Intel i7-3770K Ivy Bridge CPU Review

Author: MAC
Date: April 23, 2012
Product Name: i7-3770K
Warranty: 3 Years
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First and foremost, although we didn't really delve into it in the review these new Ivy Bridge chips will work perfectly on existing Intel 6-series chipset motherboards. We ran a few benchmarks and there is effectively no performance difference between Z77 and P67 based motherboards. A simple BIOS update is all that will be required for these chips to be supported by existing LGA1155 motherboards. We can't make any assertions with regard to the PCI-E 3.0 compatibility promises that various motherboard manufacturers have made, but it will be interesting to see how that plays out. Obviously, you won't be able to take advantage of the native USB 3.0 capabilities, but the third-party controllers on existing motherboards are no slouches.

This brings us to one of the most pressing questions: should those who currently have Sandy Bridge systems consider upgrading? Well as you will see below thereís relatively few reasons to do so at this point, at least for those who put an emphasis on performance instead of features or power consumption. Let's take a look at how the Core i7-3770K fares against some of its contemporaries:

First of all, obviously we would have liked to compare IVB with the i7-2700K, but we simply don't have one. Having said that, the flagship Sandy Bridge part was always overpriced in relation to the i7-2600K, so this is probably a more apt comparison for your average person. Overall, the i7-3770K is about 7% to 13% faster than the i7-2600K in real-life applications. This sounds decent, but you have to take into account the fact that the i7-2600K does have a 3-6% frequency disadvantage, depending on the workload and thus Turbo Boost level. For gamers, there is not much here to like. The performance 'gains' were well within the margin for error, except in the two games that are heavily CPU-centric.

When compared to the i7-3820, the results are generally much closer due its higher 3.6GHz default clock speed, larger 10MB L3 cache, and identical DDR3-1600 default memory speeds. The i7-3770K proved to be about 4% to 10% faster in most workloads. However, the i7-3820 actually has a suggested retail price that is about $20 less than the i7-3770K, although the other components like the motherboard and memory are pricier. Having said, as you will see below, we do think that it is a better purchase for enthusiasts/power users.

Overall though, from a performance standpoint it's good that we kept our expectations low. On average, Ivy Bridge is about 4% faster than the two Sandy Bridge variants on a clock-per-clock basis. Both the single and multi-threaded performance has improved about equally. 3D modelling and media creation are the areas that see the biggest boost, and although not demonstrated in the table above, minimum frame rates while gaming are consistently higher thanks to IVB's super-low latency and high-bandwidth L3 cache. Having said all of that, we really did not have any complaints about any areas of Sandy Bridge's CPU performance. There are no glaring shortcomings like there is on AMD's side.

One must also consider that Intel have achieved this level of performance within a much smaller TDP enveloppe than with the Sandy Bridge parts. To be honest though, we can't help but wonder how much extra performance could have been coaxed from this new process if they had set a 95W TDP, at least on the higher-end parts. Given the switch to 22nm we were, perhaps naively, expecting higher clock speeds than the previous generation, especially since we really havenít made much frequency progress since the 45nm Nehalem days.

With a smaller TDP and the new 22nm manufacturing process, we were expecting to see a pretty sizeable decrease in power consumption. However, when we had a discrete GPU installed the drop in CPU load and total system power consumption was only about 17W when compared to an identically-equipped i7-2600K setup. However, when we switched to the IGP, the results were much more inline we with our expectations. Compared to the aforementioned Sandy Bridge chip, we registered a 26W drop in CPU load consumption and a 36W decline in total system power consumption. That is sizeable 32% decrease, and it tells us that Ivy Bridge is going to be phenomenal in the notebook sector.

Although Ivy Bridge runs quite cool at default clocks and voltage, all that goes out the window really quick when you start overclocking. While mainstream Sandy Bridge ran so cool that it gave users the courage to use more voltage than they should have, that's not the case with Ivy Bridge. The 22nm IVB die is so tiny and packed with transistors that the power density is off-the-charts, and the lack of surface area makes it really hard to cool despite the integrated heatspreader. As a result it will run really hot when overclocked and overvolted

For all practical purposes 1.25V-1.30V is going to be the highest useable voltage on Ivy Bridge chips, even on the highest-end air-cooling. Any more than that and you supposedly risk degradation if you run abnormal loading programs like IBT, LinX and Prime 95. Either way, we can fairly assertively state that if degradation doesn't scare you, the full load temperatures will. Itís not all doom and gloom though. Your average user should easily be able hit 4.5GHz with a tiny bit more voltage than stock, so the temperatures will be imminently manageable. It is just the enthusiast crowd that is going to suffer when trying to get above that level. We didnít actually expect to be saying this, but those who take their overclocking seriously would be better served with a Core i7-3820. It might be a little slower clock-per-clock, and consume more power, but it overclocks as well, runs cooler when overclocked, and thereís a clear upgrade path to Ivy Bridge-E. For the LGA1155 platform, Ivy Bridge is the end of the road since Haswell is going use the LGA1150 socket. As a result, if you donít like what youíre seeing now in this review, it might not get much better in the future...barring some awesome future stepping or miraculous improvement in the manufacturing process.

Obviously, we canít summarize Ivy Bridge without discussing the IGP. The new HD Graphics 4000 is impressive, clearly superior to the HD Graphics 3000 found in select Sandy Bridge models. We found it to be about 86% more powerful in terms of raw performance, and it achieved 20 to 48% higher frame rates in our gaming suite. When compared to the A8-3870K, the i7-3770Kís enormous CPU performance advantage made it hard to isolate the IGP to compare it with the Radeon HD 6550D found in AMDís flagship Llano A-series APU. Our selection of gaming benchmarks didnít really help either, but it is clear that in GPU-limited games (like Crysis, for example), Intelís new top-end IGP is still about 20-30% less powerful than then one found in the A8-series APUs. We definitely want to see what the equally new Graphics HD 2500 is going to perform, since processors that feature it will be the ones directly competing with the A8-3870K.

In summary, the best on the market just got a little bit better, but there is an asterisk as well. There is no debating that Ivy Bridge provides the best performance and the lowest power consumption of any quad-core processor. However, whether Ivy Bridge is right for you depends on your current computing situation, and whether youíre a regular user or an enthusiast. If you are still using an LGA1366 system, and itís not overclocked to at least 4.0GHz, Ivy Bridge is worth a look if you want some new toys. Not only are you getting a very hefty stock performance improvement, but native support for USB 3.0, SATA 6Gb/s, PCI-E 3.0, better overclocking, and much lower power consumption as well. If you are building a system from scratch, especially an HTPC, Ivy Bridge is easy to recommend for most people. If you bought a cheap dual-core Core i3 as a temporary solution until Ivy Bridge was released, then by all means a quad-core IVB processor is going to be a terrific upgrade. However, if you own an i5-2500K or i7-2600K/2700K switching to their Ivy Bridge counterparts is not going to give you a lot of extra bang for your buck. The asterisk is obviously that overclocking hobbyists with air coolers wonít find Ivy Bridge particularly compelling, it simply runs too hot when you reach a certain level. A level which most Sandy Bridge chips have no problems achieving. But then again, we are talking about above 4.5GHz, which in the grand scheme of things is a realm that few users venture into anyways.


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