Intel i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: September 2, 2013
Product Name: i7-4960X
Warranty: 3 Years
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Intel's X79 Express Chipset; Redux

While some were hoping that the advent of Ivy Bridge-E processors would bring about a revision to Intelís enthusiast platform, that didnít happen. That means their newest processors will be paired up with the two year old X79 (code named Patsburg) PCH, dashing any hope that the Z77ís expanded feature set would make its presence felt.

As with Sandy Bridge-E, an Integrated Memory Controller acts as a backbone for up to four high speed DDR3 memory channels, each rated at 14.9 GB/s while a separate on-die controller takes care of the PCI-E lanes. This represents an improvement over the previous generation which could only handle 12.8 GB/s though a DDR3-1600 interface.

The new Ivy Bridge Extreme processors support up to 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes which can be configured in a variety of different layouts depending on the number of slots Intelís motherboard partners implement on their boards. There will be at least two x16 PCI-E 3.0 slots for full speed 16x / 16x Crossfire or SLI, which is a vast improvement over the 8x / 8x supported by the Haswell platformís Z87 boards. There is also the option of having a third or fourth graphics slot (running at 8x bandwidth) for triple and quad GPU setups. PCI-E 3.0 is something that SB-E never ďofficiallyĒ supported.

The X79 Express Chipset incorporates the motherboardís I/O functions and its features havenít changed. It includes support for up to 14 USB 2.0 and six SATA ports, though only two of those can be used for SATA 6Gbps. Thatís a serious limitation for anyone building a larger RAID array with modern SSDs, especially when you consider Haswellís PCH allows for up to six such high speed ports.

Many will be disappointed with the omission of integrated USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt support considering, once again, Haswell and even the mainstream Ivy Bridge platforms have included both since day one. Nonetheless, there is an additional 8 PCI-E 2.0 lanes that can be used for more slots or add on-controllers so boards can include USB 3.0 and other non natively supported features.

Connecting the processor to the PCH is a second generation Direct Media Interface along with an optional SCSI Controller Unit. The Direct Media Interface (DMI) hasnít changed either. When necessary, it can function with the same peak bandwidth as four PCI-E 2.0 lanes or 5 GT/s (20Gb/s) but most of the time it will be operating at lower speeds ensure optimal efficiency.

One thing that we didnít see on previous chipsets is the SCU Uplink allows for a dedicated path between the PCH and processor in order to speed up storage performance and decrease latency. The only downside to using the SCU function is its need for a portion of the CPUís PCI-E lanes (in this case four) which in essence limits the secondary PCI-E function to a x4 link down from x8 and eliminates the possibility for native 3-way GPU compatibility.

In an effort to refresh their X79 lineups despite Intelís insistence that the current PCH is good enough, motherboard manufacturers will be forging ahead with a number of initiatives. Take ASUSís new X79 Deluxe for example. It includes support for SSD Caching (at least ASUSí take on the technology) and six additional SATA 6Gbps ports via a pair of third party controllers. USB 3.0 has even been included through the addition of three ASMedia hubs.

ASUS has basically thrown the option book at the Deluxe since it also packs Wireless AC support with a secondary module, Bluetooth v4.0, support for 3-Way SLI or triple Crossfire and Dolby DTS certification. Add to that ASUSí intuitive software stack and you have one of the premier X79 motherboards which goes above and beyond to offer features Intel didnít build into their X79 PCH. Expect our review in the coming weeks.

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