Intel Sandy Bridge-E Debuts: Core i7-3960X Reviewed

By Julio Franco · 46 replies
Nov 14, 2011
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  1. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    Best gaming value assuredly.
    If your usage leans towards content creation and productivity as well as gaming then the 2600K would edge the 2500K in most metrics (performance/watt, time to complete, multitasking).
  2. red1776

    red1776 Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe Posts: 5,224   +164

    Insane PC 'I'm really from Liverpool' arsonist enthusiast....category...:p:haha::wave:

    ...there...happy now!?

    there is nothing wrong with bench box boys ya know. That is some folks thing.
  3. Leeky

    Leeky TS Evangelist Posts: 3,797   +117


    So basically you're saying (among other things) that unless someone went for multiple HD displays, and multiple GPU's it will offer absolutely no advantage to any game at all over the current reining SB 2600K?

    That said, why did Crysis 2 see an improvement but not the rest? Is there a logical explanation for that?

    Very. :) Except I was born in the West country - Gloucester to be exact. ;)

    But hey, any excuse - I just like the layout of the motherboard, the LGA775 is long overdue replacement, and an upgrade to a 6 core SB-E would last me a good while.
  4. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    That's about it...with a caveat:
    1. P67/Z68 shares it's platform PCI/PCI-E bandwidth with I/O to the extent that not all features can be run concurrently on most budget/mainstream boards- PCI-E slots sharing bandwidth with I/O controllers (SATA 6GB, eSATA and USB 3.0), so some ports may be not available if the bandwidth is already allocated

    P67/Z68 is limited to 16 lanes of PCI-E 2.0/3.0 -which generally means two graphics cards only at x8 speeds, and unless the board has an integrated bridge chip (PLX or NF200 lane extender) most of the other slots become non-functional or downgraded -usually a PCIe x16 running at x4 or a PCIex4 (this third slot often shares bandwidth with a PCIe x1 slot)

    It may be a case where the game has an L3 dependency- I stress may, as I do not know for sure and unlike testing an AMD L3/ no L3 situation it could be hard to pin down*. If the game code is asking the CPU to switch data at a very fast rate then a CPU with a lower amount of L3 cache may reach a point where it would need to offload to the much slower use of system memory (RAM)- having a larger third-level cache may mitigate that need.

    You would probably need to evaluate on a game by game basis and target games where the CPU workload is high (i.e. using CPU physics engines) such as BF3

    I was thinking along the same lines:
    1. That level of performance will stay competitive for some time
    2. If you select a good quality board then an "upgrade" to the non-neutered 8-core Xeon E5 is an option in future, or...
    2A. Ivy Bridge-E (rumoured to be 8 and 10 core) will likely be a drop-in replacement for SB-E if anyone finds that the latter becomes too "underpowered"

    EDIT: I'm an idi0t. If you look at reviews of the 3960X and 3930K at the same clockspeed then the only difference between the two is the 3930K's lower L3 cache (12MB instead of 15MB) [bit-tech review here]
  5. DokkRokken

    DokkRokken TS Rookie Posts: 267

    Doesn't replicate the excitement of the 1366/i7, which is too bad. Nehalem's debut was a fun time.

    I suppose what we can be excited about is how well the consumer/enthusiast grade CPU's like the 2500K perform in comparison. Good work Intel. I hope Piledriver picks up the pace for AMD, though that's wishful thinking, I know.

    SB-E is far too overpowered for my actual needs, but I'd be game for a 3930K sometime soon. Perhaps after a stepping revision.
  6. dikbozo

    dikbozo TS Booster Posts: 82

    It strikes me that this new CPU is really not much to write about, other than it is quite expensive. I do recognize that the initial offerings here are the top end units, which really doesn't bode well for the later iterations of lower price. Another socket means another board to buy. Yet again Intel dictates a more costly upgrade path for manufacturers as well as consumers. The above noted limitations of the chipset supporting this CPU probably means another chipset or socket change down the road. Keep in mind the rather tepid performance delta of this very costly new unit. The price difference between the CPUs themselves is rather large, somewhat reminiscent of the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition units.

    I do wish AMD had produced a more clearly competitive chip but as I see the 3960X as a somewhat more powerful but equally mixed performer (as compared to previous i7 chips) it seems that the lack of a more competitive chip from AMD has let Intel slip back into its old arrogance. I wouldn't buy one of these but then again I didn't buy any other CPU at that price point either. I urge others to think and use a careful analysis of their needs before buying/building a new machine.
  7. red1776

    red1776 Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe Posts: 5,224   +164

    and now, a counter point/opposing view.
    I an not a big fan of buying the top end, top priced CPU...especially for 'future proofing'. if you are going to spend $1000.00 on a CPU, the following should be of urgent importance and true .
    1) Your home computer is used at, or to the point where it is a "time is money" situation.
    2) The difference between 2:00 and 2:07 to compress/convert that file is actually important and meaningful to you.
    3) you are going to keep the CPU for 3+ years
    4) you don't mind the depreciation of an Alpha Romeo.

    lets not forget you have gaming as one of your core uses, and it doesn't even offer any improvement in this area. Add to that, in a few months IB will be here with most likely 90%+ performance for about 1/3 the price, and less juice to run it with a 22nm process.
    I just think that future proofing with a $1000.00 CPU is going to lead to disappointment. I would bet you a pint, that if you got a picked up an $350 IB CPU,with the intention of replacing it again in a would probably pass on the upgrade. If you did not pass, and purchased/installed a second $350 would still be ahead $300, be current generation, have better performance than a $1000 SB now. My advice, get a $350 IB now with an option for a update in a year +/-.
    My 2 cents worth.:)
  8. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    Yup, if it weren't for the fact that it spanks every other CPU in productivity and content creation it would be pretty much s*!+
    The next SKU to launch is the Core i7 3820 at $294
    Are you in some kind of hostage situation...forced to wear a vest packed full of plastique that will go boom if you don't get to a Microcenter in time ?
    I think the "manufacturers" are loving it...You think that somehow this product launch is costing Intel and the motherboard and RAM makers money ?
    Yup, FC-LGA2011 is likely to go EOL sometime in 2014...hardly worth releasing it -maybe everyone should just stay with their present systems until ~2018 when Skymont makes an appearance
    Which could be levelled at every new x86 architecture from any vendor since C2D
    ...and Core 2...
    ...and the next enthusiast line...Nehalem..

    You realize the last time that happened people had to pay $1000+ for an Athlon FX, right?...$1k+ in 2006
    Quelle surprise
    ...dikbozo...sucking the lifeblood out of an enthusiasts hobby, one post at a time.
    Me either, although the 3930K at half the price is mighty tempting -OC isn't affected ( 45 multi + BCLK if required). I'd still wait until prices settle down and some concrete info on the next stepping.
    Ahh, but followed by Ivy Bridge-E........TEN CORES G! TEN F@(%n CORES!!! :D
    I'd probably echo those sentiments if it were not for the fact that the Z77 chipset looks like it's going to be hamstrung by Intel yet again. If you're going that route then buying a 2600K and a good Z68 board with IB drop-in capability is probably the way to go.
    From a personal viewpoint - I drive an M5, I like driving...I appreciate the "getting from A to B" mentality, but I probably won't be buying a Ford Fiesta any time soon even though it does much the same things as the Beemer and costs somewhat less...So I can appreciate the enthusiast excess for the sake of excess.
  9. Archean

    Archean TechSpot Paladin Posts: 5,690   +96

    Here even a new Honda Civic / Accord or Toyota Corolla will loose about 5-6% of its value as soon as you drive it out of the show room, so ................................ this isn't simply an Alpha Romeo issue ;)
  10. red1776

    red1776 Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe Posts: 5,224   +164

    Yeah i'm like that with graphic cards....and food....etc..
    Hey i am all for the enthusiast thing. i have enthusiast OCD myself.
    I just get the impression that Lee-K isn't buying one for an enthusiast vent though...unless he just isn't admitting it :p
    and it has been my experience that the vast majority of folk who try to 'future proof' with a product like this, wish they hadn't.
    you don't say... cuz ...that would be dumb...:eek:

    I understand that Alphas have a higher "as soon as you get off the lot drop" in value. just what I have heard from those should know....I, i said should know :p
  11. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    Well, for the bog-standard desktop setup a 2500K/2600K is going to suffice for the majority of people. A 2600K/2700K clocked to 5GHz is still a potent performer. Where the clear cut performance issue isn't clear cut is if you compare low end SB-E vs high end SB...
    3820 (4C/8T) @ $294 vs. 2600K (4C/8T) @ $316
    Gigabyte X79-UD3 @ £186.34 vs Asus P8Z68 Deluxe @ £192.82 (a reasonable board with PLX chip and similar feature set)
    RAM pricing is largely inconsequential.

    4-6 months down the track, the upgrade path would be Ivy Bridge (4C/8T) 3600K vs a second hand 3930K (6C/12T). Your upgrade path with Ivy Bridge stops there-barring higher clocked parts, while the X79 still gives the opportunity for secondhand 3960X (or better) and Ivy Bridge-E.

    This is pretty much the scenario I'm looking at now...but then, I'm itching to build a balls out system again....X58 for me was good but limiting - Westmere comes too late in the product cycle to consider....and I haven't had a really enjoyable tweaking system since my QX9650 + 790Ultra setup.
  12. Leeky

    Leeky TS Evangelist Posts: 3,797   +117

    Thanks for the explanation in post 29 dude. :)

    I agree. I'm not spending $1000 on a CPU. The i7 3930K is more than suitable for my needs and I've no intention of aiming higher.

    In response:

    1. Not as such, but like other enthusiasts I like things to be smooth and super responsive. Even with an SSD I'm beginning to get frustrated with the gradual reduction in performance from my Q6600. So it is time to upgrade.
    2. See above. But for humour, thats 7 seconds I could be doing something else. You add them up and it makes a difference.
    3. I'm in front of my PC all day, every day. Its used 18 hours a day, day in, day out. I've had this current PC setup for much longer than that period.
    4. I actually happen to love Alfa Romeo's. ;) They sure do break, but they have a character missing in most cars these days.

    I do. I also run several VM's at once, a majority of the time I'm in front of the computer, plus I'm using Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Fireworks and a whole host of other software usually running in the background dependant on what I'm doing at the time. Six cores/12 threads will give me an advantage in that respect over 4 cores/8 threads. Gaming accounts for as little as 25% of my typical usage.

    I agree. I'd be nuts to spend that sort of money on a CPU. When you consider that I don't upgrade chipset on every release I think the cost of a i7 3930K over several years for its productivity performance is money well spent. I do not deny that the i7 2600K would be adequate in almost (if not) all respects, there are features I like about SB-E.

    Aye, that could be true, but I'm not considering spending that much on a CPU alone. I'll regularly be adding/removing disks, GPU's, PSU's, even changing cases, and RAM, but the chipset and CPU will remain long term once I upgrade. I have absolutely no intention of annual or even bi-annual chipset/CPU replacements.

    It will remain in use until such time as an upgrade is needed, in all likelihood 2-3 generations on from now. My current system was built before the system that blew up earlier in the year, and despite being reliable, its getting very long in the tooth for what I ask of it.

    Its a bit of both. I have mild to moderate enthusiast OCD, my problem most of the time isn't buying stuff, its deciding on what to buy. I've spent months figuring out what route to take, and while admittedly the cheapest route of upgrade is a FX-8120 due to having a compatible motherboard/RAM already, I'm just not convinced its a wise decision long term. Added to the fact its a single PCI-ex motherboard, long term it restricts possible routes of expansion.

    So if I remained with AM3+ I'd be replacing the motherboard. Given that point, its almost pointless considering that as an option as a little bit more money would give me a SB system.
  13. DanUK

    DanUK TS Booster Posts: 211   +9

    That's a crazy fast piece of kit.

    However as I only really use my PC to play games.. (as this review demonstrates) my i7 920 still does me very well.
  14. Mizzou

    Mizzou TS Enthusiast Posts: 823

    Given the type of computing you do the i7 3930K makes perfect sense, especially when you spread the cost over a number of years. Also agree that it's a better choice than the FX 8120P (20/20 hind sight), as AM3+ will be long gone before SB-E reaches end of life. When I built my X58 rig with a 965EE Nehalem was assuming at least five years of service, so far so good and it more than handles my gaming/OCD enthusiast needs.

    According to bit-tech it appears the 3930K has some pretty fair overclocking abilities just in case you decide to scratch that itch now or down the road :)

  15. fpsgamerJR62

    fpsgamerJR62 TS Rookie Posts: 489

    For guys like me running an outdated gaming PC ( AMD 955BE/ 790FX MB / 8 GB DDR2-800 / GTX 275 ), a Core i7 2600K/2700K with 8/16 GB DDR3 seems to be the most logical and cost effective upgrade. However, I have this gut feeling that the Core i7 3930K rig, even with the higher upfront cost of the processor, motherboard and memory, might prove to be the better long term investment for someone who does gaming and also some light office work on the same PC.
  16. Leeky

    Leeky TS Evangelist Posts: 3,797   +117

    Thanks for the feedback Sir. Yes, I'd noticed that as well, it kind of reinforces the i7 3930K as being the better choice. Coupled to a Corsair H100 Or Silver Arrow air cooler (if it fits!) it should provide for good temperatures moderately overclocked as well. I don't think its unreasonable to see higher than 3960K performance whilst ensuring the OC is safe enough to last long term.

    Added bonus being Its such a big upgrade that even at default clocks it will be a huge increase on my current system.
  17. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    You may want to take note of TechReport's X79 motherboard roundup. It has the clearance measurements for most of the vendors' (the usual suspects anyway) boards. The arrangements for models within a vendors range don't differ too significantly in most cases as they tend to utilize the same base PCB layout.
    This is the Asus P9X79 Pro for example:

    You would need to source an LGA2011 retention kit from Thermalright for the SA. Low profile memory modules would be a must also. Noctua's NH-D14 SE2011 (similar to the SA) has increased memory height clearance cutouts and an LGA2011 retention kit - Tom Logan at OC3D got a 3960X to 5GHz using the same cooler in his R4E review.

    If you're considering watercooling then I'm not sure that the H100 represents good value for money/performance. You would likely want to replace the fans, so that 's likely to put you over a hundred quid. If you can handle the idea of assembling the kit yourself (not difficult) then I'd suggest the XSPC Rasa 750 kit which isn't appreciably more than the H100 but offers better performance (RS240) or much better performance (RX240 - same kit, thicker radiator, more cooling surface area)...these have the added advantage of being upgradeable -either with other water cooling vendors components, or XSPC's own new range.

    Having a component based watercool setup also means you'll likely have a bottle of coolant/distilled and de-ionized water handy should things get out of hand Towering Inferno style ;)
  18. Leeky

    Leeky TS Evangelist Posts: 3,797   +117

    Thanks for the advice dude. :)

    Looking on the various sites I frequent things are a little early for availability. I have long considered water cooling, especially the noise reduction it can offer, but whether I'll take the plunge I'm unsure of. Plumbing will be easy enough, been messing with cars for years so coolant systems are no stranger to me.

    I considered the H100 as a simple hybrid option that was a easy to fix and setup. Much like a replacement air cooler would be, as its no fuss. But your point is very valid, additional fans would bring it into the territory of a dedicated water cooler setup. We'll see, I'm undecided on the cooling route right now.

    I'm set on either the Asus Sabertooth or the Gigabyte GA-X79-UD5, though the MSI X79A-GD65 is another option. I've also found the Gigabyte board's to be reliable long term in the past and given my checkered history with Asus motherboards I'm hesitant to consider it over the Gigabyte version.

    As for RAM, I'll be ordering a second set of 8GB DDR3-1600 Corsair XMS3 RAM. I got a set of 4 matched 2GB sticks a couple of months back, so that'll sort the RAM out for both banks, giving me 16GB which should be more than plenty. Only another ~£50 to double it so worthwhile.
  19. champmanfan

    champmanfan TS Member Posts: 59

    I was very eager to see how well in practice the i7 3960X would do from the impressive leaked stats that has been teasing us for the past year, how disappointing it all turned out to be. The upside is that my i7 2600K purchase in January '11 was justified by these impressive figures here and much better stability for overclocking on most boards towards 5GHz on water.

    I would have bought a 3960X setup but I from reading all the reviews online and watching plenty of professionals testing the chip I can't justify now so will be putting my cash towards a couple GPUs. I do hope that further BIOS updates with the 2011 chipsets sorts out the issues with overclocking and keeping the system stable.

    I read elsewhere that 60K PPD from F@H is achievable from the 3960X at stock, this compares to 2700K stock of 31K PPD. Though your better off power consumption wise with the upcoming Xeon E5 1650 for a modest price of £340 per unit.

    However, this isn't for gamers at all and should be bought by professionals as was proved by the use of the extra memory bandwidth and use of 12 threads vs 8 for 2700K. All those threads are great but useless until applications are programmed to make use of all these threads, gaming stands no chance because it usually requires no more than 4 threads. The defunct i7 920 has been know for a while now to slightly bottleneck GPUs, the i7 2600K can be had for £230 retail which should look a bargain versus even the i7 3930K at approx. £450.
  20. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    Actually the estimates were pretty spot on...unless you're talking about some uninformed fanboy/gossip sites,...but then, they always tend to err on the side of sensationalism...of course, if you can supply some links...or even one, that originates from Intel, feel free to share. I follow this stuff very closely, and with the exception of the VT-d and decreased SATA/SAS complement with Patsburg-A (both of which have been known for some time) virtually everything is as shown in the slide decks.
    The issue isn't with the chipset ( BIOS update might help individual boards), it's with the initial CPU revision. These chips will take a horrendous (for Intel) amount of vCore. They just aren't capable of going higher. The C2 revision will refine the CPU to a degree -just as the D0 revision greatly increased Bloomfields OC potential from the initial C0 stepping- but SB-E was designed from the outset as an eight core CPU and Core i7 are nothing more than salvage parts running at the limit of LGA2011's 130w specification. In effect the difference between SB and SB-E is that you're sacrificing clockspeed and OC headroom for L3 cache and die area...and games don't generally need a ton of L3.
    You're attempting to make an argument based on pricing where the majority of the people buying the platform don't give a rat's a5s:
    e-peen. Fastest is better than 2nd fastest....if that wasn't the motivation for some then a dual-Xeon SR-3 wouldn't be hitting shelves after the holiday season. Just for comparison, the SR-2 (dual Xeon Westmere-EX) was quite a popular seller, and...
    Workstation performance (rendering, compositing, productivity et al) in addition -or instead of - the gaming aspect. Pricing becomes much more palatable if it comes with a tax rebate. The only reason that WS isn't being pushed at the moment is because VT-d and SAS are non-functional on the initial revision boards/CPU's.
  21. champmanfan

    champmanfan TS Member Posts: 59

    Estimates.... dividebyzero I didn't keep the links for the previews of the well respected sites because my bookmarks are in need of housekeeping and already difficult to navigate - I never read forums for new tech either as I require quality articles such as this - my expectations of Ivy Bridge was taken from the leaked CPU specifications and how they said it could line up against existing Sandy Bridge processors back in approx. May '11. Of course, theory and practice are two different things when you don't actually have something to test that early. I won't proclaim to know every detail from Intel's lineup and some information I remembered has been replaced with more pressing concerns of late.

    Chipset.... There are recommended limitations to the amount of vcore to use and going above 1.4v would degrade the lifespan of the CPU - using 1.5v for even 4.9GHz as noted in your link under LN2 is crazy but only used for benching. Stable overclocking for 24/7 use looks like being 4.6GHz (more reports of this issue all over the web). I wonder how the temps would fair Vs SB under water, my 2600K at 4.7GHz, 1.33vcore is 55c on water under load for a 16hour F@H SMP run at room temps of 23c. Running 3960x at higher vcore plus additional cores 'could' push it towards 65c which is a bit too high for my liking. If you were to overclock, I doubt you would go beyond 4.4GHz if your running it as a workstation for stability (to guarantee stability you obviously wouldn't overclock). Seems you need to read every review to see how each motherboard fairs with overclocking (mixed success apparently from when I was speed reading yesterday).
  22. dividebyzero

    dividebyzero trainee n00b Posts: 4,891   +1,264

    Most of what is known actually begins and ends with a couple of slides. After that it is all conjecture.
    None of which has any bearing on SB-E directly...
    Bear in mind that your SB platform has the upgrade path of:
    2600K > possibly a faster 2700+K > Ivy Bridge (4C/8T)
    The upgrade path for SB-E
    3960X/3930K > C2 stepping + speed bin increases > Ivy Bridge-E (up to 10C/20T)
    The extreme crowd won't be setting any OC records with SB-E...I thought I'd already made that clear. Likewise do you think your 2600K platform can:
    Run quad-SLI ?
    Run triple GPU and still have full I/O functionality?
    Equal or better a SB-E in Vantage, 3DMark11, WPrime32 or any other accepted performance benchmark ?
    Firstly, OC depends on the platform and the particular CPU. I've already provided a link to show that SB-E isn't the world's best overclocker, so what's the point?
    The world's best overclocker is an AMD part. Care to state how many HWBot benchmarks a FX-8150 would win over the 3960X ? or for that matter, substitute a 2700K for the 8150.
    If absolute clockspeed is the defining pinnacle of performance then every enthusiast should be going for Bulldozer since SB is capped at a 57 multiplier.
    Allow me:
    Intel DX79SI low: 4.3 (Hardware Secrets) - High - 4.9 (Hardware Canucks)
    Also: 4.4 (HT4U), 4.5 (, Xbit), 4.6 (Technic3D, Legit Reviews, Hardcore Hardware, Hardware France, Tom's Hardware), 4.7 (PC Perspective, Madshrimps), ), 4.73 (OCC), 4.75 (Hot Hardware), 4.8 (HiTech Legion, ComputerBase, Tech Report)
    Asus Rampage IV Extreme : low 4.6 (eTeknik), High: 5 (Tweaktown, OC3D, Also: 4.7 (VR-Zone), 4.8 (Kitguru, HardOCP)
    Gigabyte Assassin2 : low: 4.4 (TechSpot) High: 4.6 (Tweaktown)
    Gigabyte X79-UD7 : 4.77 (Sin's Hardware)
    Gigabyte X79-UD5 : 4.8 (Tech Report)
    Asus P9X79 Pro: 4.5 (Xbit)
    Asus Sabertooth X79: low 4.7 (bit-tech), high: 4.9 (Madshrimps)
    MSI X79-GD65: low: 4.7 (Tech Report), high: 5 (Guru3D)

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