CPU & MotherboardsReviews

Intel Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition Processor Review, the Lite Edition

Intel’s been having a good run as of late and they’ve recently celebrated their 40th anniversary and what better way to mark that date than to launch your hottest product to date. Marking Intel’s 40th year in the industry is the release of the Sandy Bridge E processors aimed at high-end enthusiasts, top-end gamers and no-compromise power users. Building upon the success of the highly acclaimed Sandy Bridge processors, the new Sandy Bridge E line up is now taking on the mantle as  Intel’s flagship processor and its most powerful desktop product line. Today we have the top-end of this product line: the Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition. A six-core, Hyperthreaded computing behemoth that is designed to be THE processor for years to come. Let’s see how this processor performs and let’s make this extremely showy!

The first generation Sandy Bridge was an impressive product and something that has really been successful in the market easily taking away chunks of share from its aging Gulftown brother due to its great performance. But truth be told, the processor we have right now goes toe to toe with its predecessors, the 980X/990X Gulftowns. Right now there are 3 models (see below) of the Sandy Bridge E processor: a quad-core model and 2 six-core variants, the quad-core part being released Q1 2012.

Processor Model Stock Frequency Maximum Turbo Frequency Cores / Threads L1 Cache L2 Cache L3 Cache
Core i7-3960X 3.3 GHz 3.9 GHz 6/12 64KB x6 256KB x6 15 MB
Core i7-3930K 3.2 GHz 3.8 GHz 6/12 64KB x6 256KB x6 12 MB
Core i7-3820 3.6 GHz 3.9 GHz 4/8 64KB x4 256KB x4 10 MB

Now as with any new release there’s always that question on which is supported. As this one is a new platform, a new motherboard is needed that sports the new X79 chipset. For this test we have a board from Intel, the DX79SI coupled with a quad-channel kit from Kingston.  So let’s get hammering and see some benches… BUT FIRST, a couple of photos!

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The new LGA2011 socket is massive. The new retention mechanism features a dual-lever lock which makes sure your chip is in place.
Not really much to say about the proc… let’s let the charts do the talking for it.

As the northbridge gets totally scrapped in this platform, we can see a cleaner layout on this board. The noticeable skull trademark that Intel uses on its high-end boards is present in the south-bridge heatsink which is connected via heatpipe to the Codenamed Siler, this board is basically clean to look at but closer inspection we can see that there’s a lot going on in every part of the board.
This board gives us 6 SATA ports, the blue ones are SATA 6Gbps and the 4 black ones are SATA II capable. Down below we can some onboard power controls and a error code display and other than that some front and back panel connectivity like USB and FP audio.
Checking out the back we have 2 USB3.0 at the top row with a little switch which Intel calls the “Back2Bios” switch. I shit you not and I did not make that up, it is called the Back2Bios switch. No relations to Back2Gaming whatsoever. Just a few notches below we get plenty of USB2.0, a dual LAN ports, a Firewire port and audio ports. The board features 8 DIMM slots for quad-channel fun. My gripe about this is that Intel decided to place the main CPU fan header on the left side of the left DIMM cluster, so you’ll be forced pass your CPU fan cable over or around your RAM.
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PERFORMANCE

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We’ll start off with SiSoft’s SANDRA CPU Benchmarks which includes the Dhrystone and Whetstone tests. These tests basically all run within the CPU and cache so it is really a test to show how a processor performs.

First up the Dhrystone, which is a integer and string benchmark.

In the Whetstone benchmark, which measures floating point arithmetic performance, the 3960X absolutely demolishes everything.

Now we move on towards test with SuperPI and wPrime. SuperPI is single-threaded so our results show the performance of a single core.

On wPrime we can see how the scaling of the 3960X though not clear, the larger values give us a clearer picture of how our chip handles the benchmark.

Maxon offers a nice benchmark tool called Cinebench which really stresses your entire system to render a very complex scene. The output score is completely unique to Cinebench but allows us to have a rough idea of how the CPU works with 3D rendering tasks.

Video conversion is one major requirements of user which requires heavy processing power. We used Xilisoft and conver a 150MB 1080p clip into x264 format and average out the times we get in 3 runs.

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CONCLUSION

We expected the Sandy Bridge E platform to perform strongly but it completely surpassed our expectations. By no means we didn’t make a thorough nor definitive guide to this chip’s power, go ahead and check out the big boy tech sites for a full understanding of how this chip totally annihilates everything in its wake.

Being the flagship product that targets the higher-end market, the intended audience of this product will have surely prepared for this release. But anyone who’s coming from an SB platform might take a moment and rethink about WHY they should get this processor. In all honesty, we believe one should get the SB-E platform if they really need it. Heavily threaded and processor-intensive applications will happily feel at home with the new processor but the accompanying cost of a new motherboard and the new processor is going be a very pricey investment.

That said, we’re more likely going to see many people looking at the i7-3930K priced at ?29,000 versus the ?50,000 Extreme Edition. Even with its lower clock and cache, the performance alone in stock of the i7-3960X gives us a good idea of what can be attained with the i7-3930K. Also worth noting is that there is no cooler included with the new chips. Intel sells their standard air-cooler separately and a closed-loop liquid cooler, the RTS2011LC, for these line of processors although considering much of those who opt for this will most likely have an aftermarket cooler in mind.

We just can’t stress enough how impressed we are with the Sandy Bridge E processor we have right now. It just blows everything out of the water but that’s just a teaser because we’re sure that these chips are octo-cores (real cores) and we can’t wait to see how those babies handle.

In closing, we would like to repeat again that the SB-E platform is a platform that guarantees excellent performance but comes at a price. It’s hard to recommend this chip if you’re just going to game on a single card, but if you’re going multi-HD7970 or that new Kepler cards Team Green is cooking up, there’s nothing more reliable than the X79 powered board with an SB-E chip at the helm. If you’ve got the cash, there’s seriously no point not to recommend the new SB-E platform but if you’re on a budget, we suggest holding out a bit to see what Ivy Bridge brings to the table… but it surely won’t be beating the SB-E anytime soon in performance benchmarks.

 

… and no, I don’t have an SNSD video for this processor.


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