Intel Sandy Bridge Extreme: Core i7-3960X LGA2011 Processor

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Being of a new socket, a new chipset, X79, is required for Sandy Bridge Extreme. We were provided with a high-end Intel model, the DX79SI, which will retail for between US$280 and US$300. Intel also provided us with a liquid cooling unit rather than an old fashioned heatsink/fan.

The new X79 chipset isn't particularly interesting, very similar to P67 including the same limit of only two 6 Gb/s ports. The only major changes are adapting Sandy Bridge Extra's extra PCI Express lanes and quad channel memory controller into the design.

The Intel DX79SI has some fairly serious cooling (though we found the top VRM heatsink to be unsettling loose) an expansive feature set and an array of fancy doodads including physical start and reset buttons right on the PCB, and an error code indicator. The board's eight memory slots are split in two, divided by the CPU socket at the center. Intel recommends using the blue slots first, populating from left to right.

With Sandy Bridge, meaningful CPU overclocking required multiplier adjustments as base clock frequency shared a clock generator with other subsystems. In the DX79SI's BIOS there is a "host clock multiplier" setting with options of 1.00, 1.25, and 1.67 giving users a little extra flexibility.

One of the more annoying aspects of new Intel sockets is changes in heatsink mounting hole distance. LGA775, LGA1155/1156 , and LGA1366 all used different spacing. LGA2011 has the same spacing as LGA1366 but there is a caveat...

Coolers have to be screwed into a metal frame attached to the CPU socket which actually covers up the mounting holes of the board. The bad news is manufacturers will have to adopt a top-only method of installation. The good news is no more pushpins! Also note the socket uses two levers instead of one to lock the processor in place.

The new Sandy Bridge-E chips surprisingly ship without a heatsink so they've saved us the trouble of mocking it. Intel will be releasing a simple boxed cooler (depicted above) targeted at OEMs for about US$20 but if you're dropping US$500+ of your own money for a processor something a bit more capable is probably up your alley...

Intel is also offering their own liquid cooling solution for Sandy Bridge-E, the deftly named RTS2011LC. It's yet another self-contained loop manufactured by Asetek featuring a 33 mm thick pump, a 37 mm thick radiator, LGA1155/1156/1366/2011 compatibility, and a 2200 RPM 12 cm PWM fan with blue LEDs. Estimated price: a steep US$85~$100.

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