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

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ENERGY EFFICIENCY

The total power consumed by the i7-3960X during our test suite was more 26~30% higher than the i7-2600K, even though it finished every test in less time. The difference is still a drop in the bucket when compared to AMD's offerings however.

Only looking at energy use during our testing period obviously isn't representative of any close to a common use scenario so we also determined what we call the "average power consumption" taking into consideration both heavy and light usage. We defined heavy usage as using the system 75% of the time on high load (an average of the power consumption of our five measured benchmarks), while low usage is defined as 75% of the time on light load (an average of the power consumption when sitting idle and playing H.264 video).

In both scenarios, the average draw from the wall of a i7-3960X system is similar to that of a machine powered by a Phenom II X4 975.

Putting our performance results back into the equation the i7-2600K is most efficient at both heavy and light load followed by the i5-2500K. The i7-3960X is decidedly second tier, excelling only in the light load scenario. As for AMD... well they've got a lot of catching up to do.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The new Core i7-3960X is undoubtedly the world's fastest desktop processor today. Its quad channel memory controller didn't provide much of an advantage but it still outpaced the king of Intel's first Sandy Bridge launch, the Core i7-2600K, by about 13% in our performance tests. Of course where this 6 core, 12 thread Sandy Bridge Extreme really shines is in multithreaded workloads like video encoding. In HandBrake, where the i7-3960X held the biggest performance lead, it destroyed the i7-2600K to the tune of 36%.

However even if it was used solely with HandBrake, it would still be a very poor value as its US$990 price-tag is more than triple that of the i7-2600K. The i7-3960X follows in the tradition of flagship Intel chips, delivering top notch performance but at an staggering cost. The slightly slower i7-3930K might be worthwhile, but again, only if you work all its cores/threads hard. Also to be considered is the significantly higher power consumption, and the potentially sizable gap in LGA1155 and LGA2011 motherboard pricing.

The "old" Sandy Bridge processors still offer excellent performance, superior energy efficiency, lower cost, and even integrated graphics. Best of all LGA1155 even offers a viable upgrade path as it won't be left out in the cold when Intel's next generation CPU architecture comes to market. Current or even prospective Sandy Bridge adopters need not fear being left to wither in the wind as Sandy Bridge Extreme isn't forcing anyone into an upgrade or die situation.

The Sandy Bridge Extreme launch mirrors the Nehalem release, only the performance gain over current high-end offerings isn't as sizable. Furthermore there are minimal advantages to the new X79 chipset, so that leaves LGA2011 as a platform for the well-off PC enthusiast who is always craving the latest and greatest hardware and the professional who requires heavy duty encoding/rendering power. It's either a big shiny toy or a necessary productivity tool — for everything in-between Sandy Bridge (non-Extreme) remains an excellent, fiscally sane option.

Our thanks to Intel for the Core i7-3960X and DX79SI samples used in this review.

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Intel Core i3-2100T & Core i5-2400S Low Power CPUs
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Core i5-2400, i5-2500K and i7-2600K CPUs
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