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Intel Haswell-E i7 5960X Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: August 23, 2014
Product Name: i7 5960X
Part Number: i7 5960X
 
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The X99 Platform; Enthusiasts Rejoice


One of the main critiques leveled at Intelís X79 was its similarity to the old-as-the-hills X58. As a matter of fact, from a specifications standpoint, thatís exactly what it was: an X58 chipset with a new coat of paint in the form of PCI-E 3.0 support. Since it didnít feature current technologies like native USB 3.0 and only had two SATA 6Gbps ports, motherboards required third party controllers to attain those functions, and support wasnít the greatest especially for key features like RAID and high speed USB throughput. That caused a serious problem for a so-called enthusiast platform when Intelís own Z87 incorporated those elements into boards that often cost hundreds less than their X79 cousins.

X99 changes this equation in a big way towards compatibility that many thought should have been incorporated into X79 in the first place. Nonetheless, we are now (finally!) going to see native support for USB 3.0, SATA Express, and Thunderbolt 2 on Intelís enthusiast motherboards.


Starting with the most obvious thing first: X99 chipsets will still use the LGA2011 socket but it has been updated for Haswell-E compatibility. This not only means new microcode but also support for the processorsí fine grain power distribution needs and higher current capability. In short, older LGA2011 boards will not be forwards compatible with these new processors, nor will this so-called LGA2011-v3 socket be backwards compatible with Ivy Bridge-E CPUs.

The X99 platform is of course headlined by the Haswell-E CPU which provides up to 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes (the i7-5820K will only come with 28 lanes enabled) which can be distributed via up to three integrated slots. This means a x16 / x16 / x8 setup is possible as is a 5x8 setup via third party controllers should motherboard vendors decide to go that route. The processor also houses the quad channel DDR4 memory controller.

As with all Intel platforms, the PCH is where all the I/O fun happens and it is connected to the processor via a x4 DMI interface providing up to 4GB/s of aggregate upstream / downstream bandwidth. In this case the X99 supports up to 14 USB ports spread across six USB 3.0 and 8 USB 2.0 along with ten native SATA 6Gbps ports. Through the use of Intelís refreshed architecture these can be paired with additional PCIe 2.0 lanes for SATA Express or 4x M.2 compatibility without needing to resort to a so-called ďFlexIOĒ interface. Naturally, those lanes can also be used for additional controllers as well which typically provide Bluetooth, secondary LAN and WiFi features.

Past the obvious continuity of an integrated Intel LAN, all of the SATA 6Gbps ports are backstopped by Intelís RST 13.1 infrastructure should a motherboard vendor choose to include it (most will be). Extreme Tuning Utility compatibility is also a requirement here whereas on Z97 itís considered an optional feature.


Since this is considered Intelís high end platform, motherboard manufacturers are pulling out all the stops when it comes to board design. Take the ASUS X99-Deluxe for example; it features a laundry list of must-have features for enthusiasts. It has 3-way SLI / Crossfire, two SATA Express ports, an add-in Thunderbolt II card, a x4 M.2 storage slot, a high end sound solution with Nichicon Muse caps, integrated AC wireless support and the list goes on.

X99 boards are supposed to be the best around and the Deluxeís $399 price reflects exactly that. However, when the cost of DDR4 memory is also factored into the equation, upgrading to Haswell-E may be rewarding but it wonít be an inexpensive proposition.
 
 
 

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