Intel Haswell-E i7 5960X Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: August 23, 2014
Product Name: i7 5960X
Part Number: i7 5960X
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Only 18 months ago, Intelís enthusiast platform was on the chopping block. While X79 and Sandy Bridge-E did well and Ivy Bridge-E was on the horizon, the desktop PC market was in a downturn and the continuity of interest for ultra-high-end platforms was in doubt. And yet here we are reviewing Haswell-E and Intelís first 8-core 16-thread enthusiast processor, the Core i7-5960X. So what happened? A resurgence in the desktop space has created a rapid succession of roadmap updates, adding processors like Devilís Canyon, the Pentium Anniversary Edition and a now full Haswell-E lineup.

While Intel may have been a bit cautious in bringing Haswell-E to the market, thereís no denying that we have seen a relatively constant progression in terms of technology, if not performance. However, due in no small part to a lack of true competition from AMD, the actual speed of change has slowed down a bit. While the trademark tick / tock process is still very much alive we are no longer seeing massive performance uplifts from one generation to the next. Rather, Intel is focusing on both processing and TDP efficiency while also optimizing their instructions per clock ratio.

In many ways the original Haswell architecture moved things to another level in nearly every respect and Haswell-E alongside the upcoming server-oriented Haswell-EP will capitalize on its internal changes. Naturally, those original Haswell processors will remain around at lower price points since Haswell-E is supposed to offer something they canít: a ridiculous amount of parallel processing horsepower and a platform thatís been designed for high end computing.

While the Haswell-E processors are still based on the same internal architecture and utilizes the same 22nm Tri-Gate 3D transistor manufacturing process as Intelís other CPUs like the i7-4790K and i7-4770K, there are some fundamental differences between these two lineups. First and foremost is the move away from an internal graphics co-processor which took up a good amount of die space on Haswell and the addition of an advanced quad channel DDR4 memory controller. With that being said, if you are wondering what other changes have been rolled into Haswell-E in comparison to Ivy Bridge-E, look no further than here.

The process of ditching the graphics engine may have saved some on-die space but that doesnít mean Haswell-E is a small processor. On the contrary. With its eight cores and massive 20MB of L3 cache, the i7-5960X weighs in at 2.6 billion transistors. Compare and contrast this with an i7-4770Kís 1.4 billion and you can begin to understand how complex a chip Intel have created.

Bringing Haswell-E to the desktop while maintaining a reasonable TDP was certainly a challenge which is obvious given the clock speeds of these processors. In short, they lag behind (in some cases significantly) the SKUs they replace but we canít forget that the Haswell architecture does feature noteworthy IPC improvements over IVB-E so some of the shortfall will be made up by the CPUís back end.

At the top of this new lineup sits the $1000 i7-5960X which is Intelís 8-core, 16-thread processing monster which also comes with a full 20MB of cache allotment. Unfortunately, in order to hit a 140W TDP its frequencies had to be dialed down to 3.0GHz and 3.5GHz for the Base and Turbo clocks respectively. This means on paper at least it will be fighting an uphill battle against the i7-4960X and perhaps even the i7-3960X, in any application or game that canít access all 16 threads.

The i7-5930K will likely be the CPU most Haswell-E buyers gravitate towards since it seems to offer a good blend of clock speeds and the potential to run twelve concurrent processing threads. With six physical cores and a base clock of 3.5GHz, we wouldnít be surprised to see it come close to its big brother in some multi-threaded applications as well. When compared against the outgoing i7-4930K the i7-5930K stacks up quite well with similar frequencies alongside Haswellís numerous processing improvements.

Finally thereís the i7-5820K which is a bit of an oddball addition since it plays the part of a bridge between Haswell-E and the less expensive Devilís Canyon i7-4790K. While it boasts six physical cores and the potential to process up to twelve threads (a definite benefit over the i7-4820Kís 4/8 configuration), clock speeds are about 10% lower than the comparable IVB-E part. Then there are the 28 PCI-E lanes which had us scratching our collective heads since this is a layout which wonít allow buyers to run two graphics cards at full x16 speeds. Without that capability and unless having those 12 threads is an absolute necessity, gamers may as well turn towards the Z97 platform which is less expensive and whose higher end processors will run circles around Haswell-E in games. More on that later but for the time being we have to question the elimination of one of Haswell-Eís primary selling points for enthusiasts.

Haswell-Eís frequencies and specifications will likely comes as a surprise for those who are accustomed to the raw clock speeds offered by the likes of Devilís Canyon and even Ivy Bridge-E but thereís more here than what first meets the eye. This platform is meant for professionals, gamers who also want to multi task and anyone who appreciates getting tasks done quicker.

One interesting thing we did notice during testing was the i7-5960Xís apparent lack of a Base and Turbo mode. Regardless of how many threads we threw at it (from one all the way to 16 concurrent threads), it remained steadfastly at 3.3GHz with some millisecond fluctuations to 3.5GHz. This is basically the way every Haswell chip behaves but in this case it seems there is very little overhead, even when the CPU is working on a single thread.

Truth be told, the days of single threaded applications are almost over, even on the gaming side. Microsoft has already demonstrated how DirectX 12ís dynamic resource distribution will be better able to utilize multi core processors for physics, AI and general GPU communications. With Intel being a significant member of the DX12 planning board, you can bet that Haswell-E will be well positioned for the future of gaming even though its specs may not show it now. Plus, the i7-5960X has been designed for power users above all else and that means tasks like decrypting, transcoding and rendering will be its primary uses.

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