Intel Core i7-3820 Sandy Bridge-E CPU Review

Author: MAC
Date: February 22, 2012
Product Name: i7-3820
Part Number: BX80619i73820
Warranty: 3 Years
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While the Core i7-3960X lives in rarefied air where money is no object and there is no competition, it is not the type of high volume part that can establish and legitimize the LGA2011 platform the way that the Core i7-920 did for the LGA1366 platform. The i7-3820 has that potential, and it is an excellent product since it's affordable, very fast and overclocks quite well. However, unlike in the case of the i7-920, which had absolutely no similarly-priced competition at the time, the i7-3820 faces fierce completion…from within Intel’s own ranks.

Although we only had an i7-2600K on hand, you can see that the overall performance difference between it and the i7-3820 is rather minimal, and is almost entirely attributable to the LGA2011 part's default and Turbo Boost clock speed advantage. Most sites are comparing the i7-3820 to the higher-end i7-2700K since it features same quad-core/eight-thread design, very similar default and identical max turbo frequencies, a little less cache, and lower TDP. However, that flagship LGA1155 part does cost about $50 more than the i7-3820, heck even the 2600K currently carries $10 a premium in the retail channel. However, it is the encoutrements that balance everything out. The cheapest LGA2011 motherboard is above $200, while the cheapest LGA1155 H61-based motherboard is about $50. Obviously, those wanting fancy features and the ability to overclock will have to spend more, but a very well-equipped Z68 board can be had for $135. With memory prices nose-diving, a quad-channel 8GB DDR3 memory kit goes for about $50, which is not much more than a dual-channel 8GB kit. In the grand scheme of things, you can expect to pay between $40-80 more for an LGA2011 system, not counting a new cooler and/or mounting bracket. It is a premium that might not be worth it for many, but is quite reasonable for those who want 40 PCI-E lanes, the best possible multi-GPU performance, and support for PCI-E 3.0.

For the sake of argument we have included a comparison against the now $250 FX-8150, but in most common workloads and in CPU-limited games in particular the performance difference is rather bleak. Similarly, when compared to the i7-3820, the i7-920 is starting to show its age, partly due to clock speed deficiencies but also a lack of advanced instructions sets like AES-NI. We don't necessarily advocate upgrading though, since no self-respecting enthusiast is running their i7-920 at stock and although SB-E will give much higher performance at any equal clock speed, an overclocked LGA1366 processor still provides more than sufficient performance in the majority of applications.

Now although the i7-3820 is exactly what we were expecting performance wise, the situation is not all rosy. While we were initially told that the i7-3820 was supposed to have a 45X multiplier limit, it is actually 43X. This shouldn't hinder anyone's overclocking efforts since you can still theoretically hit 5375MHz by simply setting the gear ratio to 1.25X, but it doesn't look good when compared to the K-series LGA1155 chips that generally top-out in the low 50X range. Furthermore, theoretics aside, the LGA2011 processors don't really overclock much higher than their LGA1155 counterparts, and they run a fair bit hotter as well. These criticisms are slightly negated by the fact that Sandy Bridge-E is easier to overclock thanks to the aforementioned gear ratio feature, but not sufficiently.

To conclude, the Core i7-3820 is an excellent processor and an ideal choice for those who need the inherent bandwidth advantages of the LGA2011 platform, but it is not for everyone. If a high-end multi-GPU configuration, a series of enterprise-class PCI-E SSDs, or 32GB+ of RAM are not part of your plans, a Core i7-2600K/Z68 LGA1155 motherboard combo will get you similar performance, roughly equal overclocking potential, an integrated GPU if you need it, guaranteed support for Ivy Bridge and the savings a few bucks. Not only that, but you can buy it right now, which is no easy task when it comes to Sandy Bridge-E chips since Intel has thus far had some serious supply issues. These caveats don't overshadow the good though, and we can wholeheartedly recommend the i7-3820 to well-informed buyers.


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