Intel Core i7-3960X Sandy Bridge-E Processor Review

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Final Thoughts and Conclusions

The Intel X79 platform for socket LGA2011 processors proved that it is clearly the new enthusiast desktop platform for Intel. The Intel Core i7-3960X processor did a great job of showing just how far ahead Intel is when it comes to processor performance. AMD’s new ‘Bulldozer’ processor series doesn’t stand a chance against Intel’s new ‘Sandy Bridge-E’ processors. The Intel Core i7-3960X is hands down the fastest processor that we have ever tested and used before. It is without a doubt the exotic super car of processors and with its commanding $990 suggested retail price it reserved for the select few that are willing to pay to have the best money can buy.

Zalman CNPS12X CPU cooler

The Intel Core i7-3960X was remarkably fast on multi-threaded benchmarks and that is very good news for power users that really tax their systems with workloads like video encoding and decoding. When it comes to gaming performance the Core i7-3960X is the first Intel Extreme Edition processor that didn’t really excel in the games. Most games don’t take advantage of four threaded let alone twelve, so this makes sense. If you’re looking for a cost effective gaming system you’d be better off using the Intel X68 Express chipset and socket LGA1155 processor. That said, the Intel LGA2011 platform wasn’t really lacking in gaming performance! 

Intel Sandy Bridge-E Features

We weren’t sent the Intel Core i7-3930K for testing, but at $555 it is also a very interesting processor. It has less cache (12MB) and a 100MHz base/turbo clock, but is still a fully unlocked part. Many of our readers might be wondering why buy the 3960X for $990 when for roughly half the price you can get nearly the same processor minus the cache (we are certain you can overclock it 100MHz). This is a great question! Intel didn’t really differentiate the Extreme Edition processor that much and that is great news to those that like to feel they are getting a deal. The Intel Core i7-3820 is going to be the entry level Sandy Bridge-E processor and it won’t be released until Q1 2012. Intel didn’t exactly say why, but why release it if the competition can’t touch your last edition processor?

Intel Sandy Bridge-E and NVIDIA SLI

The Intel X79 Express chipset doesn’t have that many new features, but it does bring quad-channel memory and 40 PCI Express lanes to the table. When it comes to SATA and USB the new chipset doesn’t bring anything new to the table compared to the Intel Z68 chipset. Intel has yet to integrate a USB 3.0 controller into their chipset and the board still has just two SATA III 6Gbps ports for storage drives. In this review we tested single card gaming performance and didn’t find much difference between Z68 and X58 platforms. If you run a multi-GPU setup like NVIDIA SLI or AMD CrossFire you should see some rather nice performance gains thanks to the full x16 PCI Express 3.0 slots that are being used on these boards. NVIDIA is allowing motherboard makers to buy licenses for SLI on the Intel X79 chipset, which is great news for NVIDIA fans. NVIDIA sent over some slides showing that they are seeing between 10-30% performance improvements when running 3-way SLI with GeForce GTX580 video cards thanks to the extra bandwidth. If you are a gaming and run a multi-GPU setup then you might want to take a closer look at this platform. 

Intel DX79SI Siler motherboard

Our use of the Intel DX79SI ‘Slier’ motherboard was limited, but we found it to be a feature rich platform. As with any new platform we ran into some memory compatibility issues and we are hopeful that this will be fixed in future BIOS releases. Intel has a few kinks to work out, but minor issues like this are normal as we are dealing with beta BIOS revisions that will likely never be public. We’ll hold our final thoughts on this board for a later date when we have our motherboard tester take a look at it. 

At the end of the day we have discovered that Intel has released yet another powerful platform that is sure to power high-end enthusiast systems for years to come.

Legit Bottom Line: The Intel Core i7-3960X 6-core processor is menacing and it’s a shame that AMD’s Bulldozer 8-core processor couldn’t compete at the same in many of the benchmarks!

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