Intel i7-3960X Processor Extreme Edition Review - www.impulsegamer.com -

Features 9.0
Speed 9.8
Performance 9.5
Value 9.4
Distributor: Intel
Review Date:
April 2012
Reviewer: James Wright

9.4


Intel i7-3960X Processor Extreme Edition

Launched late last year, the Intel i7-3960X Processor Extreme Edition is one of the fastest CPU's available and is built using the Sandy Bridge-E Architecture which means a plethora of powerful benefits to the end-user. It's also another reason why Intel remains at the top of the food chain when compared to their competitors AMD, as the i7-3960X Processor Extreme Edition has been built for pure speed.

Gamers and PC enthusiasts take note!

Boasting a clock speed of 3.3Ghz with a maximum turbo speed of 3.9Ghz, 6 cores, 12 threads (2 per core) and a 15MB L3 Cache, this processor definitely takes your computer to a totally new level of performance. It is also the solution to getting your games to run at full detail with silky smooth frame rates and just about anything else you do on your PC. Of course, there are some variables that must also be taken into account like a Graphics Card, Memory and Hard Drive. However the crown of any decent gaming system is the processor and for now, the Intel Core i7-3960X is the King.

As you can see from the intensive results from CPU Mark (below), the Intel Core i7-3960X is in top place for end-user CPU's with the Xeon processors just nudging it out of the top. However Xeon processors have been designed for servers, workstations and other industrial systems. Nonetheless, the results speak for themselves.

Installation

In order to install the 3960X, a new motherboard is required which supports the Intel Socket 2011 pin infrastructure. The reason being is that this CPU is considerably larger than previous processors from Intel such as those based on the Gulftown or early Sandy Bridge architecture. Personally this is a reason why Intel continue to race ahead as by improving motherboard architecture, it ensures all a holistic system of improvements as opposed to just the motherboard.

For our test machine, we used the ASUS P9X79 motherboard with 16GB of Kingston KHX 1600C9D3K4/16GX Memory plus a Radeon 7850 graphics card. For Cooling, we used the Cooler Master X6 which done the job remarkably well, even for overclocking.

A sealed liquid cooling thermal solution is available from Intel.

Intel Sandy Bridge-E Supported Technologies

- Intel Virtualization Technology (Intel VT)
- Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (Intel VT-d)
- Intel Virtualization Technology Intel Core i7 processor family for the LGA-2011 socket Extensions
- Intel 64 Architecture
- Intel Streaming SIMD Extensions 4.1 (Intel SSE4.1)
- Intel Streaming SIMD Extensions 4.2 (Intel SSE4.2)
- Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel AVX)
- Intel Hyper-Threading Technology
- Execute Disable Bit
- Intel Turbo Boost Technology
- Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology

Another benefit of the 3960X is that base clock speed is 3.3Ghz which is nothing to scoff at, however with Intel Turbo Boost, you can push this speed to 3.9Ghz. Additionally, the 3960X has not locked the multiplier which means hardcore gamers and PC enthusiasts trying to push their PC's to higher levels can really get some mean results from overclocking... provided you have the right cooling available. In our tests, we did manage to push the CPU to around 4.6Ghz. 

Benchmarking & Real-world Tests
(#: benchmarking is a challenging science as components, software and a mixture of all can effect scores)

For benchmarking, we used the excellent Sandra Benchmarking Tools from SiSoftware that provided a great holistic snapshot of this processor, especially when compared to other CPU's. The first test was the Processor Arithmetic Benchmark which measures the arithmetic and floating point performance of the 3960X.  As you can see from the below results, the CPU was pushing around 132 GFLOPS (Giga Floating Point Operations). In laymen terms, this measures how many floating operations are done per cycle and the higher this is, the faster the processor can perform arithmetic functions. 

SiSoftware Sandra - Processor Arithmetic Benchmark

185 (INTEL i7-3960X)
104 (INTEL i7-2600)
84 (AMD FX-8150)

The multimedia tests in Sandra (below) put the CPU at the top of the bunch again with with the i7-3960X at 323 MPix/s and 440 MPix/s. Encryption was equally as impressive with the CPU being the fastest processor to encrypt and decrypt and a considerable lead on other CPU's.

SiSoftware Sandra - Processor Multimedia Benchmark
323 (INTEL i7-3960X)
237 (INTEL i7-2600)
183 (AMD FX-8150)

SiSoftware Sandra - Cryptography Benchmark
1.61 (INTEL i7-3960X)
1.13 (INTEL i7-2600)
0.84 (AMD FX-8150)
Intel i7-3960X (red)

Sandra Memory Bandwidth

The memory test via Sandra rocketed ahead, even with the relative entry level Kingston ram at 33.8 GB/s which surpassed previous Intel CPU's. In relation to our over clocking testing, we did manage to push the CPU to around 4.6Ghz that actually was quite stable and more importantly, the CPU remained very cool thanks to our Cooler Master X6.

Cinebench Benchmark (Multicore)

Cinebench helps test the processor in real-world tests, especially when it comes to graphics and the company behind Cinebench, MAXON has helped created some of world's most amazing special effects thanks to their software. Movies like Spider-man could not have been possible without the power of their software packages. Although the CPU was knocked off the perch from the Xeon CPU, it did come second in the test at 10.38 points.

10.38 (INTEL i7-3960X)
7.45 (INTEL i7-2600)
5.45 (AMD FX-8150)

Gaming was another place where the Intel i7-3960X excelled and although the differences between the i7-2600 were only a slight improvement, the processor was still number one. The reason being is that as this architecture is quite new, until programs such as the latest DirectX and gaming companies support, it may still take another 6 or so months to see greater differences. Even so, the framerates for all the games below were silky smooth with no lag or tearing whatsoever.

Battlefield 3
(1920x1080 - High)

75 FPS (INTEL i7-3960X)
70 FPS (INTEL i7-2600)
68 FPS (AMD FX-8150)

Batman Arkham City
(1920x1080 - High)

81 FPS (INTEL i7-3960X)
80 FPS (INTEL i7-2600)
75 FPS (AMD FX-8150)

World of Warcraft
(1920x1080 - High)

120 FPS (INTEL i7-3960X)
111 FPS (INTEL i7-2600)
72 FPS (AMD FX-8150)

DiRT 3
(1920x1080 - High)

72 FPS (INTEL i7-3960X)
71 FPS (INTEL i7-2600)
69 FPS (AMD FX-8150)

Cons

All this power does come at a cost. The cost of the CPU retails for around $1044AUD (April 2012) and a new motherboard is needed to use this processor. Of course, this does create improved motherboard performance and features. Also, compared to the first Sandy Bridge processor, this CPU is missing the Quick Sync Video feature which in turn reduces rendering considerably. This may be an issue for people wishing to use their CPU's to render large moves but then again, as the CPU is so powerful, I personally don't believe this will effect the outcome that much. However the pros definitely outweigh the cons of the Intel i7-3960X Extreme Edition Processor as this will become the benchmark of future CPU's and developers.

Final Thoughts

If you're on the cusp of upgrading your CPU and really want something that will not only last a few years but will allow you to be way in the front, than you really should consider the Intel Core i7-3960X as it was made for gaming. Not only did it do an amazing job in our benchmarks and real-world testing but once again proves why Intel is number one in their game. From booting up in under 30 seconds (Windows 7), loading Adobe products lightning fast (2 seconds) and of course, playing games with silky smooth graphics, this processor has everything you need.

Highly Recommended!

Specifications

Essentials
Status
Launched
Launch Date
Q4'11
Processor Number
i7-3960X
# of Cores
6
# of Threads
12
Clock Speed
3.3 GHz
Max Turbo Frequency
3.9 GHz
Intel® Smart Cache
15 MB
Bus/Core Ratio
57
DMI
5 GT/s
Instruction Set
64-bit
Instruction Set Extensions
SSE4.2, AVX
Embedded Options Available
No
Lithography
32nm
Max TDP
130 W
VID Voltage Range
0.6V-1.35V
Recommended Customer Price
$999 - $1059
Description
This product includes VT-d support only on the C2 stepping. Stepping information can be viewed via the menu on the left.
Memory Specifications
Max Memory Size (dependent on memory type)
64 GB
Memory Types
DDR3-1066/1333/1600
# of Memory Channels
4
Max Memory Bandwidth
51.2 GB/s
ECC Memory Supported
No
Expansion Options
PCI Express Revision
2.0
# of PCI Express Ports
10
Package Specifications
Max CPU Configuration
1
TCASE
66.8°C
Package Size
52.5mm x 45.0mm
Sockets Supported
FCLGA2011
Low Halogen Options Available
See MDDS
Advanced Technologies
Intel® Turbo Boost Technology
2.0
Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology
Yes
Intel® Virtualization Technology (VT-x)
Yes
Intel® Trusted Execution Technology
No
AES New Instructions
Yes
Intel® 64
Yes
Idle States
Yes
Enhanced Intel SpeedStep® Technology
Yes
Thermal Monitoring Technologies
Yes
Execute Disable Bit
Yes
 

 






 
 



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