Intel Core i7-3960X Review: Sandy Bridge-E And X79 Express

Benchmark Results: Productivity

OCR isn’t a workload for which we’d normally tap a thousand-dollar chip. However, ABBYY’s FineReader 10 does scale based on available core count, granting the Core i7-3960X a first-place finish. One of our most commonly-recommended CPUs, Intel’s Core i5-2500K takes exactly twice as long to finish this benchmark. How’s that for perspective?

All of the tests up until now have painted Core i7-3960X in a pretty positive light by virtue of optimizations for threading, which keep all of Sandy Bridge-E’s cores busy. But Lame is single-threaded, so the only advantages this new chip has are its clock rate, IPC, and whatever gains Intel can enable with Turbo Boost.

Not surprisingly, then, the Core i7-3960X comes in right around the Core i7-2600K—a CPU about one-third of its cost. The rest of the field follows behind. Without question, this, like the FX last month, is a processor primarily intended to tackle threaded workloads. The big difference is that it also presents solid single-core performance too, rather than sliding backward, which is what we see FX-8150 do.

The same story presents itself in WinZip, roughly. The -3960X and -2600K swap places, yet remain practically tied.

WinRAR is a completely different animal. Not only does it exploit all six of the Core i7-3960X’s cores, but it also demonstrates an affinity for higher-performance memory. Add to that the clear benefits attributable to Intel’s Sandy Bridge architecture and it’s no wonder the incoming flagship does so well, notably outpacing the outgoing top-end model.

Also able to utilize all of a six-core/12-thread processor’s resources, 7-Zip favors the Core i7-3960X just like WinRAR did.

Because this test is well-threaded, FX-8150 delivers a nice gain over the Phenom II X6 1100T, falling just one second short of Intel’s Core i7-2600K.

The creation of a PDF document from a PowerPoint 2010 presentation runs fastest on the Core i7-3960X, but only by a second. The fact that all of the Sandy Bridge-based chips finish within four seconds of each other suggests that the workload only taxes one thread, and favors Intel’s most current architecture over the Nehalem design that came before.

All of AMD’s chips bring up the rear. And because the Phenom II X4 offers better IPC than FX-8150, it’s able to outperform the most recent release. Unfortunately, Phenom II X6 1100T gives up too much clock rate to keep up, despite the fact that its Turbo Core technology dithers at up to 3.7 GHz.

We know from watching Windows’ Task Manager that our Miranda IM client compile test taxes multiple cores, which is why the Core i7-990X manages to slide into second place behind the Core i7-3960X. Intel’s other Sandy Bridge-based chips come in third and fourth, followed by three AMD CPUs. Intel’s Core i7-920 seems to lack the clock rate and architectural advantages of Sandy Bridge to compete in this discipline.

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.
  • Maziar
    Wow,lots of details and benchies.Great review as always Chris !
  • SpadeM
    So no SAS/Full Sata 3 ports but u do get PCIe 3 ... no Quicksync but u do get 2 more cores and the added cache ... no USB 3.0 but u get quad channel memory which in real life every day computing is a minimal gain at best. Feels an awful lot like a weak trade if you ask me. I'm basically asked to buy the P67 chipset with sprinkles on top. And for 1000$ it feels like it falls short. For heavy workloads it's cheaper and faster to make yourself 2 systems based on 1155 or bulldozer and render, fold, chew numbers that way. X79 should have launched with an ivy bridge based cpu inside and a better chipset to live to it's name.
    What we have today is simply a platform for bragging rights not a serious contender to the X38, X48, X58 family.
  • nikorr
    Enjoyed the review Chris ! WoW.
  • illfindu
    Not to take the review to much off topic but its worth bringing up because this review was so complete , as in covering a vast array of situations and programs. Its truly embarrassing for AMD that the FX-8XXX series is beaten not only bye chips with half the cores but half the cores that are a generation behind. In fact as of this moment the FX set is almost inspiring it its lack of any value at first glance at some of these marks one could say that AMD's most expensive chip at over 200$ is one of its slowest being beaten bye both the x4 and x6 phenoms.
  • redsunrises
    Illfindu, you are beating a dead horse... Old news, lets move on (sorry, just tired of the same thing being said over and over, which will end in an amd fanboy fight). Great review though!
  • ohim
    This article tells me 2 things , either our current software is a total piece of crap since it has absolutely no clue of multi core cpus, or the future without AMD is so grim that intel makes you pay 1000 bucks for a cpu that doesn`t perform really that fast ... but for sure the software industry needs to take a better look at those multicore optimisations.
  • stonedatheist
    I think Intel would be raking in the dough if they left all 8 cores enabled for the 3960X. I doubt that a later revision will enable them. 8c/16t will probably hit the desktop with IB-E (can't wait) :)
  • joytech22
    :| Well AMD is fighting a losing battle.. (In High-End CPU's, which I actually use for rendering etc..)
    I would LOVE to see them pick up their game and provide me with a worthy upgrade over my 4GHz i7 2600 (Non-K). I would swoop it up.

    Look, BD had 4 modules with two "cores" each, each module is equivalent to a Sandy Bridge core.
    They should just combine both of those cores or make them a single core, so we get 4 threads.

    Then create 4-6-8 core versions of those CPU's..
    Think about it.. the FX8150 is more of a 4-core CPU where the resources are halved pretty much so you get two threads per core, it would have been MUCH MUCH better if they just kept 4 strong cores.

    Not sure why either but I always seem to start an AMD related comment :\
  • sudeshc
    great but too expensive....
  • JeanLuc
    Hi Chris,

    The labels are wrong on the graphs on this page the last ones should read DDR2-2133 on the last two shouldn't it?