CPU: Intel Core i7-3930K
Sometimes, being #1 can be overrated—and overpriced. Witness Intel’s present flagship, the Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, a gleaming slab of LGA 2011 awesomeness that, with a 3.9 GHz Turbo Boost ceiling, sets you back $1050 on Newegg. We have to wonder, is there some arbitrary margin Intel feels compelled to make on its top-end chips that now requires a $1050 price instead of the traditional $999.99? The extra $50 almost feels like you’re tipping the company for drink refills. Anyway. Why worry about that at all when you can opt for the $600 more sensible #2 offering, the Core i7-3930K?
Ignore the fact that our model is holding the Extreme Edition's box. It's the only one we could get our hands on prior to buying our own Core i7-3930K for Intel Core i7-3930K And Core i7-3820: Sandy Bridge-E, Cheaper.
With the second-place chip, you give up only 100 MHz in both the standard and peak Turbo Boost modes. It still features six physical cores, a 130 W TDP, LGA 2011, a 32 nm fab process, and a quad-channel DDR3-1600 memory architecture. Naturally, neither of these Sandy Bridge-E-based chips include integrated graphics, but you do get 40 lanes of third-generation PCI Express connectivity to which you can attach a ton of discrete graphics muscle. One spot in which the -3930K takes a slight hit is in its use of 12 MB of shared L3 cache, as opposed to the -3960X’s 15 MB. But check out the benchmarks in the story linked above; the cache deficit really doesn't hurt that badly.
The -3930K is an unlocked monster. Do you really care that the chip is a 3.2 GHz part instead of 3.3 GHz, when you can set it at 4.-something GHz and not even break a sweat? No. Quite honestly, the -3960X is either a vanity purchase or the domain of a professional workstation user unwilling to overclock for fear of instability. We’re quite content to get most of the flagship’s speed plus all of the expected extras (Hyper-Threading, VT-x and VT-d, AES-NI, Enhanced Intel SpeedStep, and more) for nearly half the price.