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(note: all CPUs tested with 2x2GB of RAM unless otherwise indicated)
SYSTEM POWER & THERMALS
At idle the i7-3960X idled using 8~10W more than the i7-2600K, close to the amount consumed by the Phenom II X4 975 and FX-8150. When playing H.264 video it dropped below that of its Sandy Bridge cousins, but only when using 4GB of RAM in dual channel rather than 8GB in quad channel.
Running our synthetic CPUBurn/Prime95 stress test caused power consumption the Sandy Bridge Extreme processor to reach FX-8150 levels. In HandBrake, our more intensive real world application test, the i7-3960X did much better. In both cases there was a noticeable increase in power draw for the quad channel memory configuration.
Note: direct temperature comparisons between processors on different platforms may be inaccurate.
According to RealTemp, our Sandy Bridge Extreme sample hit temperatures of 46~47°C above ambient using Intel's liquid cooler with its pump/fan running at 800 RPM (the other CPUs were tested with a Scythe Kabuto at the same fan speed; we believe the performance to be roughly comparable). With six cores working to their limits and system power consumption in the ~200W DC range, the 7~8°C increase over the i7-2600K seems reasonable.
In our Photoshop test, the i7-3960X with dual channel memory failed to topple the i7-2600K, falling short by a couple of seconds. A 9% improvement was gained using quad channel though we're not sure if this is simply due to the total amount of RAM rather than the additional bandwidth. In any event this was the only test where we saw anything more than a negligible performance difference using the quad channel configuration.
The i7-3960X won our NOD32 test, slipping by the i7-2600K, but wasn't nearly as efficient using an extra 30~32W during the scan.
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