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

Hardware Setup And Benchmarks

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Test Hardware
ProcessorsIntel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) 3.3 GHz (33 * 100 MHz), LGA 2011, 15 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, Turbo Boost enabled, Power-savings enabled
Intel Core i7-990X (Gulftown) 3.46 GHz (26 * 133 MHz), LGA 1366, 12 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, Turbo Boost enabled, Power-savings enabled
Intel Core i7-2600K (Sandy Bridge) 3.4 GHz (34 * 100 MHz), LGA 1155, 8 MB Shared L3, Hyper-Threading enabled, Turbo Boost enabled, Power-savings enabled
AMD Phenom II X6 1100T (Thuban) 3.3 GHz (16.5 * 200 MHz), Socket AM3, 6 MB Shared L3, Turbo CORE enabled, Power-savings enabled
AMD FX-8150 (Zambezi) 3.6 G...Alright, that's just mean. Sorry guys, we'll have to wait a bit longer for benchmark results on this one.
MotherboardTop Secret (LGA 2011) Intel X79
Asus Rampage III Formula (LGA 1366) Intel X58 Express, BIOS 0505
Asus Maximus IV Extreme (LGA 1155) Intel P67 Express, BIOS 0901
Asus Sabertooth 990FX (Socket AM3+) AMD 990FX/SB850, BIOS 0402
MemoryCrucial 32 GB (4 x 8 GB) DDR3-1333, MT16JTF1G64AZ-1G4D1 @ DDR3-1600, -1333, and -1066 at 1.65 V
Hard DriveSamsung 470-Series 256 GB, SATA 3 Gb/s
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 580 1.5 GB
Power SupplyCooler Master UCP-1000 W
System Software And Drivers
Operating SystemWindows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
DirectXDirectX 11
Graphics DriverNvidia GeForce Release 280.26
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3D Game Benchmarks And Settings
Metro 2033Game Settings: High Quality Settings, PhysX: Off, AAA/4x AF, 4x AA/16x AF, Wait for vertical sync: disabled, 1680x1050, 1920x1200, 2560x1600, Demo: Built-in Benchmark Utility
F1 2010Game Settings:  Ultra Quality Settings, Anti Aliasing: Disabled, 8x AA, Anisotropic Filtering: disabled, Sync Every Frame: No, 1680x1050, 1920x1080, 2560x1600, Demo: Custom Tom's Hardware Demo
Aliens Vs. PredatorGame Settings: Ultra Quality Settings, Anti Aliasing: Disabled, 8x AA, Anisotropic Filtering: 16x, Vertical Sync: Disabled, 1680x1050, 1920x1080, 2560x1600, Demo: AvP Demo Run
Audio Benchmarks and Settings
iTunesVersion: 10.4.1, 64-bit Audio CD ("Terminator II" SE), 53 min., Convert to AAC audio format
Lame MP3Version 3.98.3 Audio CD "Terminator II SE", 53 min, convert WAV to MP3 audio format, Command: -b 160 --nores (160 Kb/s)
Video Benchmarks and Settings
HandBrake CLIVersion: 0.94Video: Big Buck Bunny (720x480, 23.972 frames) 5 Minutes, Audio: Dolby Digital, 48 000 Hz, Six-Channel, English, to Video: AVC Audio: AC3 Audio2: AAC (High Profile)
MainConcept Reference v2Version: MPEG-2 to H.264, MainConcept H.264/AVC Codec, 28 sec HDTV 1920x1080 (MPEG-2), Audio: MPEG-2 (44.1 kHz, 2 Channel, 16-Bit, 224 Kb/s), Codec: H.264 Pro, Mode: PAL 50i (25 FPS), Profile: H.264 BD HDMV
Application Benchmarks and Settings
WinRARVersion 4.01 RAR, Syntax "winrar a -r -m3", Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
WinZip 14Version 14.0 Pro (8652) WinZIP Commandline Version 3, ZIPX, Syntax "-a -ez -p -r", Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
7-ZipVersion 9.2LZMA2, Syntax "a -t7z -r -m0=LZMA2 -mx=5", Benchmark: 2010-THG-Workload
Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5Video length 2min 21s, Export to H.264 Blu-raySource 960x720, Output 1280x720
Adobe After Effects CS 5.5Create Video which includes 3 StreamsFrames: 210, Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously: on
CinebenchVersion 11.5 Build CB25720DEMOCPU Test single and multi threaded
BlenderVersion: 2.54 beta Syntax blender -b thg.blend -f 1, Resolution: 1920x1080, Anti-Aliasing: 8x, Render: THG.blend frame 1
Adobe Photoshop CS 5.5 (64-Bit)Version: 11 Filtering a 16 MB TIF (15 000x7266), Filters:, Radial Blur (Amount: 10, Method: zoom, Quality: good) Shape Blur (Radius: 46 px; custom shape: Trademark sysmbol) Median (Radius: 1px) Polar Coordinates (Rectangular to Polar)
ABBYY FineReaderVersion: 10 Professional Build ( Read PDF save to Doc, Source: Political Economy (J. Broadhurst 1842) 111 Pages
Synthetic Benchmarks and Settings
PCMark 7Version: 1.0.4
3DMark 11Version 1.0.2
SiSoftware Sandra 2011Version: 17.80 Processor Arithmetic, Multimedia, Cryptography, Memory Bandwidth

The Core i7-3960X in our lab is a C0-stepping chip, which is fully operational, but not what we hear Intel plans to ship (the C1 stepping, which partners are now receiving, is said to be a more scalable part). As a result, remember that this is a preview run on pre-production hardware.

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Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E)
Active Cores123456
Maximum Frequency3.9 GHz3.9 GHz3.8 GHz3.8 GHz3.6 GHz3.6 GHz
Number of Bins Per Core665533
TDP130 W

I didn’t bother trying to overclock. Without an LGA 2011-compatible heatsink, it was difficult enough to keep the massive (comparatively) Core i7-3960X running cool. In fact, I couldn’t get a stable run of 3ds Max 2010 at stock settings; it’d shut down every time. With that said, initial estimates from reliable sources suggest the platform should be capable of BCLK settings in excess of 155 MHz if you’re using a multiplier-locked processor.

Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • 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.