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

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Intel Sandy Bridge Extreme: Core i7-3960X Processor

November 14, 2011 by Lawrence Lee

Product
Intel Core i7-3960X
LGA2011 Processor
Manufacturer
Retail Price
US$990

Intel has the distinction of being the undisputed leader in consumer CPU performance for the past half decade. Three new sockets in as many years (today marks the fourth) were part and parcel of this dominance. In 2008 Intel debuted Nehalem (LGA1366), a high-end premium platform for power users and enthusiasts who needed first class performance. A year later Lynnfield (LGA1156) was released, a more affordable mainstream alternative to tempt resistant upgraders. Also pushed out was Clarkdale (also for LGA1156), a dual core design with integrated graphics for budget and energy conscious users. Finally came Sandy Bridge (LGA1155), which sort of tied everything together, improving on all the best elements of what proceeded it, rolled up into a neat package.

Sandy Bridge left recent Nehalem adopters in a lurch. They had paid a premium for the fastest gear available at the time, and out came a faster, cheaper, more efficient line of CPUs on a different socket. Their top notch hardware was eclipsed, but remained pricey — Intel has this habit of just letting old sockets fade away, forcing their customers who want more performance to either do a complete upgrade or pay more for less to continue on their old platforms. The only thing Nehalem had left going for it was six-core processors, conspicuously absent in Sandy Bridge.


Sandy Bridge Extreme die layout.

This last advantage has now been negated as well thanks to the arrival of LGA2011. The new socket has, as you can probably guess, 2011 pins, but despite the change, the new line is actually based on Sandy Bridge architecture. Dubbed Sandy Bridge Extreme (or "Sandy Bridge-E"), the main difference is more cores, a new quad channel DDR3-1600 memory controller, a complete absence of integrated graphics, and twice as many PCI Express lanes (a godsend to multi-GPU gamers). A huge amount of L3 cache was also added, and instructions sets updated with Intel AVX, SSE4.1 and SSE4.2, and TurboBoost frequencies were ramped up for a little extra oomph.

Comparison: Sandy Bridge-E vs. Sandy Bridge Core i7's
Model
CPU
Clock
Max
Turbo
Cores/
Threads
Cache
TDP
Price
i7-3960X
3.3 GHz
3.9 GHz*
6/12
15 MB
130W
$990
i7-3930K
3.2 GHz
3.8 GHz*
6/12
12 MB
130W
$555
i7-3820
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
4/8
10 MB
130W
TBD
i7-2700K
3.5 GHz
3.9 GHz*
4/8
8MB
95W
$332
i7-2600K
3.4 GHz
3.8 GHz*
4/8
8MB
95W
$317
i7-2600
3.4 GHz
3.8 GHz
4/8
8MB
95W
$294
*unlocked multiplier

Our processor sample is the flagship model, the Core i7-3960X running at 3.3 GHz (3.9 GHz with TurboBoost), a decadent, close to US$1,000 part. Like the "K" series for Sandy Bridge, it's an unlocked CPU so it can be easily pumped up past 3.9 GHz if so desired. Just a rank below is the significantly cheaper i7-3930K, which will save you about US$435 if you don't mind a 100 MHz drop in clock speed and 3MB less cache. There's also a locked 3.6 GHz quad core i7 3820 but sans pricing information. All three chips have a TDP of 130W, a return to Nehalem power figures.

It's obviously a high-end solution for advanced users and enthusiasts with big wallets, so if you're looking for value you might as well stop reading now. The good news is that LGA1155 won't suffer the same fate as LGA1366 — Intel's next big design, Ivy Bridge is expected to make its way to LGA1155, though support for some of the newer features (eg. PCI Express 3.0, native USB 3.0) will require new chipsets/motherboards.



Nehalem (LGA1366)vs. Sandy Bridge Extreme (LGA2011).

The Sandy Bridge-E package is significantly larger than Nehalem as its die size is 20.9 x 20.8 mm, taking up 65% bigger more area than Nehalem and twice that of Sandy Bridge. In order to fit 2011 pins more efficiently onto the package, they're arrayed in a dense hexagon pattern.



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