Intel Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-3960X CPU Review
Since its introduction in January, the Sandy Bridge LGA1155 platform has proven to be exceptionally popular, despite that little chipset issue that was discovered right after launch. It's not hard to see why enthusiasts have embraced Sandy Bridge since it brought forth very significant improvements in the form of much higher clock-per-clock performance, noticeably lower power consumption, enormous overclocking headroom plus the unlocked multipliers to make use of it, and all at a mainstream price. It has to be said that this popularity has been further bolstered by the lack of a serious, well-rounded competitor from AMD.
No matter how good the quad-core/eight-thread Sandy Bridge chips have been, there are always those who want more, and Intel has historically proven to be more than willing and able to cater to this market. For the last 18 months, the six-core/twelve-thread Gulftown processors have been the flagship parts when it comes to overall processing ability, but that changes today with the launch of the Sandy Bridge-E LGA2011 platform.
For years, there were titalating hints that Sandy Bridge-E (SB-E) would be an eight-core part, but regrettably due to power concerns consumer-oriented models will only have six cores enabled. There will be eight-core Xeon offerings, but those parts will be lower clocked in order to stay within the 130W TDP limit, and thus generally be slower in most consumer-oriented software. Despite this slight initial disappointment, what Intel has offered up is definitely no slouch.
The flagship Core i7-3690X Extreme Edition is a 32nm six-core/twelve-thread processor with a 3.3Ghz default clock, but which never ever dips below 3.6GHz and tops out at 3.9GHz in single and dual-threaded workloads. Accompanying these six cores is 15MB of L3 cache, the most of any desktop processor, and a new beefed up memory controller that features a quad-channel DDR3-1600 interface which is theoretically capable of 51.2GB/s of bandwidth. Most importantly for you gamers out there, the integrated PCI-E controller has also been revamped and in coordination with the new X79 Express chipset can supply up to 40 PCI-E 2.0 lanes (with PCI-E 3.0 compatibility, more on this in the chipset section) to the PEG slots. Seeing as this is an Extreme Edition part, it does feature fully unlocked multipliers and since this platform has been truly designed with overclocking in mind, you will be rewarded for using those capabilities.
Since the i7-3960X is the flagship model of Intel's high-end platform, it does carry an exorbitant price tag, $990 to be exact, which is tiny bit lower than the usual $999 Extreme Edition price. Worry not though, although we don't have them on hand, there are two very reasonably priced models coming for this platform, one quad-core and another six-core, specs of which you can see on the following page.
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