the case?

Intel's Sandy Bridge-E design takes the company's 32 nm Sandy Bridge architecture to the next level. As you likely saw in Chris Angelini’s full review on Sandy Bridge-E And X79 Express, the new high-end processor family offers more of almost everything: more cores, more cache, more memory channels, and more PCI Express connectivity, resulting in better benchmark scores in almost every discipline.

While the new processor design, which is now available as the Core i7-3960X and Core i7-3930K (and Core i7-3820 some time next year) delivers more performance, we've already seen the first review machines based on X79 Express lowering power consumption versus the Gulftown/X58 combination thanks to the dual-chip platform layout. AMD might not want to learn in detail what this could mean in terms of performance per watt, since the six-core Core i7-990X was already faster than its flagship FX-8150.

Fast, faster, Sandy Bridge-E: Socket LGA 1155, socket LGA 1366 and the latest socket 2011 – ironically released in the year 2011.Fast, faster, Sandy Bridge-E: Socket LGA 1155, socket LGA 1366 and the latest socket 2011 – ironically released in the year 2011.

The Numbers Game

The secret sauce of Sandy Bridge-E turns into a relatively simple recipe, which reads: do more of the same. This is made possible by the solid performance per core of Sandy Bridge, and the parallelism of a six-core implementation. In other words, it appears that Sandy Bridge scales very well, so it makes sense that Intel would introduce it as a six-core desktop offering and, later, an eight-core server-oriented Xeon processor.

In short, Sandy Bridge-E facilitates up to six cores (rather than the four you max out with on LGA 1155), includes four 64-bit memory channels (rather than LGA 1366's maximum of three), boasts official memory data rates as high as 1600 MT/s, and features 40 PCI Express 3.0-capable lanes. Moreover, the 2.27 billion-transistor processor occupies 434 mm2 of die space, too.

Getting Rid Of Dead Weight

But Sandy Bridge-E also sheds certain elements that might otherwise contribute to its overall power consumption. As on Sandy Bridge, power gating allows unused parts of the processor to be almost completely shut down, minimizing power consumption. Add that to the single-chip platform, which replaces its predecessor's two-chip layout, and you have the foundation for new lows in idle and peak power usage compared to any other six-core CPU in the lab.

The promise, then, is one of new efficiency records, particularly in applications able to leverage Sandy Bridge-E's parallelism. Just recently, we looked at the performance per Watt of AMD’s FX processor in the article AMD FX: Energy Efficiency Compared To Eight Other CPUs. In today’s article, we’re performing the very same experiment.

So, if you’re in search of information on power efficiency, have a look at the aforementioned story. Or, if it's architectural details you're after, make sure you've already read our Sandy Bridge-E launch article for more the story about design and performance.

Sporting six cores, 32 nm lithography, 15 MB of shared L3 cache, and clock rates between 3.3 and 3.9 GHz, depending on workload, is the Core i7-3960X a good foundation on which to enable great power efficiency? It seems like it could be, as the idle power consumption of 87 W measured in our launch coverage represents a record low for a high-end desktop PC.

Display 57 Comments.
Top Comments
  • 21 Hide
    fstrthnu , November 17, 2011 3:24 AM
    Aand yet more evidence that most people looking for a high-end processor will be perfectly fine with the i5-2500K or the 2600K
Other Comments
  • 21 Hide
    fstrthnu , November 17, 2011 3:24 AM
    Aand yet more evidence that most people looking for a high-end processor will be perfectly fine with the i5-2500K or the 2600K
  • 7 Hide
    sam_fisher , November 17, 2011 3:38 AM
    fstrthnuAand yet more evidence that most people looking for a high-end processor will be perfectly fine with the i5-2500K or the 2600K


    I guess it just depends on what you're doing. If you have a high end workstation and are using programs that are going to utilise all 12 threads, quad channel memory and 40 lanes of PCIe, and you need that processing power then it's probably not a bad investment. Whereas for most users the 2500K or the 2600K will do fine.
  • -5 Hide
    benikens , November 17, 2011 3:40 AM
    Quote:
    Ironically, when it comes to performance, Intel’s Core i7-9360X is the real Bulldozer. Since its power consumption levels are lower than the Gulftown-based Core i7, it should also deliver amazing performance per watt as well. Is that really the case?


    It's i7-3960x, not i7-9360x
  • -1 Hide
    pwnorbpwnd , November 17, 2011 3:48 AM
    Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't the 6850 a Barts card? Unless I am wrong but I own a 6850.
  • -1 Hide
    one-shot , November 17, 2011 3:59 AM
    There is a small typo on Page 9

    "Total power used drops again relative to Cor ei7-3960X's predecessor, the Core i7-980X (Gulftown)."
  • 7 Hide
    Shape , November 17, 2011 4:08 AM
    Quote:
    Ironically, when it comes to performance, Intel’s Core i7-9360X is the real Bulldozer.



    ROFL!!! Very well said!

    Nice!
  • 2 Hide
    de5_Roy , November 17, 2011 5:05 AM
    another informative, in-depth article about efficiency. great work guys!
    3960x might very well be the $1k cpu that's worth the (over)price unlike the older 980x.
    sb-e shows that both single threaded and multi threaded performance as well as efficient power use can be ahcieved by a 32nm, 6 core, 130 tdp cpu (but you gotta pay a lot for that).
    when you bring price into the equation, quad core sb i5 and i7(95w tdp) are the best way to go (i wonder how an i7 2700k fare if it was tested alongside these cpus).
  • 1 Hide
    agnickolov , November 17, 2011 5:18 AM
    And I was so hoping Visual C++ had made it into the regular benchmark set. Sadly, it's missing here...
  • -1 Hide
    giovanni86 , November 17, 2011 5:38 AM
    Looking forward to seeing what type of Air/liquid cooled Overclocks can be achieved with these newly released processors.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 17, 2011 7:09 AM
    I wanna know how it performs on DAW apps. I hope it will be included in future benchmarks.
  • 0 Hide
    AstroTC , November 17, 2011 9:47 AM
    Excellent review but has anyone else noticed of good looking the LGA 2011 Platform setup is? I really like to see it.
  • -1 Hide
    jemm , November 17, 2011 10:11 AM
    Great article! I loved that mobo with 4 dimms at each side of the processor.
  • 3 Hide
    ukee1593 , November 17, 2011 10:16 AM
    I am still very pleased with my i5 2500 after reading this article. Sandy Bridge-E's efficiency might be impressive for a high end CPU ... but it still cannot beat the practicality of the Standard Sandy Bridge.

    I can't wait until Ivy Bridge!
  • -6 Hide
    gsxrme , November 17, 2011 11:57 AM
    by no means am i replacing my 2600k @ 5ghz w/ HT ON and GSkill 2200Mhz Cas7 anytime soon.
  • 3 Hide
    aldaia , November 17, 2011 12:08 PM
    fstrthnuAand yet more evidence that most people looking for a high-end processor will be perfectly fine with the i5-2500K or the 2600K

    Agreed, 2500k is still the sweet spot in the triple trade-off performance/power/cost. This is what I will choose if i needed a replacement, considering the applications I run.
    sam_fisherI guess it just depends on what you're doing. If you have a high end workstation and are using programs that are going to utilise all 12 threads, quad channel memory and 40 lanes of PCIe, and you need that processing power then it's probably not a bad investment. Whereas for most users the 2500K or the 2600K will do fine.

    Right, but if i have a truly highly parallel application, then, a server with several interconnected nodes offers more bang for the buck. I would consider 4 nodes based on 2500k that probably are cheaper than a single 3960X and offer me much more computing power. It all depends on your appliccation.
    But clearly the 3960X is for a niche market, either because it really fits your needs or the "bragging rights" niche market.
  • -1 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , November 17, 2011 12:31 PM
    aldaiaAgreed, 2500k is still the sweet spot in the triple trade-off performance/power/cost. This is what I will choose if i needed a replacement, considering the applications I run.Right, but if i have a truly highly parallel application, then, a server with several interconnected nodes offers more bang for the buck. I would consider 4 nodes based on 2500k that probably are cheaper than a single 3960X and offer me much more computing power. It all depends on your appliccation.But clearly the 3960X is for a niche market, either because it really fits your needs or the "bragging rights" niche market.


    The i7-3930K is pretty decent for the price, though. At the same clocks as the 3960X it's the same speed, and all reviews featuring both have it achieving the same overclocks, sometimes at lower voltage. Unless it's for bragging rights or epeen the 3930K is clearly a better choice since the extra cache seems to be useless for desktops and it isn't even better binned.


  • 3 Hide
    CaedenV , November 17, 2011 12:32 PM
    The more benchmarks I read the happier I am with my i7 2600 :)  It is right behind the new big boy, and only cost $250 at my local computer hardware store compared to $1000 to get a few extra seconds off.

    What will be really interesting to see is what happens with the IB release. Last time the mainstream SB could meet or beat the old high end chips, for 1/3 the price. I wonder if the IB release will do the same thing, or if Intel will downplay the performance so as not to piss off their high-end buyers again.
  • -1 Hide
    AppleBlowsDonkeyBalls , November 17, 2011 12:46 PM
    CaedenVThe more benchmarks I read the happier I am with my i7 2600 It is right behind the new big boy, and only cost $250 at my local computer hardware store compared to $1000 to get a few extra seconds off.What will be really interesting to see is what happens with the IB release. Last time the mainstream SB could meet or beat the old high end chips, for 1/3 the price. I wonder if the IB release will do the same thing, or if Intel will downplay the performance so as not to piss off their high-end buyers again.


    Ivy Bridge is a die shrink that is based mostly on lowering power consumption and getting higher IGP performance. CPU performance improvements will be few: according to Anandtech 4-6% higher IPC than Sandy Bridge, and since Intel is focusing on power consumption clock speeds won't be much higher than SB, so about a 5% improvement there too. About 10% more CPU performance max, so don't expect too much. Sandy Bridge-E will still be significantly faster in multi-threaded.
  • -1 Hide
    TeraMedia , November 17, 2011 1:39 PM
    Based on the results for some of the multi-threaded tests, it appears as if the turbo boost on SB-E is getting modulated more often than the turbo boost on 2600K. It would be very interesting to see a multi-threaded test in which turbo boost was turned off, and the clocks of both were set at the same rate, e.g. 3.6 or 3.9 GHz, whatever the cooler will bear. Also supporting this idea is that several of the configurations appear to max out at right around 200-210 watts peak power. So if the thermal limiter threshold is kicking in for SB-E to keep it within its power budget, that could explain the "better, but not way better" performance between SB-E and 2600K. Would such a test be feasible, Toms?
  • 2 Hide
    danraies , November 17, 2011 3:56 PM
    I work in engineering and many of our employees have heavily multithreaded applications running at their personal machines sometimes for days on end. This is obviously the kind of place SB-E chips will thrive unless IB blows them out of the water. Obviously these $1K chips are not the right choice for enthusiast gaming PC's and they're arguably not the best choice for servers as they get outshined by cheaper chips over several nodes. However there are certainly applications where 6+ cores at 3.3ghz+ are worth $1K and SB-E steps in where Bulldozer failed.
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