In the two months since Intel unveiled Broadwell-E, I've been going back and forth with my decision to invest in one. We received the 10-core Core i7-6950X for review and while it was an attractive chip in terms of performance, it came at a seriously ugly price. At $1,650 we recommend taking a hard pass on the 6950X.
Frankly, the older 8-core 5960X was difficult to justify at $1,050, so the slightly updated 6900K for $1,100 doesn't exactly have us whipping our wallets out. Spending over $600 on the 6-core 6850K isn't too appealing either... So, what's an enthusiast to do if they require more than the 4 cores in Intel's mainstream desktop Core i7 processors?
One solution would be building our beastly 16-core/32-thread Xeon E5-2670 workstation featured back in April. For under $1,000 we picked up core components including two 8-core E5-2670 processors, a new dual-socket LGA2011 motherboard and 64GB of DDR3 memory. Throw in a case, power supply, graphics card and some storage and you have a seriously capable machine for the price of a Core i7-5960X.
In terms of performance, our affordable Xeon build really stuck it to the 5960X by a rather large margin in more than one test. When the uber expensive 6950X appeared, we made sure to pit it against the dual-CPU system and to our surprise the Xeons stood strong, even coming out on top in a few tests.
One solution would be building our beastly 16-core/32-thread Xeon E5-2670 workstation featured back in April.
It was interesting to find that in many of the application and encoding tests, this older Sandy Bridge-EP build was able to put up a real fight. In terms of performance vs. price it tends to come out well on top with the only blemish being its power consumption. The dual-Xeon system pulled 300 watts in our Hybrid x265 test while the Core i7-6950X setup needed only half that amount.
Of course we were comparing two 8-core processors to a single 10-core chip, but the main issue was the four-generation-old Sandy Bridge architecture.
This put us on the hunt for affordable Xeon processors based on the Haswell-EP or perhaps even Broadwell-EP architectures -- it certainly seemed mere wishful thinking that we would come across a relatively inexpensive Broadwell-EP Xeon.
Our search put us on the trail of Intel's Xeon E5 2630 v4, a 10-core Broadwell-EP part that runs at a base clock of 2.2GHz but can boost up to 3.1GHz depending on the workload.
Typically, you'd spend something like $700 for this processor -- substantially more than the $70 we paid for each of our E5-2670 v1 processors -- however, it's possible to purchase the E5-2630 v4 for as little as $200 on eBay. The only catch is that they are engineering samples (ES), not retail chips.
The examples we've come across are based on release stepping (SR2R7), so motherboard compatibility won't be an issue, providing the BIOS has been updated to support Broadwell-EP processors.
Once upon a time it was rare to find Intel engineering samples, but today they appear online in huge volumes. Looking only on eBay for instance, thousands of these E5-2630 v4 ES chips have been sold with countless more still in stock.
Typically, we suggest avoiding ES chips when possible, but $200 for a 10-core/20-thread Broadwell-EP processor really is too hard to refuse. With so many of you asking what these chips perform like over the past few weeks, we've decided to find out.
The previous build using the Xeon E5-2670 v1 processors was put together on a pretty tight budget and so we went with one of the most affordable Dual Socket R (LGA2011) motherboards we could find.
Since we are spending more than twice as much on the processors this time ($400), we decided to go with a more capable motherboard. Having been so impressed with the previous Asrock Rack motherboard, we picked up the EP2C612D16-2L2T on Newegg for $580 (which is now $100 cheaper if you needed further temptation).
This is a Dual Socket LGA2011 R3 motherboard that adheres to the SSI EEB form factor, measuring 12'' x 13'' (30.5 cm x 33 cm). Announced way back in September 2014, the EP2C612D16-2L2T gained Broadwell-EP support in March via BIOS version 2.10.
At the heart of the EP2C612D16-2L2T we find the Intel C612 chipset, a 7w part that was built using the 32nm process and offers Gen 2 PCIe support for up to 8-lanes, six USB 3.0 ports as well as 10 SATA 6Gb/s ports.
Asrock Rack has expanded SATA support to a dozen ports with the inclusion of a single Marvell 9172 6Gb/s controller. Given that this is a two-year old motherboard, you won't find fancy storage options such as M.2. High speed SSDs will need to be integrated using PCI Express adapter cards.
There are a total of 16 DIMM slots with support for NVDIMM (Non-Volatile Dual In-line Memory Module). Each processor is connected to 8 DIMMs and of course quad-channel memory support exists. Both RDIMM and LRDIMM modules are supported at speeds of DDR4 2133/1866 and 1600.
Onboard we find three PCIe 3.0 x16 expansion slots along with a further three PCIe 3.0 x8 slots. That means there are 72 PCIe 3.0 lanes on tap -- impressive stuff.
One of the key highlights of the EP2C612D16-2L2T is network support. Out of the box you get a pair of 10G network connections courtesy of the Intel X540 controller. In addition there are a pair of Intel i210 controllers for a pair of Gigabit Ethernet connections. Finally, there is also a single dedicated IPMI LAN port.
The ECC memory this board can support is generally meant for servers, where any data corruption is unacceptable. Since this isn't really a concern for most of our readers, we went with standard UDIMM modules from G.Skill, rather than equip the board with ECC memory.
Ideally we wanted to populate every DIMM slot with DDR4-2133 memory so we reached out to our good friends over at G.Skill. Happy to oblige, they served up 16 4GB sticks of Ripjaws V DDR4-2133 memory for a total capacity of 64GB, which will allow both Xeon E5-2630 v4 chips to enjoy quad-channel memory support.
G.Skill sells this memory in 16GB quad-channel memory kits for just $74 each, taking the total cost for this build to just shy of $300. For those wondering, the memory operates at CL 15-15-15-35 timings using 1.2 volts. The modules are available with either red or black heat spreaders and we went with red.
As with our previous dual-Xeon build, we equipped the processors with Noctua NH-U12DX i4 coolers. Noctua's DX line have become a popular choice in high performance quiet cooling solutions for Intel Xeon CPUs. The latest i4 revision supports the LGA2011 platform (both Square ILM and Narrow ILM) and comes with a 120mm NF-F12 'Focused Flow' fan.
Thanks to its slim design with a fin depth of 45mm, the NH-U12DX i4 ensures easy access to the RAM slots. When installed parallel to the slots, it will not overhang the memory even with two fans installed. For those concerned about space, the NH-D9DX i4 is an even more compact option. At $60, both the NH-U12DX i4 and NH-D9DX i4 are well priced and come backed by a six-year manufacturer's warranty.