Intel Core i7-3930K And Core i7-3820: Sandy Bridge-E, Cheaper

Core i7-3930K: The Smart Sandy Bridge-E Choice

After my review of Intel’s Core i7-3960X, I heard second-hand comments from several sources at Intel wondering why everyone else seemed to love the chip, and yet I pretty much recommended against buying it.

Knowing that the Core i7-3930K was just 100 MHz off of its mark and down 3 MB of shared L3 cache, I just had to know how it compared. So, I went and dropped $600 on the thing at Newegg. As an enthusiast making an actual purchase, and now with both the -3930K and -3960X in my possession, I can unequivocally affirm what I suggested in Intel Core i7-3960X Review: Sandy Bridge-E And X79 Express: mainly, that smart enthusiasts who need the effective Sandy Bridge architecture and raw compute power of six cores will buy Core i7-3930K instead of-3960X.

We’ve seen a ton of variance in the overclocking headroom of C0, C1, M0, and retail Sandy Bridge-E-based chips, so it makes little sense to crank our engineering sample as high as it’ll go to compare against this store-bought -3930K. What I can say, though, is that at 4.5 GHz and 1.36 V, you can’t do much better from a single-CPU daily-driver platform.

And that’s why I’m pleased to hand out my first ever Best of Tom’s Hardware award to Intel’s Core i7-3930K. Obviously, this isn’t something you see very often. It’s a distinction reserved for the best of the best, price be damned. Except, in this case, the price (relative to the flagship that just launched ahead of it), actually isn’t obscene.

We’ve seen that it’s super-easy to build a very expensive Sandy Bridge-E-based machine, and prices on high-end X79 motherboards like the ones featured in Thomas’ recent Ultimate X79? Five $320+ LGA 2011 Motherboards, Reviewed only perpetuate that stereotype. But I was able to snag the cheapest LGA 2011-equipped board on Newegg, ASRock’s X79 Extreme4-M, and construct a fairly feature-rich machine capable of potent two-card graphics configurations. It’s not the most purpose-built overclocking motherboard. However, the company deserves big credit for its ability to create a platform up to my little experiment.

And while it’s tempting to think a quad-channel memory controller needs to be populated with 4 GB modules, at least, 8 GB is still ample for most folks. G.Skill’s 8 GB F3-12800CL9Q-8GBZL kit gave me the data rate I wanted (1600 MT/s) at a modest 1.5 V using XMP settings. And that’s priced at $55 bucks (again, I went with the cheapest kit on Newegg). Done deal. Of course, After Effects demonstrated to us that some workloads can utilize more memory if it’s available, so if you’re in that category of high-end buyer ready to run workstation-class apps (and not as concerned about building on Sandy Bridge-E for half the price of my launch review), then step it up to 16 GB at least.

Want A -3930K Of Your Own?

Would you like to win your own Intel Core i7-3930K? How about a DX79SI motherboard and SSD 320 drive? Click here to enter for your chance!

The contest opens on December 8, 2011 9:00 PM PST and closes on January 12, 2012 9:00 PM PST.

Four Winners Will Be Chosen Randomly.

Prizes (provided by Intel):
Four (4) prizes consisting of one (1) Core i7-3930K CPU, one (1) DX79SI motherboard, and one (1) 320 Series 120 GB SSD. Approximate Retail Value Each: $600+$280+$200=$1,080



Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • compton
    This is a really excellent analysis. Clearly, I must be drinking at the wrong places because I never leave the pub with any hardware nicer than a hangover.
  • theuniquegamer
    So nice overclocking at 4.5ghz. I can expect that the upcoming ivy bridge unlocked series may be stable atleast 4.2 will all 4 cores active. I can't wait till Q2 next year to see benchmarks .
  • Dacatak
    Possible TYPO in the bottom graph for Dirt 3 benchmark.
    FX-8150 benchmark with no AA says "68.8" FPS. I think it's more like "48.8".
    For gaming (the high end CPU intensive), is there any noticeable difference between the 2500k and the 3960X?
  • Dacatak
    JOSHSKORNFor gaming (the high end CPU intensive), is there any noticeable difference between the 2500k and the 3960X?
    If by "noticeable" you mean "perceivable to mere mortals", then no.

    If you can in fact notice the difference between 105 vs 110 FPS, then you are a god, and you deserve only the best.
  • spunkyddog
    I bought the i7-3930K with 32GB of DDR3 1600 RAM last week and assembled a couple days ago. I have two Kingston 120GB SSDs in RAID that have been benched on my system at a theoretical 1,100MB/S Read and 1,300MB/S Write. Coming from a Pentium D 3.0GHz, this was like night and day. My renders went from 40minutes to 1minute. I'm not overclocking purely for the fact that this thing's a beast already and I'm doing high-end 3D work using Maya, Photoshop, After Effects, Video, etc. Also - I like the peace and quiet.

    Intel did an awesome job with the SBE line - despite the fact that we're missing some wanted/promised features (native support for USB and PCI-Express 3.0. I'm waiting out for the PCI 3.0 cards before I upgrade my graphics... curious if the Asus P9X79 Pro will hold it's promises.

    Thanks Chris for reviewing this processor. I felt like I went out on a limb getting this processor over the Extreme, but the $600 was well worth it.
  • cangelini

    Glad you're enjoying. You do, actually get PCIe 3.0 support, but no USB 3.0, unfortunately.


    Yup, typo--fixing now!
  • sna
    the only good reason to get X79 is the more ram .. u can get cheap 32G ram system , or go for 64G of ram and enjoy a ram disk

    it is a good thing
  • soccerdocks
    The Overclocking Sandy Bridge-E On A Budget page states, "With all of that said, 4.5 GHz was rock-solid down at 3.61 V". I'm pretty sure you meant 1.36 V.
  • cangelini
    soccerdocksThe Overclocking Sandy Bridge-E On A Budget page states, "With all of that said, 4.5 GHz was rock-solid down at 3.61 V". I'm pretty sure you meant 1.36 V.
    Indeed, fixed! At 3.6 V, we'd have dead Sandy. :)