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

Crysis 2 In SLI

Intel’s three most modern enthusiast-oriented platforms include X58, Z68, and now X79.

The first proffers 36 PCIe 2.0-compatible lanes, enabled through the X58 Express I/O Hub itself. The second facilitates 16 lanes of second-gen PCI Express on the processor and eight more lanes on the Z68 Express Platform Controller Hub, though you’ll usually only see the CPU’s PCIe used to drive one or two graphics cards. With X79, the 40 lanes of third-gen PCI Express are enabled by the processor, potentially facilitating a massive throughput advantage over either older chipset.

But because there aren’t any PCIe 3.0-capable devices available yet, that feature goes unutilized for now. Still, can Core i7-3960X show us a benefit to using it over prior enthusiast platforms?

In DirectX 9 mode, where the graphics demand is the lowest, Intel’s Core i7-3960X turns in the highest average frame rate. Utilizing DirectX 11, the outcome is too close to call.

There’s nothing to indicate that two PCI Express x16 slots are of any benefit to our GeForce GTX 580 cards in SLI compared to Z68’s two PCI Express x8 slots, though. And any advantage Core i7-3960X holds over Core i7-990X is more likely to be attributable to the processor’s performance itself.

Core i7-3960X fails to put significant distance on our other two three-way-capable platforms in three different resolutions. Sandy Bridge-E does hold a measurable advantage, it’s just very small.

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?