Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview

X79 Express And Another New Processor Interface

It won’t surprise anyone that Sandy Bridge-E necessitates yet another new socket interface.

That’s four introductions in three years, if you’re keeping count. First, there was LGA 1366 for Bloomfield, and later the Gulftown design. Then, there was LGA 1156 for Lynnfield and Clarkdale. After that we saw Sandy Bridge shift to an LGA 1155 interface. And now we have LGA 2011.

Intel’s strategy is pretty clear-cut. It’s trying to carve out one path for desktop PC users and another for the SMB server and workstation folks using 1P and 2P platforms. The company just so happens to also give desktop enthusiasts a taste of that same high-end functionality, basically re-badging Xeons as Core i7s.

AMD, on the other hand, is doing everything it can to keep the desktop and server/workstation platforms separate, which is why we’ve seen a seemingly-slower progression from Socket AM2 to AM2+ to AM3 and now AM3+. Over time, the result has been superior interoperability between platforms. The thing you have to remember, though, is that realizing the potential of each new interface still requires a motherboard upgrade.

Why LGA 2011?

If you bought into LGA 1366, you didn’t step down when LGA 1156 launched, and you probably even held off on Sandy Bridge, knowing full well Sandy Bridge-E was slated for launch this year, too. In that context, a shift to LGA 2011 three years after we were first introduced to LGA 1366 is actually pretty reasonable.

A number of (obvious) changes make the transition necessary. To begin, Sandy Bridge-E does away with the three-component platform that defined Nehalem, X58, and the ICH10. Instead, northbridge functionality migrates into the CPU, leaving just the Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 platform controller hub. Then you have a four-channel memory controller and 40 lanes of PCI Express, requiring a lot more power and signal pins.   

X79 Express: Specifications In Flux

Although we’re sure to see multiple versions of the Patsburg platform controller hub, enthusiasts only have to worry about the one that’ll become X79. The rest will be trimmed and tailored to serve the needs of workstation and server customers.

X79 Express
Processor Interface
LGA 2011
Graphics Configurations
2 x 16 and 1 x 8
1 x 16 and 3 x 8
1 x 16, 2 x 8, and 2 x 4
Overclocking Support
Processor and Memory Overclocking
USB 2.0
SATA2 x SATA 6 Gb/s, 4 x SATA 3 Gb/s (6 x Total)
Rapid Storage TechnologyRAID 0, 1, 5, 10
PCI Express 2.0 (5 GT/s)
Gigabit Ethernet

As mentioned, the expectation of X79 has changed fairly dramatically since its existence was first acknowledged. It was supposed to have a dedicated four-lane storage-oriented link to the CPU, it was supposed to have a lot more storage connectivity, and it was supposed to be SAS-capable.

It looks like we’ll instead see a PCH that sports the same storage package as P67 and Z68: six total SATA ports, two of which run at 6 Gb/s data rates. SAS connectivity is no longer a feature; that’ll instead need to come from a mezzanine or add-in card. Intel also makes it clear that the x4 uplink between Patsburg and Sandy Bridge-E will not be enabled when the platform launches. This might become a reality at some point down the line. Upon introduction, X79 will attach to Sandy Bridge-E solely through a four-lane DMI link.

This is our updated rendition of X79 using P67 as a baselineThis is our updated rendition of X79 using P67 as a baseline

Patsburg doesn’t support USB 3.0. And now its storage block is looking a little mainstream, too. Consequently, motherboard manufacturers are going to have to use a lot of third-party controllers to get X79-based platforms feature-heavy enough to succeed beefy Z68 boards. Expect at least a handful of the PCH’s eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes to host extras.

The bottom line is that X79 ends up looking a lot like P67 Express. All of the platform’s differentiated functionality comes from the Sandy Bridge-E processor itself.

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  • tri force
    "AMD FX-8150 (Zambezi) 3.6 G...Alright, that's just mean"

    I felt really happy for a second :(
  • xyster
    awesome! thx 4 the preview chris. i've been looking forward to this
  • wicko
    Just bought a 2600k, and after reading this I have no regrets.
  • for the price, the 8150 at 250 dollars will smoke intel out the water. IF you really want to go dolla per dollar , a dual socket amd opteron 6220 system will severely outperform the intel i73960 for alot cheaper. Thats 16 x 3.5 ghz turbo bulldozer cores against 6 3.3 ghz sandy bridge cores. hmm
  • jprahman
    I was really looking forward to Sandy Bridge-E, but it looks like a mixed bag from the review. The lack of USB 3 and especially PCI-E 3 was really disappointing, especially for an enthusiast class processor and chipset. The dearth of SATA ports was pretty surprising too, everything up to this review had indicated far more.

    The extra performance you can get looks pretty nice for stuff like transcoding, but the performance in the majority of applications doesn't justify the extra cost for the i7-3960. I'd rather get a i7-2600K or i5-2500K... or wait for Bulldozer to see how it performs relative to an i5-2500k or i7-2600k.

    To be honest, this review almost comes off like an attempt to chill any interest high-end enthusiasts might have for Bulldozer.
  • hmp_goose
    I predict a "meh" from enthusiast … And a far number of LGA1366 drivers looking for a price cut. ;-)
  • Wamphryi
    I just got an i7 2600 K and like a previous writer commented I have no regrets either. The 2600 K is such good bang for buck and lots of people seem to be snapping them up.
  • Tamz_msc
    I hope Bulldozer is more interesting than this. I honestly dont see many enthusiasts investing in this - they're better off waiting for Ivy Bridge.
  • raclimja
    what a massive disappointment, i was hoping for big performance improvement from intel

    i guess i will just stick with my i5 2500k and upgrade my aging HD 4870 x2 to something like GTX 680 or HD 7900
  • dalauder
    You say the i7-3820 will be a tough sell, but maybe, like the i7-2600, it will be an excellent non-overclocked part for OEM machines. For that purpose, I think a machine that can run DDR3 1600MHz at without overclocking is a reasonable upgrade over the i7-2600.

    There is a market for people who want top-end gaming machines but never want to look inside other than to add more graphics. Based off of Cyberpower, IBuyPower, Alienware, etc.--I bet that market is at least as big as enthusiasts that hand pick their parts.
  • dalauder
    leeashtonwell said people forget that clock for clock the phenom II out performs the Core i7 but not for brute performance
    I'd like to see where you heard that. Based off of this, it appears that the Phenom II only matches a Core 2 Duo, looses to Nehalem, and gets its butt handed to it by SB:,2974.html

    I love AMD, but the argument can't be made for their performance. They do well at extremely low price points now and Llano on the desktop is great for the extremely light gamers that want some gaming capability (OEM do-it-all machines). But for the enthusiast, or quoting performance, AMD desperately needs Zambezi to do more than I expect is possible.
  • compton
    I'm not really surprised at all. I'm interested in how power efficient X79 is compared to the stellar performance per watt of the 2500K/2600K. If the new SB-E parts idle anywhere near as low as SB does, it will be impressive. The platform itself isn't really as impressive if it does end up launching in this configuration -- but plain ol' Sandy Bridge is already pretty impressive. I'm still blown away by my 2500K and a couple of Intel SSDs, so I can't imaging myself benefiting from X79. I know there are many enthusiasts out there running older X58 setups who are going to upgrade to X79 no matter what, but I pick and choose my battles. The value of 1155 K parts and P/Z chipsets is hard to overcome.

    Ivy Bridge could be where it's at.
  • iam2thecrowe
    Intel gives us a preview, AMD gives us false BD hope and more delays........... I never had a bad thing to say about AMD until recently, they really are hanging by a thread in my books.
  • SteelCity1981
    So this is it from Intel? Seems like a lot of hype for nothing. The Core Core 17 2600x isn't that far behind in the benchmarks overall thn the Core i7 3960x. not to mention the Core i7 3960x barely edges out the Core i7 990x in the vast majority of the benchmarks that it replaced.
  • jasonw223
    Going to skip X79 most likely!
  • tomskent
    i7-3960X is a nice bump in performance for highly threaded apps, that said, 95% of the consumers wont need it. A 2500k is more then enough, especially when overclocked.
    Cant wait to see what Bulldozer can do, what Ivy Bridge can do, what the new gen video cards can do. An exciting next several months!
  • Agges
    Fingers crossed that this brings a price drop on the LGA 1366 line..

    Okay, very optimistic of looking at the past but one can dream.
  • agnickolov
    The 3.6GHz clock on 3820 is of most interest to me for a software development workstation. That's 200MHz over 2600 at the same price and the clock matters the most for compilation. Of course the platform cost will be higher... The 6 threads of 3930K are interesting as well - 6 files compiling in parallel instead of 4, though that makes no difference for still single-threaded linking. The biggest problem I expect is there will be no business-friendly offerings based on X79 - they will all center on Xeons.
  • FunSurfer
    For anyone who wondered what the hell is "Gesher" - it means "Bridge" in hebrew.
  • ronch79
    I really look forward to the day when I see SB-E, IB and BD being pitted against each other.
  • rantoc
    Compared to the 2600k im not impressed, hopefully its due to cpu throtteling due to temp or intel wont sell to many of thoose considering ivy is around the corner!
  • cats_Paw
    well, im still running on a Q6600, and i was planing to wait for the bulldozer/sandy-E to see if i upgrade one way or another.

    So far, it looks like its either a 2500-k or the bulldozer. Lets wait and see.

    (i do hope that if the sandy-e comes out, the 2500-k will drop a bit ;D-
  • Wish I Was Wealthy
    I think that the benchmark results are okay. It's just that I can not afford to buy yet & when I do the ivy bridge,panther point chipsets will be out.
  • nikkidpartypooper
    I love Intel,but I can't afford to buy the sandy-E chipset at all. Looks like I gotta hope for the AMD's bulldozer line of processors to really fail the test and if they do,then I will be able to buy real dirt cheap amd hardware parts to make a new pc.