Intel Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition (LGA 2011) CPU Review

The much anticipated replacement to the X58 platform is here. We look at the 3960X EE and the associated X79 chipset!

@ShawnBakerTW
Published Mon, Nov 14 2011 2:00 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:01 PM CST
Rating: 91%Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction and Package

Introduction

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VIEW GALLERY - 31 IMAGES

Nothing gets me more giddy than an Extreme Edition CPU from Intel. Sure, some might say that's a little sad, but us nerdlings love our high end processors. Even if the associated cost with them is outside the realm for most, the lineup that is associated with a new series of Intel processors is enough to get the heart pumping.

It's no secret that the X79 platform was launching today; it's no secret that the top of the line processor for the platform is the i7 3960X Extreme Edition, and it's no secret that the platform supports Quad Channel RAM. Like any launch, there's a lot of things we know about the product prior to the release of it.

At the same time, there are a lot of things we don't know about the product and today it's our job to get all down and dirty with the latest high end platform from Intel and find out exactly what it's able to offer us.

Intel have been on a really good run lately and with the lack of spark from the Bulldozer platform, no thanks to AMD themselves, it looks like they're going to stay on a good run. Sandy Bridge has cemented itself as an excellent platform that offers fantastic value for money and huge potential via the help of overclocking.

The issue with the Sandy Bridge platform was that it was only ever a side grade from the X58 one due to the fact it replaced the P55 platform. We saw a lot of enthusiasts jump on it, though, thanks to the overclocking potential on offer. The other thing that got people to bite was the fact it was something new. X58 was and is still a very good platform, but some of us have been using it since launch and if you've got that upgrade bug, the P67 / Z68 platform was just too tempting.

If you managed to hold out, though, or you just wanted to play with P67 / Z68 while we waited for the big bad beast that was X79, the day of waiting is over. Today we'll be checking the new biggest and baddest CPU on the market, the i7 3960X Extreme Edition. The only thing that will probably scare you more than the performance is the price tag, but anyone who has dipped their toe in the infinity pool that is the Extreme Edition line of CPUs from Intel would well and truly know the price of entry.

Outside of the new LGA 2011 socket CPUs launching today, we've also got the new Quad Channel memory platform which is going to bring with it lots of new RAM kits along with the brand new X79 chipset which brings with it loads of new motherboards from all the usual culprits.

As for the layout we're dealing with today, we'll start off by looking at the i7 3960X EE and the other LGA 2011 CPUs we'll see soon. Once we've covered that in some detail, we'll talk a bit about the brand new chipset that's associated with the platform. Once we've done that we'll talk about our testbed and look at the overclocking side of things before we finally get into the performance side of things and run our i7 3960X EE against a number of other top processors.

So I think that just about covers us. Let's start to see exactly what we're dealing with when it comes to the new LGA 2011 processors from Intel.

LGA 2011 Models and Specifications

So where do we start? I suppose the best part is the models we'll be seeing from Intel and some of the main specifications related to them. Looking below, you can see there's three processors in the new Sandy Bridge-E family. At the top sits the I7 3960X EE which is the one we have with us today and the new flagship processor from Intel. It's got a base clock of 3.3GHz and via Turbo Frequency can run at 3.9GHz. The two biggest pieces of information around the processor is the fact it's a six (6) core CPU with twelve (12) threads via Hyper Threading, and the fact that it carries with it a massive 15MB of Cache.

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Right below the 3960X EE sits the 3930K and this is going to be the processor that people will be on the hunt for. Coming in only 100MHz lower than the 3960X EE and offering a 6 / 12 setup for Cores / Hyper Threading make it a really appealing option. While slightly less cache at 12MB, the associated price tag of $555 US verse $990 US is what's really going to make it the one to busy. Both processors are listed as "Unlocked" making them also the main choice for overclockers.

The baby LGA 2011 CPU is the i7 3820 which carries the highest base clock of 3.6GHz and lines up with the 3960X EE when it comes to the Turbo Frequency. The biggest difference is that this is only a 4 Core / 8 Thread CPU. It also carries the least amount of cache at 10MB, is listed as "Partially Unlocked" but more importantly isn't available at launch - instead listed as "Q1 2010".

As for similarities between all three models, they all support four channels of DDR3 1600MHz DDR RAM which has been coined "Quad Channel". On the TDP front, all chips come in at 130W and you can see this is a bit of a jump from the Sandy Bridge platform.

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As you can see above, though, the Sandy Bridge-E platform continues to run on the 32nm process. Going off the above roadmap, we can see that the next big jump for Intel will come in the form of Ivy Bridge and that will be based on the 22nm technology. Ivy Bridge should be the successor while much later down the track Ivy Bridge-E will be the successor to what we're looking at today which will be much further down the track.

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Having a closer look at the Die Detail on the new i7 3960X EE, we can see across the top of the chip we have our Queue, Uncore and I/O. Running down the side we have our six cores and some serious room for another two cores. With the help of Hyper Threading those six cores of course become 12 like we've mentioned. Across the bottom we have our built in Memory Controller and in the middle you can see our L3 Cache. Looking across the bottom you can see we've got a total of 2.27B transistors on the CPU and the die size comes in at 20.8mm x 20.9mm.

As we've mentioned already, Turbo Boost is implemented on the whole line of LGA 2011 processors in the form of Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. This is dependent on the amount of load being placed on the processor via the cores being used.

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With a base clock of 3.3GHz the 3960X EE will push itself to 3.6GHz if 5 - 6 cores are active, as you can see in the image above. In the event only 1 - 2 cores are active, though, you can see we're pushed up by an extra 600MHz which brings that clock speed in at 3.9GHz as we mentioned earlier.

The Retail Side

Like with any CPU launch, we don't see any retail packaging, but we do have access to pictures of what's going on with the package. The overall look of the boxes won't change from an artwork perspective as you can see below.

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On the left we've got the blue box which will be associated with the four and six core Sandy Bridge Core i7 E series CPUs, while on the right we have the Extreme Edition packaging which follows the same black color design we've seen for a while from Intel.

The most interesting fact is that the package doesn't actually include any cooling solution. While this might take a little for some people to get used to, it's a nice move by Intel which will hopefully bring the price of the CPUs down a little over time. We don't expect too much at launch. I hope companies make an effort to advertise the lack of included cooler, though, as there would be nothing worse than picking up a nice new SB-E CPU and finding yourself with no CPU cooler.

At launch we're going to see two levels of cooling for the new line of processors from Intel. The first is that traditional air cooler we've been seeing from Intel for years. You can see the installation method comes in the form of four screws instead of the general push pin configuration.

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The new installation method is one of the better features for the new cooler; it means that mounting is going to be a lot more secure and the chance of pin damage on the cooler is reduced. The main target for the cooler, though, is the entry level /business sector.

The other option, and probably the more popular one for anyone who's interested in having some real fun with the new Sandy Bridge-E platform is the new Liquid Cooling solution. Looking at it, you can see it's of course that familiar Asetek design we've seen a lot of companies use over the past 18 months. It's of course got Intel branding on it and the blue fan is different to what we've seen before.

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The good thing about the cooler is that without testing it, we know it's a quality unit as we've tested the same kind of cooler for a while now. The closed water cooling solutions are great and I swear by the Corsair H100s we use here.

The new X79 Chipset

A brand new processor line brings with it a brand new chipset and that comes in the form of X79. The replacement chipset for the previous generation X58 one and the big brother to the much loved Z68 chipset that we've been looking at for the last few months.

Looking below, we get a good idea of what's going on with not only the chipset, but also the CPU itself to see what it brings to the table. You can see that from the CPU itself we've got a total of 40 PCIe lanes which can be used in a number of configurations. Unlike Z68, the biggest note is probably the inclusion of dual x16 connectivity for SLI / CrossFire setups instead of x8 / x8 which is seen on non NF200 based Z68 boards. To the right you can see we've of course got Quad Channel memory support which is something we mentioned earlier - a few pages back you can see the image of the memory controller on the 3960X die.

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Between the CPU and X79 chipset we've got a 20 GB/s link and off that we've got 14 USB 2.0 ports, along with integrated Gigabit networking directly off the Intel chipset. Also supported is Intel Management Engine Firmware and BIOS support along with Intel Extreme Tuning support.

Also running off the X79 chipset is Intel HD Audio, eight PCIe 2.0 slots which can run at x1 each along with six SATA / eSATA ports. You can see off the bottom two are SATA III while the others are SATA II. Intel Rapid Storage Technology Enterprise is also on offer, but comes in the form of an option and to be honest, it's not a bad thing since people going down the X79 path are more likely to have a larger SSD.

Intel at launch are also offering their own Desktop Board in the form of the DX79SI. While we won't be using that today, instead we've opted for the ASUS Rampage IV Extreme which looks like an absolute beast of the board. We'll be checking out the Intel Desktop board in the coming weeks.

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Looking above, you can see some of the main features that are on offer like three PCIe x16 slots, 8 DIMM slots and a clean heatsink setup, Intel boards have never been the strongest in terms of overclocking, but have been considered as one of the most stable boards on the market. The board will no doubt be a hit for certain people who are looking for another quality board from the company.

I think the only thing I find slightly disappointing about the new X79 chipset is the lack of native USB 3.0 support. It's not a huge deal since we look at the native USB 3.0 support from AMD which lines up with other controllers from the likes of ASMedia and NEC with almost identical performance.

Test System Setup and Overclocking

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: Intel, ASRock, Kingston, Mittoni, Sapphire and Corsair.

We'll be comparing our new i7 3960X against the other big three processors on the market at the moment. From AMD that comes in the form of the FX-8150. Of course, considering that the processor doesn't really compete with the 2600k in a lot of areas, we're not expecting it to fair well today against the new 3960X from Intel. While we won't exactly be comparing it against the i7 3960X, it seemed silly to not include it. Because we have the results, we'll also be including the 1100T in our testing.

From the Sandy Bridge side of things we'll have our trusted i7 2600k that's been serving us extremely well since launch. Showing off clocks of in excess of 5.4GHz, this one runs day in and day out on our video card testbed at 5.2GHz. It's probably the biggest competition for the new X79 platform as people decide if they just go down the Z68 path and pair it with something like a 2600k or 2700k, or instead join the big boys club and fork out the X79 money. In the end, it's win / win for Intel as you'll no doubt end up on one of their platforms.

The final processor in the lineup is the 990X sitting on the X58 platform which we know and love. It's a platform that's been great for Intel, Gamers and Enthusiasts the world over, but we've been waiting a long time for its replacement.

Like when we looked at the FX-8150, we will be overclocking all our processors today. That means our FX-8150 will be running at 4.76GHz, 1100T at 4.06GHz, 2600k at 5.2GHz and our 990X at 4.2GHz

That leaves us with our 3960X and its overclock. Overclocking a new processor type is always a worry; you wonder what the safe voltages are, what you should be adjusting and all that kind of stuff. Fortunately, ASUS put together a really nice guide for the Rampage IV Extreme which is the board we're using today.

Before we went all manual overclocking on the board, we fired up one of the profiles that is on offer in the BIOS. Hitting "Load Extreme OC Profile (Low Current)", our machine booted up at 4.99GHz with our Quad Channel RAM kit running at 2100MHz DDR. At a click of just a single button this is really a massive overclock on offer and I found myself truly surprised with the overclock that was offered via the OC Profile.

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Getting into Windows was not a problem and everything ran like a dream just as we'd hope. With that chugging along without any problems, I figured we'd go back into the BIOS to see if we could push our overclock further. The main thing I wanted to do was at least crack the 5GHz mark.

Leaving the settings alone, I just pushed our multiplier up by x2 - this brought us in at just over 5.2GHz and while our machine booted, we couldn't get into Windows. So I dropped the multiplier down by x1 and this brought our CPU in at just over 5.1GHz. While we managed to get into Windows, about 17% into Cyberlink MediaEspresso encode our system froze up.

Moving back to the 38x multiplier meant that we would be running at 4.99GHz again and just shy of that 5GHz mark. So we just ended up bumping our BCLK up ever so slightly and we ended up in Windows at 5001.73MHz.

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The main thing I wanted to know was that it was stable. Firing up MediaEspresso again, which is normally the one program that will cause an overclocked CPU to fall over, we completed the full run. Of course, compared to the 14MHz lower clocked 4.99GHz clock we got, there was no difference in time, so we didn't worry about testing everything again.

Before we get into it, the last few things that probably need to be covered are the motherboard we're using today which is the Rampage IV Extreme from ASUS - the new top dawg motherboard from the company sporting the X79 chipset. As usual, on the video card front we're using the MSI GTX 580 which has been serving us very well over the past few months and on the RAM front we're using the new G.Skill RipjawsZ 2133MHz kit.

That really sums up everything today. From the benchmark side of things we'll be checking out all our CPUs on our CPU orientated benchmark line-up to see just what's going on with performance today.

Let's get started!

PCMark 7 and HyperPi

PCMark 7

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.04

Developer Homepage: http://www.pcmark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.pcmark.com

Buy It Here

PCMark 7 includes a range of tests that give different views of your system's performance. In the Advanced Edition you can choose which tests to run. The common use and hardware component tests are unavailable in the Basic Edition.

Overall system performance is measured by the PCMark test. This is the only test that returns an official PCMark score. The Lightweight test measures the system capabilities of entry-level systems and mobility platforms unable to run the PCMark test, but it does not generate a PCMark score. Common use performance is measured by the scenario tests - Entertainment, Creativity and Production - each of which results in a scenario score. Hardware component performance is measured by the hardware tests - Computation and Storage - each of which results in a hardware score.

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The first thing we need to say is that PCMark 7 doesn't like being ran on an overclocked 3960X. You can see that not only does the default PCMark score not move, but the Lightweight one takes a massive dip in performance. This makes it hard to compare it against everything else, but even with this anomaly, the 2600k at stock shows very slimier performance with the 2600k @ 5.2GHz being the only setup that is able to put itself ahead of it.

HyperPi 0.99

Version and / or Patch Used: 0.99

Developer Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br

Product Homepage: www.virgilioborges.com.br

Download It Here

HyperPi is a front end for SuperPi that allows for multiple concurrent instances of SuperPi to be run on each core recognized by the system. It is very dependent on CPU to memory to HDD speed. The faster these components, the faster it is able to figure out the number Pi to the selected length.

For our testing we use the 32M run. This means that each of the four physical and four logical cores for the i7 and the four physical cores of the i5 is trying to calculate the number Pi out to 32 million decimal places. Each "run" is a comparative to ensure accuracy and any stability or performance issues in the loop mentioned above will cause errors in calculation.

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Looking at Hyper PI performance, it's funny to see the Intel platforms so separated from the AMD ones. You can see compared to a stock 2600k our 3960X is coming in about 40 seconds faster. Compared to the older 990X, you can see that the performance of the 3960X at stock is actually stronger than the 990X at 4GHz. Of course, overclocked we see the 3960X perform even faster with it shaving a minute off the 2600k time which is running 200MHz faster.

AIDA64

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.00.1035BETA

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Buy It Here

Replacing Everest in our labs is AIDA64. This new testing suite is from the core development team from Lavalys and continues that tradition. The guys have thrown in better support for multithreaded CPUs as well as full 64 bit support. We use this to test memory and HDDs for now, but may find ourselves opening this up to other areas of the motherboard.

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Looking at read performance, it's nice to see that the new processor isn't plagued with the issues we saw from the new FX line from AMD. Instead we've got strong performance across the board which sees it sneak ahead of the 2600k with the best gain being in L1 Cache performance. Overclocked yields a big boost in performance, but you can see the slightly higher clocked 2600k manages to sneak ahead of it.

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Write performance paints an almost identical picture to read and we can see at stock the 3960X manages to come out ahead of everything. Overclocked, the only setup that sits near it is the slightly higher clocked 2600k which manages to actually sneak ahead.

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The introduction of Quad Channel memory means we're going to start to see a bunch of new kits. The introduction of the Sandy Bridge platform and its Dual Channel implementation, though, shows us that while the X58 platform was Triple Channel, the better optimization from the Dual Channel P67 / Z68 platform can offer more memory bandwidth.

While we see clear benefits on the new platform over the X58 one, the Dual Channel performance out of the Z68 platform seems to be superior in some areas. Overclocked we can see that while read performance is better on the 3960X, Write performance is better on the 2600k with both offering similar performance for Copy speeds. Talking to companies, these numbers seem to line up with internal testing, but it seems that some programs can't show the benefit as well as others. I think as time goes on we'll get a better idea of what's going on with the new Quad Channel platform.

PassMark PerformanceTest

Version and / or Patch Used: 7.0.1021

Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com/products/pt.htm

Product Homepage: http://www.passmark.com/products/pt.htm

Buy It Here

Fast, easy to use, PC speed testing and benchmarking. PassMark PerformanceTest allows you to objectively benchmark a PC using a variety of different speed tests and compare the results to other computers. Twenty-eight standard benchmark tests are available in six test suites plus there are seven advanced testing windows for custom benchmarking.

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While AIDA64 showed us an idea on the Cache performance, we get a really good idea of what's going on with the CPU performance under PerformanceTest. Integer, Floating Point and Physics sees just superior performance across the board compared to the other platforms. You can see that with all these tests and the other ones in the PerformanceTest run combined, a 3960X is offering us 50% better performance than a 2600k running at 5.2GHz.

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PerformanceTest also shows us slightly different numbers for RAM when compared to AIDA64 and this is something we've been hearing from people. You can see that looking at PerformanceTest, memory performance is 2x that for Write when compared to the 2600k.

CINEBENCH, Adobe Lightroom and MediaEspresso

CINEBENCH R11.5

Version and / or Patch Used: R11.5

Developer Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/

Product Homepage: http://www.maxon.net/downloads/cinebench/cinebench-115.html

Buy It Here

CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer's performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON's award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more.

CINEBENCH is the perfect tool to compare CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms (Windows and Mac OS X). And best of all: It's completely free.

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While not for everyone, CINEBENCH is an extremely important benchmark in many fields. The failure of the FX-8150 in it disappointed a lot of people as we thought that it would offer us some strong performance. The 3960X is just offering us some crazy performance, though. At stock there's not a single setup near it. The closest are the heavily overclocked Intel options that still fall 10% shy of the stock numbers.

Move up to 4.99GHz and you can see our score blows out even more offering us 40% more performance than the other overclocked Intel options. It's double the speed of a stock 2600k and almost 80% faster than the FX-8150 at 4.76GHz. There's no doubt that renderers all over the world are going to be looking at this new processor from Intel.

Adobe Lightroom

Version and / or Patch Used: v3.4

Developer Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshoplightroom/

Buy It Here

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 software helps you bring out the best in your photographs, whether you're perfecting one image, searching for ten, processing hundreds, or organizing thousands.

Create incredible images that move your audience. Experiment fearlessly with state-of-the-art nondestructive editing tools. Easily manage all your images. And showcase your work in elegant print layouts, slide shows, and web galleries, as well as on popular photo-sharing sites. All from within one fast, intuitive application.

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Lightroom testing time isn't a big one, but you can see the performance of the 3960X again with the stock performance lining up with that of a 2600k at 5.2GHz. Overclocked we shave more time off the whole process, again giving us a great idea of the kind of performance on offer under these real world tests.

MediaEspresso

Version and / or Patch Used: v6.5

Developer Homepage: http://www.cyberlink.com/

Product Homepage: http://www.cyberlink.com/products/mediaespresso/overview_en_AU.html?fileName=overview&r=1

Buy It Here

MediaEspresso is a blazingly fast media universal converter that can transcode your videos, photos and music files and out put them to a huge range of portable devices including mobile phones, portable media players and even game consoles. With technologies like Smart Detect, Direct Sync and CyberLink's TrueTheater video enhancements, you can not only forget about complicated format, resolution and output settings, but your converted file will come out the other side looking better than when it went in!

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We again see under this real world environment that the 3960X at stock is offering us performance of a 2600k running at 5.2GHz. Overclock the 3960X and just watch the time plummet. Just over 12 minutes to encode a 4.3GB movie to an iPad 2 friendly resolution and format.

3DMark 11 and Aliens vs. Predator

3DMark 11

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.3dmark.com/3dmark11/

Buy It Here

3DMark 11 is the latest version of the world's most popular benchmark. Designed to measure your PC's gaming performance 3DMark 11 makes extensive use of all the new features in DirectX 11 including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. Trusted by gamers worldwide to give accurate and unbiased results, 3DMark 11 is the best way to consistently and reliably test DirectX 11 under game-like loads.

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You can see a slight boost in performance under 3DMark 11 when it comes to the performance preset. It's not a huge boost, but to be honest, overclockers over the world are going to love it and while probably a lot like CINEBENCH, the results under 3DMark 11 while not important to some, will be extremely important to others. Of course, overclocked we see a slight boost again with our single GTX 580 with no overclocking near a 7k default run.

Aliens vs. Predator

Version and / or Patch Used: Standalone Benchmark

Timedemo or Level Used: Built in Benchmark

Developer Homepage: http://www.rebellion.co.uk/

Product Homepage: http://www.sega.com/games/aliens-vs-predator/

Aliens vs. Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter video game, developed by Rebellion Developments, the team behind the 1999 original PC game, and published by Sega for Microsoft Windows, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. The game is based on the Alien vs. Predator franchise, a combination of the characters and creatures of the Alien franchise and the Predator franchise. There are three campaigns in the game, one for each race/faction (the Predators, the Aliens and the Colonial Marines), that, while separate in terms of individual plot and gameplay, form one overarching storyline.

Following the storyline of the campaign modes comes the multiplayer aspect of the game. In this Multiplayer section of the game, players face off in various different gametypes in various different ways.

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When you move into an actual game, though, it's clear that the difference between setups is almost nonexistent and that's of course because the focus is so heavily on the GPU. With just a single video card, you're not going to see any form of CPU limitation, especially when you move over 1680 x 1050. Instead the raw power that's on offer from the CPU is going to come in to play when we start throwing more and more video cards into the mix.

Power & Temperature Tests

Power Draw Tests

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With a 130w TDP on the processor, it comes as no surprise that the power draw on the new X79 platform is high. Its idle is really high, but you can see the power that's on offer here today. The 2600k is a really efficient processor when it comes to power draw, but you can see in real world situations the new 3960X is able to outperform the 2600k at 5.2GHz which draws identical idle numbers, but 10% more power at load.

If you look at power draw on the 3960X and the 2600k and then look at something like 3DMark 11, the number seems extremely high. If you look at the power draw of the 3960X and the 2600k when it's at 5.2GHz and then look at benchmarks like CINEBENCH and MediaEspresso, the numbers look great. It just really depends on what you intend to do with your system.

Temperature Tests

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The associated heat numbers probably line up with the power numbers. The 3960X is a warm running CPU. Again, though, it has a 130W TDP, so this doesn't come as much of a surprise. At 4.99GHz it's getting pretty warm, though; warmer than we'd want from a "running it every day" perspective.

The heat numbers are probably what's going to stop people from running around the 5GHz mark on a daily basis and instead just use it for benchmarking. The liquid cooling solution from Intel I think is going to be a popular one after looking at these numbers here. Especially considering the fact we're already on a closed circuit liquid cooling solution via the Corsair H100.

Final Thoughts

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.

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Shawn takes care of all of our video card reviews. From 2009, Shawn is also taking care of our memory reviews, and from May 2011, Shawn also takes care of our CPU, chipset and motherboard reviews. As of December 2011, Shawn is based out of Taipei, Taiwan.

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