The first thing we need to talk about is the price. Sure, the $990 US associated price of the 3960X EE doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed the Extreme Edition line from Intel, but damn, it's still really hard to swallow. The 3930K with its $555 US price tag is probably the CPU I'm most looking forward to trying out for the simple fact that the price is actually really good, and apart from a small drop in overall MHz and 3MB of Cache gone, it looks like the 6 Core / 12 Thread CPU will be a winner.
Unlike AMD, though, Intel can show off the X79 platform with just the 3960X - the thing is fast
.damn fast! Sure, it's not seen in every aspect, you look at stuff like 3DMark 11 or AIDA64 CPU numbers and you go 'how can you pay 3x the amount of a 2600k?'. For some it's just not going to happen, I get that. Most of you get that and even Intel get that. It's the reason that we don't have just one CPU launching today.
If you look at people in the rendering field, the CINEBENCH numbers are amazing and you know that in time they're only going to get better. Looking at Lightroom and Media Espresso numbers, we also see the massive performance that's on offer. I said to someone the other day, the 3960X in Image Rendering, Image Manipulation and Video Encoding is the same speed as the 2600k. With a nice pause, I then added, the 2600k @ 5.2GHz!
People who need this power as a tool for work aren't going to overclock, so the idea of a 5.2GHz 2600k offering "similar" numbers to a stock 3960K is irrelevant. When you compare stock CPU for stock CPU, the 3960X is just offering a crazy amount of performance.
During the graph explanation side of things it would've been nice to bring up AMD a bit more, but what's the point? Ok, ok, we understand that the FX-8150 isn't designed to compete with this processor or this platform, but the only time we bring up AMD is when we see the 3960X offering us 50%+ performance.
The 3960X and the new X79 chipset complete the next generation platform for Intel extremely well. Sandy Bridge did a fantastic job of replacing the P55 chipset with it giving us performance similar to that of the X58 chipset. Like Sandy Bridge, Sandy Bridge-E does a fantastic job of replacing the ageing X58 chipset.
The platform isn't going to be for everyone - the associated costs with all aspects from the X79 boards, LGA 2011 CPUs, Coolers and RAM means that for some the more mainstream Z68 option is going to be the best. For people who demand or want the highest performing platform on the market, though, you won't think twice about jumping on the X79 platform, even if it's with the more cost friendly 3930K which we hope to look at in the near future.
Outside of the price, the other two areas that probably stand out for the new platform is the associated heat and power draw. They're high! We can't deny that; the numbers are there and you can see compared to the 2600k they do sit quite warm.
I think the one thing that needs to be taken out of this, though, is when you start to look at the numbers in those real world applications like Lightroom, Media Espresso and CINEBENCH. In these three situations a stock 3960X performs around the same as a 5.2GHz 2600k. Comparing performance to performance and looking at the power and heat numbers, the 3960X draws 33watt less at load and runs 24c cooler at load than the 2600k.
While you might feel it's almost "unfair" to compare the stock Power / Heat numbers to a heavily overclocked 2600k, it's really not. Because when you look at the performance per watt and performance per degree on the 3960k, it trumps the 2600k in these benchmarks. Sure, the picture isn't so rosy in something like 3DMark 11 or Aliens vs. Predator, but it's the CPU intensive benchmarks that are going to matter when it comes to deciding to buy the CPU. In the end we can see at 2560 x 1600 and the Extreme Preset for 3DMark 11 that all the setups perform a stone throw within each other, because there's just no CPU limitation existent when only a single GPU is used.
If you want to build a high performance computer, you're going to want a 3960X and an X79 based motherboard like the Rampage IV Extreme. It would be crazy to not want this kind of power on tap. Outside of the want, though, and moving to the realistic "what I can afford" group, you're going to see a division between Z68 / 2700k buyers and X79 / 3930K buyers.
I think the one thing that will skew people is going to be the video card decisions. If you're going single GTX 580 / HD 6970 or SLI / CrossFire GTX 560 Ti / HD 6870 or below, you're going to end up on the Z68 platform. If you're looking at GTX 580 SLI, HD 6970 CrossFire or any three / four card setup, you're going to jump straight on the X79 bandwagon. The only thing you will be deciding on is if you fork out the associated $990 US for a 3960X or scale back ever so slightly to the $555 US 3930K.
While Sandy Bridge-E misses out on some things we originally thought it would offer like PCIe 3.0 and SAS support, the performance on offer here is extremely strong and throw in the fact that we're seeing the Sandy Bridge-E platform a good 3 months earlier than we expected when comparing expected release dates a few months back, we have a platform that offers numbers that we're yet to see from any other CPU to date.
I think we'll also see some changes to big benchmarking programs like PCMark 7 which doesn't seem to be able to make use of the CPU properly yet and actually sees quite a substantial hit when overclocking. AIDA64 also doesn't show the benefits of Quad Channel like some of the other benchmarks we've seen. The great news is, though, that the two areas where we see a little bit of a hiccup in terms of performance testing, they're both synthetic tests only. When you come down to testing the real world side of things the 3960X and X79 platform in general just doesn't miss a beat and that's one of the most important things to take out of the testing today.
The 3960X is just one piece of the latest platform from Intel, but it's such a sexy, sexy piece. Over the coming weeks we'll no doubt read more and more about what the platform is able to do for us as we look at more motherboards, higher speed memory kits and multi VGA setups.