Late last year when we reviewed the new Sandy Bridge-E processors, we mentioned a more affordable version called the Core i7-3820 was coming. Although information about the chip had been revealed, the processor has yet to hit shelves and is now expected to arrive later in February. Fortunately, sample units are being passed around ahead of general availability, so we don't have to wait to see how it stacks up.

The i7-3820 is particularly intriguing because of its sub-$300 retail price – far less than other chips in the series. For instance, the Core i7-3960X has an MSRP of $999 and sells for more like $1,049, while the i7-3930K has an MSRP of $583 and is fetching $599 at e-tail. Both are six-core CPUs operating over 3GHz with massive 15MB and 12MB L3 caches.

At roughly half the price of the 3930K, we expected Intel to butcher the i7-3820, and while that's partially true, the 3820 remains an impressive specimen with four cores operating at 3.6GHz, a 10MB L3 cache and HyperThreading support. Compared to the similarly priced i7-2600K, the 3820 offers additional L3 cache, support for PCI Express 3.0, quad-channel memory and a platform that will take as much as 32GB of system memory.

Although LGA2011 features some new tricks absent on LGA1155, we're disappointed in the chipset support. The X79 is rather lackluster and has nothing new to offer over Z68. Still, the raw power of SB-E is its strongest selling point and we're keen to see how the affordable variant performs and how it compares to the very popular Core i7-2600K.

Some have anticipated the i7-3820 will be in somewhat of an awkward position in terms of pricing. Although processors command a similar rate, the platform behind the i7-3820 is considerably pricier than the 2600K's. Whereas Z68 motherboards can be had for less than $100, basic X79 boards start at $200, and most cost around $230.

Additionally, the i7-3820 supports quad-channel memory meaning users will be compelled to purchase four modules rather than just two. Core i7-3820 owners might pay up to $200 more for the same performance as folks who opt for the i7-2600K, which doesn't make sense unless you need the extra PCI Express bandwidth or the larger memory capacity – or so it appears on paper. Let's see what the tests have to say.