Intel Keeps Enthusiasts On Its Most Modern Design With Haswell-E
The Ivy Bridge-E launch (almost exactly one year ago) was disappointing for a number of reasons. Not only did the Core i7-4960X offer little beyond what we were already getting from -3970X, but it had the gall to surface three months after Intel started selling its Haswell-based Core i7-4770K. Adding insult to injury was the already-old X79 Express chipset, outclassed in almost every way by the mainstream Z87 platform.
Simply put, power users have a hard time accepting last-generation’s technology as new when there’s already something shinier to anticipate.
Intel is already buzzing about Broadwell. But it’s technically taking the wraps off of Haswell-E while Haswell is still relevant. The distinction may seem trivial, but I guarantee that enthusiasts care. And although X99 Express doesn’t introduce any groundbreaking functionality, it at least integrates thorough USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s support.
That may sound like a tepid assessment of Haswell-E, but the truth is I’m giddy to have my hands on real high-end hardware again. Imagine a mixing bowl. Sift the idea of Intel’s first desktop-oriented eight-core CPU based on its most modern architecture. Add a new memory technology. An updated chipset. Solder-based thermal interface material improving your chances of a solid overclock. And sprinkle in LGA 2011-3, which we’re told will support Intel’s next-gen high-end desktop chip. Folded all together, those ingredients are actually quite tasty.
My impression of the three Haswell-E-based models isn’t completely uniform, though.
While eight Haswell cores are envy-inducing, thousand-dollar processors are reality for a fortunate few. The silver lining is that, previously, a Xeon E5-2687W v2—Ivy Bridge-based with eight cores—would have cost you $2000. Now you can get similar performance with an unlocked multiplier for half as much money. Power users able to exploit what a Core i7-5960X offers will certainly enjoy its exclusivity as they plow through taxing workloads.
But the -5960X wouldn’t be my first choice for a gaming-oriented system anyway. Its core count typically doesn’t benefit 3D frame rates, while lower base and Turbo Boost frequencies are sometimes felt as lower performance and greater frame time variance. Plus, there’s the whole price tag issue. That’s why I often look to Intel’s second-best solution as favorites. The Core i7-3930K and -4930K held onto their six cores and sold for a lot less money. I liked them a lot.
This time around, Intel’s stack is organized differently. Stepping down to the -5930K means losing two cores right off the bat. There is no intermediate eight-core option. So, if the rest of the Haswell-E line-up consists of six-core CPUs, why not drop another notch to the Core i7-5820K? Some enthusiasts will thumb their noses at Intel for cutting 12 lanes of third-gen PCI Express from its 40-lane controller, but as differentiators go, that one’s pretty tame. Twenty-eight lanes gives you room to run one 16-lane graphics card, two in x8-mode with plenty of connectivity left over, or even three cards on x8 links. And for $50 more than a Core i7-4790K, you get six cores, 15 MB of shared L3 cache, a bit of insulation against the future, four channels of DDR4, and ample PCIe. This time around, I’m going with the Core i7-5820K as my smart choice.
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