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

Benchmark Results: Content Creation

This page represented one of the best showings for AMD’s FX processor in AMD Bulldozer Review: FX-8150 Gets Tested. Adding the Core i7-990X and Core i7-3960X, however, pushes AMD's flagship down the stack.

3ds Max easily leverages the 12 logical processors presented by both six-core CPUs, additionally putting Sandy Bridge’s architectural benefits to good use as the -3960X ducks in under two minutes.

Really, this is a good example of how heavier-duty apps stand to benefit from more workstation-oriented hardware. Neither the Core i7-920 or Phenom II X4 980 processors are very old. However, Intel’s new flagship finishes this workload in almost half the time of those two quad-core models.

Photoshop CS 5.1 was another application that let AMD’s FX shine last month (it still does well, with a third-place finish). However, Intel’s previous and current flagships displace it.

Parallelism takes precedence over architecture, as Sandy Bridge-E and Gulftown perform pretty similarly (though Phenom II X6 isn’t able to get through the workload as effortlessly as the two Intel chips and AMD’s own FX).

Premiere Pro is an interesting test, particularly because it leverages our GeForce GTX 580 to turn what used to be an almost hour-long workload into a sub-one-minute walk in the park using Intel’s Core i7-3960X.

The Sandy Bridge architecture is partially responsible for this, evidenced by a comparison to the Core i7-990X. But so are extra cores, demonstrated by a side-by-side with the Core i7-2600K.

The FX-8150 doesn’t do too badly here, given AMD’s $249 MSRP. It’s unfortunate that the chip is still selling for closer to $280 online more than a month after its launch.

Sandy Bridge-E, Gulftown, and Sandy Bridge (-2600K) all fall within five seconds of each other in our After Effects render job. That’s hardly a compelling reason to spend $1000 on an upgrade. However, if you’re coming from something older than a Core i7-920 or Phenom II X4 980, the speed-up is more palpable.

Another first-place finish for the Core i7-3960X in Blender represents a five-second victory over Intel’s Core i7-990X and an eight-second win over the Core i7-2600K.

Those narrow advantages are far less impressive than the near halving of the Phenom II X6 1100T’s showing.

The six-core Intel processors score a big win in SolidWorks, though the Core i7-3960X’s design allows it to outpace the Core i7-990X easily. Again, if you’re a workstation user, the gains attributable to Sandy Bridge-E compared to an older Core i7 or Phenom II X4—both of which we still consider very capable CPUs—are sizeable.

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?