Intel Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition CPU Processor Review

by - 9 years ago

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We have to try and stay impartial at eTeknix when it comes to competative brands. We give a fair share to everyone and let their products do the talking and this is the key point with a couple of major brands on the market. The first is with the graphics card market, and the fight between AMD and Nvidia, and with each company, they both have their good and their bad points and we award them on their merits when we take a look at their products in our labs.

The major one however is the battle between AMD and Intel in the hope of being crowned the Processor King and for a while that crown has been held by Intel and though we don’t tend to do favoritism, Intel pretty much have the higher-end desktop market sown up with Sandy Bridge on the 1155 platform.

Whilst socket 1155 was booming and to this date still is, we saw the release of Bulldozer which was said to rival Intel, but sadly in certain aspects was a bit of a flop. The only area that it excelled in was gaming as it offered up the same performance, but for a fraction of the cost. There was however, a few consumers still running the old and trusty X58 platform with the first generation i7 processors which originally cost an arm and a leg to buy. Though they were expensive, their users seemed to stick by and branded them as the best still.

With Sandy Bridge offering a cheaper alternative, Intel decided that a refresh was needed and the idea of a new chipset and range of processors to take over the first generation i7 CPU’s and their X58 chipset was born. It was going to be called X79 and will offer the best product and best performance to date, and that’s why we’re here today. We want to find out if that is true and what the new flagship i7 3960X Extreme Edition CPU can offer over the competition.

There’s only one way to find out, but before we look at the benchmarks, we want to take a brief look at what these new range of CPUs will offer to the market.

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Whilst there is a range of processors to choose from in the LGA 2011 product lineup, we’re taking a look at the Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition. This is Intel’s now flagship CPU and offers some great benefits over the competition. The 3960X has 6 cores and 12 threads due to Intel Hyper-Threading Technology. To give extra speed it also has Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 and some key technical points such as up to 15MB Intel Smart Cache and an integrated qud channel memory controller among other important specifications.

To see how the 3960X is made up, it involves looking under the microscope and looking at the Die in some detail. We can see that the cores are spread evenly across the sides whilst the L3 cache is shared between the different cores. The quad channel memory controller is also integrated onto the processor to give true support directly to the memory from the processor.

The 3960X is now the new flagship on the market and due to that, some bold claims have to be made as to how it will compete. Intel have answered this by way of a comparison to their older generation Core i7 on the Socket 1366 platform running an Intel Core i7 990X.

They claim it to be 20% better in content creation and video editing, have 102% better memory performance and offer 34% better 3D game physics. Whilst these numbers are impressive, they can only be used as a rough guide.

To show how this new processor compares against socket 1155 processors, Intel have also compared it to the Core i7 2600k Sandy Bridge CPU. This shows 52% better video editing and content creation, 114% better memory performance and 46% better game physics and AI.

Whilst we could show you comparisons from Intel all day long, we’d rather get down to our own testing to see if their sales and marketing hype can actually live up to the product itself. Before we delve into that though, it’s worth taking a look at one of the new key features of the i7 3960X; the Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0.

Though this particular processor has 6 cores, you can disable certain cores if you wish. By doing so it will allow for a larger turbo boost compared to having all cores active.

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Being involved with such companies as Intel means that we get samples sent to us pre-production. This generally means that we receive OEM style products with no packaging or retail focus. Due to this, it’s always interesting for us to take a look at what’s going to be on offer when it does hit the retail market.

Due to the different models that will be available, different packaging is available for each. As we’re looking at the 3960X Extreme Edition, you’ll find that it will come packaged in the black style box on the right.

Much like AMD, Intel will also offer a watercooling unit which is aimed at the enthusiast market, much like the type of consumer who is likely to buy the 3960X Extreme Edition. It offers better cooling than a air cooler whilst offering near silent noise output at the same time.

Taking a look at the processor itself we find the overall outlay to be quite large, much like we saw with socket 1366 processors, though slightly larger and continues with the standard IHS based design that we’re used to from both AMD and Intel.

The processor makes contact with 2011 pins, hence the name of the socket; LGA 2011 and features a base clock speed of 3.3GHz. Due to the turbo frequency, this CPU can easily be tuned to run at 3.9GHz and incorporates 6 cores and 12 threads due to hyper threading. Cache wise, the 3960X has 15MB of shared L3 cache and has memory support up to 4 channels of DDR3 1600MHz but obviously depending on your board can run faster. The TDP of this particular CPU is 130W and prices will vary region to region but typical RRP for this CPU is $990 USD.

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To test this board, we are able to run all of our tests at stock speeds using a pre-defined setup of hardware. We will also be overclocking the processor to 4.6GHz to see how the board compares against the stock speed. Also in terms of overclocking, we will be looking to see how far we can push the processor.

Test system:

  • Asus Rampage IV Extreme
  • Intel Core i7 3960X
  • Corsair Vengeance 1866MHz 16GB
  • Gigabyte GTX 580 SOC
  • Corsair H80
  • Corsair HX1050
  • Kingston V+100 128GB SSD
  • Lian Li T60

We would like to thank Asus, Corsair, Kingston and Lian Li for supplying us with our test system components.

Comparison used:

  • Overclocked to 4.6GHz

Many different software applications are also used to gain the broadest spectrum of results, which allows for the fairest testing possible.

Software used:

  • 3DMark 11
  • AIDA64
  • Aliens Vs Predator
  • Cinebench R11.5
  • CPU-Z
  • F1 2011
  • Heaven
  • Metro 2033
  • PCMark 7
  • SuperPI
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We tend to use Z68 quite a lot, and due to the fact that X79 works very much from the same principles, we knew that overclocking should be quite easy and no hassle and in all honesty, it was. Coupling this CPU with an Asus Rampage IV Extreme and it’s UEFI BIOS made it seem like we’d never left Z68 apart from a few new features implemented by Intel and Asus.

We decided to try the Z68 way of overclocking and raising the multiplier as high as we could, and whilst this worked to a certain point, we did hit a barrier which then made us rely on adjusting the BCLK of the processor. We then decided to try a different angle and used the pre-defined setting of loading the extreme OC profile (low current) which automatically clocked our processor to just shy of 5GHz but due to the voltages on offer, it was aimed more at the extreme overclocking running LN2 or Dry Ice.

Going back to our original way of overclocking, we found that dropping the multiplier down slightly to 38 gave us a sweet spot for adjusting the BCLK and finished up at 132MHz.

The final overclock that was 100% stable was 5016MHz using 132×38 but did require quite significant amounts of volts pushed through it which led to high temperatures that weren’t great, especially if wanting to run like this day in, day out.

Overall, we’re really impressed with the overclocking on this CPU and whilst a lot of you will see that we only just scraped above 5GHz, there are some important factors to consider. The first is that we have an early stepping CPU which we hear the retail revisions are able to push out more juice for less volts. The second is that this isn’t a qud core CPU but is a 6 core with 12 threads, so being able to hit 5GHz under an enclosed water loop is fantastic news.

As we’re not keen on running this overclock for prolonged periods of time due to the high voltage which leads on to high temperates, we’ve decided to clock it down to 4.6GHz and are keen to see how it copes in our testing phase.

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Cinebench R11.5

CINEBENCH is a real-world cross platform test suite that evaluates your computer’s performance capabilities. CINEBENCH is based on MAXON’s award-winning animation software CINEMA 4D, which is used extensively by studios and production houses worldwide for 3D content creation. MAXON software has been used in blockbuster movies such as Spider-Man, Star Wars, The Chronicles of Narnia and many more. CINEBENCH is the perfect tool to compare CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms (Windows and Mac OS X). And best of all: It’s completely free.

The 3960X shows that it really means business in Cinebench with its raw computing power. When overclocked, it was in a different league and nothing else that we had available could even come close to it.

Super PI

Super PI is a computer program that calculates pi to a specified number of digits after the decimal point—up to a maximum of 32 million. It uses Gauss–Legendre algorithm and is a Windows port of the program used by Yasumasa Kanada in 1995 to compute pi to 232 digits.

Super PI saw some interested results with the i7 2700k trying to take the lead at stock speeds. When overclocked the 3960X shaved off significant times, but theres nothing to say that the 2700k wouldn’t be the same when overclocked.

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3DMark 11

3DMark 11 is the latest offering from Futuremark, taking full advantage of DirectX 11 by utilising tessellation features and volumetric lighting. It takes your graphics and CPU hardware to the edge to simulate the most extreme conditions whilst working as a stand point to compare results with other users online.

3DMark 11 really showed that the processor is a key aspect of any gaming system and the 3960X was ahead of the competition and almost level pegged with a 2700k overclocked. When we overclocked the 3960X it gained around 300 points which in gaming could give a significant difference in the frame-rate.

Aliens Vs Predator

Aliens Vs Predator is a science fiction first-person shooter computer game that relies on DirectX 11 and high amounts of Tessellation in conjunction to give enhanced shadows and fantastic textures to the surrounds and characters within the game.

Within Aliens Vs Predator, we saw no real benefit between the different processors that we tested including when we overclocked our 3960X, there was still no difference or performance increase.

F1 2011

F1 2011 is the latest instalment from Codemasters and is based upon the 2011 Formula One season. It utilises the latest DirectX 11 features including shadows, particles and reflections to offer the very best graphics in a fast-paced moving game with depth of field being a key focus. It relies heavily on all aspects of a computer system including GPU and CPU.

In F1 2011, there was no huge increase when looking at the different processors on different Intel systems. When we overclocked however, we saw a huge increase in performance and the frame-rate shot up by over 10FPS on each resolution tested.

Unigine Heaven 2.5

Heaven Benchmark is a DirectX 11 GPU benchmark based on advanced Unigine™ engine. It reveals the enchanting magic of floating islands with a tiny village hidden in the cloudy skies and utilises the full effect of DirectX 11 and allows you to configure shaders, tessellation and quality settings to your own personal choice.

In Heaven, no real benefit was seen from the 3960X and even results were seen across the board.

Metro 2033

Metro 2033 is a first person shooter set in the metro system of a post-apocalyptic Moscow with survival horror elements. The game consists of highly intensive graphics which utilises DirectX 11, tessellation features and amazing depth of field to give stunning graphics with high resolution textures and extreme lighting and motion blur technology.

Metro has always been an intensive game on the complete system, though for pure CPU performance, it shows that it didn’t make much difference and that the i7 2700k actually performed slightly better overall.

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PCMark 7

PCMark 7 provides a set of 7 suites for measuring different aspects of PC performance with a high degree of accuracy. Overall system performance is measured by the PCMark Suite. The Lightweight Suite measures the capabilities of entry level systems and mobility platforms unable to run the full PCMark suite. Common use performance is measured by the Entertainment, Creativity and Productivity scenario suites. Component performance is measured by the Computation and Storage hardware suites. The Storage suite is ideal for testing SSDs and external hard drives in addition to the system drive.

An interesting set of results here, as we saw the 3960X coming out with the lowest score of all, but once overclocked, the results shot up by over 1000 PCMark points, showing that this CPU does here some really great potential behind it.

AIDA64

AIDA64 Extreme Edition is a streamlined Windows diagnostic and benchmarking software for home users. AIDA64 Extreme Edition provides a wide range of features to assist in overclocking, hardware error diagnosis, stress testing, and sensor monitoring. It has unique capabilities to assess the performance of the processor, system memory, and disk drives. AIDA64 is compatible with all current 32-bit and 64-bit Microsoft Windows operating systems, including Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

Whether it’s because we have an early revision processor or that quad channel really is that bad, but we saw some quite low scores when at stock speeds. It was only when we pushed our CPU slightly further that we saw some normal results come back into play. If you take a look, you can see that our 3960X overclok results are still slightly behind the dual channel 2700k based system.

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To test power consumption, we monitor the overall power of the system through a plug-in electricity usage monitor at an idle and load state. This allows us to show the fluctuation between how much power draw the system takes at idle and at load. By monitoring the overall usage of the whole system, it gives an easy comparison if you wish to do the same yourself as opposed to buying very expensive individual testing equipment.

Power consumption on the 3960X is actually quite good with results coming in slightly lower than the X58 990X processor. In terms of comparison against our 2700k, there isn’t much competition but we would be comparing a 6 core CPU to a 4 core which doesn’t make much logical sense.

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Measuring temperatures is all about being consitent, therefore we keep a steady eye on monitoring the ambient room temperature to make sure that it stays the same. While this is constantly being monitored, we measure the idle temperature of the card using HWMonitor over a 15 minute period. Once this has been recorded, we set FurMark into motion for 15 minutes and record the results again.

Temperature wise, the 3960X was expected to run a bit hotter than its competition due to its 130W TDP but still well below what we’d consider a problem and with Intel selling watercooling kits to go with this CPU, they knew exactly what they were doing. When we took the CPU to 4.6GHz, we saw some slightly higher results and would not advise running a system with that many volts and at that temperature for a 24/7 or prolonged period of time.

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First thing that I want to say, is that I’m very lucky to have been given the opportunity to try out this fantastic processor as we were still in our early days of starting out with the original i7 1366 range of processors came onto the stage. Luckily we had a 990X close by for comparison purposes and could test it side by side with the 3960X to see what further technologies had been developed.

The 3960X has been released as a show stopper that is said to blow the competition out of the water and frankly it does. You may find yourself looking back at the charts and asking us where it blows the competition out of the water, and we’d invite you to look at the CPU intensive applications such as Super PI and Cinebench that really shows off the raw compute power that the 3960X has up its sleeve.

Sure in gaming, it doesn’t show a mass amount of difference but this CPU was never aimed at gamers in mind, much like the socket 1366 counterpart. If you want a gaming CPU you’re much more likely to go for a i5 2500k as it offers a great bang for buck whilst not skimping on performance where needed the most. We also can see that not a lot of games or other applications can fully utilise the 6 core/12 thread architecture that this CPU has, so that will be something to look forward to in the future.

Talking of price, hold on to your chair as the 3960X is retailing at £839 in the UK which is bloody expensive, but we all knew that it would be. The Extreme Edition CPUs from Intel have always had a price point similar to this, and the 3960X wasn’t going to be any different, though other models due in the lineup such as the 3930K will offer similar specifications but for around half of the cost. We quite frankly can’t wait to see how the performance compares on that one, as it should offer the price/performance ratio that most are hoping for.

When performing our tests, we made it clear that we wanted to show the potential when compared to other Intel platforms. Sure we showed a couple of results from the FX-8150, but frankly what’s the point? The socket 1155 already pushed ahead of that, so instead we wanted to show the comparison between the old, the new and the brand spanking new. With this in mind, we looked at the 990X socket 1366 CPU, the i7 2700k socket 1155 CPU and of course the 3960X and for another very good reason. We can’t see any AMD customer who generally spends around £200 on a CPU ready to ditch that in and splash out over £800 on their first Intel chip, but instead this CPU will be bought by existing Intel users who have experienced the best from them and want to carry that on with a refresh of more cores and newer technology.

With that in mind, this CPU is only going to appeal to the world elite and will find a lot of users wanting one, but never having the cash to actually purchase it and it’s not just the processor that’s going to break the bank balance. Much like X58, the associated cost of the board is higher than the likes of AMD or even Intel’s very own Z68 platform and then you have the likes of quad channel memory poking its head into the mix which can end up having a X79 system as a costly upgrade, but we knew that anyway.

Whilst this has been an interesting processor to test, we’re not ending it there as we’ll be releasing a lot more content to show the true potential behind gaming, as we believe there is more to it than this chip first leads us to believe. We’ll also be looking at the overclocking side of things in a lot more detail as there is still so much that we haven’t touched on. It’s an exciting time for Intel at the moment and with Ivy Bridge next on the map, it’s certainly going to be an interesting future.

Article Index

  1. Introduction
  2. A Closer Look
  3. Packaging
  4. Test Procedure
  5. Overclocking
  6. CPU Benchmarks
  7. Gaming Benchmarks
  8. System Benchmarks
  9. Power Consumption
  10. Temperatures
  11. Final Thoughts
  12. View All

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