It’s another release day for Intel, and this time around the new Haswell-E socket 2011-v3 CPUs take center stage. Their flagship CPU for this new release is the i7 5960X Extreme Edition, which is what we’ll be taking a look at today. This is Intel’s first foray into a desktop 8-core processor, and it sits on the new X99 chipset that supports the much anticipated DDR4 memory standard. Does all this new technology warrant upgrading your system? Hopefully, we can help you answer that question. So, let’s get started and see what Intel has in store!
The Intel Haswell-E i7 5960X Features and Benefits
It’s always interesting to look back several years and see how technology has progressed over time. Over the past eleven years, Extreme Edition CPUs have evolved tremendously, and Intel now claims a 40X greater compute performance from the days of old.
Intel’s first 8-core processor means there will be 16 threads available for multi-threaded computing. This equates to an almost 80% multi-thread performance over 4-core platforms. Couple that with the introduction of DDR4 in quad-channel, and you should have a multi-tasking and content creating beast on your hands. With 40 PCI-E 3.0 lanes available and the unlocked CPU cores, multi-GPU gamers and overclockers alike should be kept happy.
The next slide reiterates the robust gaming and overclocking potential the i7 5960X brings to the table. The Intel Smart Cache sees an increase of up to 20 MB when compared to the 15 MB found on the i7 4960X. Turbo Boost 2.0 technology continues on with this release, just as we saw with the i7 4960X.
Much of what we’ve discussed above is also mentioned in the next slide, but here we can also see the i7 5960X officially supports DDR4 2133 MHz memory. If past history tells us anything, the IMC should be able to handle speeds far beyond the officially supported frequency. Also worth noting here are the base and turbo frequencies, which are 3.0 GHz and 3.5 GHz, respectively. When compared to the i7 4960X, that’s a drop of 600 MHz base frequency and 500 MHz turbo frequency. That probably doesn’t bode well for single threaded performance, but this CPU is all about multi-threaded performance where the additional cores should more than make up that difference.
The next couple of slides illustrate the added cores vs. slower MHz performance. In the fine print of the first slide, however, it mentions the i7 5960X being “normalized” to the i7 4960X to make the performance increase claims. That probably means the i7 5960X was overclocked to i7 4960X speeds to make those claims, but clock for clock comparisons are good to know. It appears the i7 5960X has a substantial advantage there.
As we’re all aware, this is Intel’s second CPU family release in 2014. The slide below gives you some basic specifications on most of this year’s releases. As you can see, three Haswell-E CPUs are slated for release. Back when Ivy Bridge-E was released, both the i7 4960X and i7 4930K both offered six cores. This time around, the i7 5930K stays at six cores, but you’ll have to splurge for the i7 5960X if you want the eight core goodness. The i7 5820K will be an attractive option for those on a smaller budget, but the available PCI-E lanes takes a hit down to 28. Pricing held pretty tight to the Ivy Bridge-E processors, except for the i7 5820K, which sees roughly a $50 increase from the i7 4820K.
The die map shows us the eight core configuration and the 20 MB of cache, which is shared across all eight cores. We can also see the areas dedicated to the integrated memory controller (IMC), Queue, Uncore, and I/O functions. The 17.6 mm X 20.2 mm die size is slightly larger than Ivy Bridge-E’s 15.0 mm X 17.1 mm, which is understandable given the Haswell-E has almost a billion more transistors (1.86 B vs. 2.6 B).
The below slides outline many of the features pertaining to the Haswell-E/X99 platform and where they differ from the Ivy Bridge-E/X79 platform. New for Haswell-E is the addition of native USB 3.0 (Yay!), DDR4 support, on chip thunderbolt capabilities, and support for up to 10 native SATA 6 GB/s ports. We also have “official” support for overclocking the BCLK from the chipset, which is the first time I’ve seen this.
The retail packaging looks like what we are used to seeing from Intel, but there won’t be a cooler in the box. Instead, Intel is offering up an Asetek all-in-one water cooler as a separate SKU, which will cost around $100. In all honesty, for that money there are better options out there.
Intel motherboard partners stand ready with X99 chipset offerings, which should be available at launch. We already have a few of these motherboards in hand and will be bringing you those reviews quickly. The same goes for the memory side of things as most of the big hitters are ready to offer DDR4 kits that support Intel’s XMP 2.0 program. G.Skill was first on scene as far as memory review samples go, and we’ll be using a Ripjaws4 16 GB kit of DDR4- 3000 MHz in our test system.
Meet the Intel i7 5960X
Just like the last Intel CPU I reviewed, the engineering sample came in a small black box with pink foam padding. Nothing too exciting, but for a CPU… perfectly adequate.
CPUs aren’t the most glamorous components to photograph, but here are a few pictures to look at anyway!
Here is a list of the systems used for comparison.
|i7 4790K||i7 4770K||i7 4930K||i7 4960X||i7 5960X|
|Stock/Turbo||4.0 / 4.4 GHz||3.5 / 3.9 GHz||3.4 / 3.9 GHz||3.6 / 4.0 GHz||3.0 / 3.5 GHz|
|Motherboard||ASUS Maximus VII Gene||ASUS Maximus VI Formula||EVGA X79 FTW||EVGA X79 Dark||ASUS X99-Deluxe|
|Memory||G.Skill TridentX DDR3-2400 MHz 2X8 GB 10-12-12-31||G.Skill TridentX DDR3-2400 MHz 2X8 GB 10-12-12-31||G.Skill Trident DDR3-2400 MHz 4X4 GB 10-12-12-31||G.Skill TridentX DDR3-2400 MHz 4X4 GB 10-12-12-31||G.Skill Ripjaws4 DDR4-3000 MHz 4X4 GB 15-15-15-35|
|Video Card||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified||EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified||ASUS HD 7970
DirectCU II TOP
|EVGA GTX 780 Ti Classified|
|Operating System||Windows 7 X64||Windows 7 X64||Windows 7 X64||Win 7 X64||Win7 X64|
|Cooling||Custom Water||Custom Water||Custom Water||Custom Water||Custom Water|
An eight core processor doesn’t come with meek power consumption, as witnessed in the graph below. Keep in mind, the power consumption numbers reflect total system draw; so depending on all components installed, these numbers can vary greatly. As a side note, the i7 4960X was tested on a EVGA motherboard that was using a beta BIOS and unable to take advantage of EIST and C-State functions at the time. Interestingly, when the i7 5960X is sitting idle, it pretty much matches all the other samples. Load all eight cores though, and you see it rising above the other samples. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
All the non-gaming benchmarks will be compared to the i7 4770K, i7 4790K, i7 4960X, and i7 4930K. With the introduction of DDR4 memory, we’re more than likely to see higher MHz kits available from the start. For example, the initial kits we’ve received for review are DDR4 3000 MHz and DDR4 2800 MHz, and I have yet to see anyone offering a DDR4 kit below 2133 MHz. With that in mind, the i7 5960X will be tested with the memory set to DDR4 3000 MHz speed, as that’s probably going to end up being the average memory speed people will be using on this platform. There is a caveat here … The Haswell-E processor’s Memory Reference Code (MRC) has a problem running memory faster than DDR4 2400 MHz using the 100 MHz BCLK setting. If you want to run higher memory than that, you’ll need to use the 125 BCLK strap. On the ASUS X99-Deluxe we’re using for this review, using the XMP profile automatically changes the BCLK to 125 for you because the kit we’re using is a DDR4 3000 MHz kit. Remember from the features section above when we mentioned “official” support for the 125 BCLK setting? I think we found out why! With the BCLK set to 125 and the CPU ratio set to 28X, that landed us at DDR4 3000 MHz memory speed and the advertised Turbo speed of 3.5 GHz on the CPU.
Unfortunately, i7 4960X won’t be included in the gaming benchmarks because it was tested using our old suite of games and with a different video card. However, the research I did shows the i7 4930K that we are using for gaming comparisons is within a percentage point or two of the i7 4960X anyway. Especially when game settings are maxed out while using 1920X1080 resolution, which is exactly how we run our game benchmarks. All of the comparison CPUs in the gaming benchmarks used the same EVGA GTX 780 Ti to keep things on a level playing field.
All of the non-gaming benchmarks are scored based on percentages with the i7 5960X being the baseline, and therefore always 100%. On scored benchmarks, a higher percentage value is better. Timed benchmarks are the opposite, with a lower percentage value being better. Below each chart is the raw data used to create it.
Starting with the full complement of AIDA64 benchmarks, first up are the CPU tests. These tests obviously take full advantage of the i7 5960X’s eight cores, as you can clearly see by the results. A pretty substantial increase in performance over everything else in the comparison group!
|AIDA64 CPU Benchmarks – Raw Data|
The FPU testing shows another clear advantage going to the i7 5960X, except for the VP8 test that appears to favor core speed over core quantity
|AIDA64 FPU Benchmarks – Raw Data|
The AIDA64 Memory tests show a little different story. The DDR4 platform shows an advantage in the read and write tests when compared to the other comparison samples, but fell behind the i7 4960X in the copy test by just a tad. The latency test showed all three quad-channel capable CPUs within the margin of error of each other; and as expected, they finished well behind the dual-channel capable CPUs (lower percentage is better). Once DDR4 memory matures, we’ll probably see kits with much tighter timings become available. When that happens, these results will begin to fall in favor of the DDR4 kits.
|AIDA64 Memory Benchmarks – Raw Data|
Compression, Rendering, and Video Conversion
7zip compression and Cinebench rendering testing showed a huge advantage for the i7 5960X. Because these benchmarks can take advantage of multiple CPU cores, the results here are not surprising; but impressive nonetheless.
|Cinebench and 7Zip Benchmarks – Raw Data|
||Cinebench R11.5||Cinebench R15
PoV Ray and Pass 2 of the x264 benchmark again show a heavy advantage for the i7 5960X. Pass 1 of x264 is basically just a scanning pass of the video about to be converted. It does take advantage of multiple cores, but not as much as Pass 2 where the actual encoding is done. Because of that, the x264 Pass 1 results are relatively tight between all the comparison samples with the i7 4790K squeezing out a victory here.
|x264 and PoV Ray Benchmarks – Raw Data|
||x264 Pass 1
||x264 Pass 2
The i7 5960X isn’t going to set any records for single threaded 2D benchmarks, and it’s not intended too. While the SuperPi results aren’t too bad, the i7 5960X falls behind the faster clocked CPUs. However, when we get to wPrime and the Intel XTU benchmarks, the i7 5960X simply mops the floor with the competition.
|Intel XTU, SuperPi, and wPrime Benchmarks – Raw Data|
Synthetic Graphics Testing
Our runs of HWBot Heaven and Heaven Valley showed little difference between the four CPUs we tested. Once we got to more modern benchmarks like 3DMark Fire Strike and 3DMark 11, the i7 5960X showed a decent increase over the other comparison CPUs.
Our game benchmarks show an almost dead heat between all the comparison samples. Not a surprising result considering they all used the same EVGA GTX 780 Ti graphics card. If you’re currently sitting on a Haswell (socket 1150) or Ivy Bridge CPU and you’re looking for better gaming performance, stay with what you have. However, multi-GPU gaming rigs could benefit from the 40 available PCI-E lanes the i7 5960X offers over Haswell CPUs.
Clock for Clock Comparison
I went ahead and set the i7 5960X speed to match the stock speed of the i7 4960X for a quick single threaded, clock for clock comparison. I ran SuperPi 1M and 32M to test this out. A very small advantage goes to the i7 5960X in the 1M test, but the difference widens in the 32M test. Differences can probably be attributed to the faster memory speed and the increased cache on the i7 5960X.
|Single Threaded Clock for Clock Comparison|
|CPU||SuperPI 1M||SuperPi 32M|
Venturing into overclocking the i7 5960X, I was able to keep the BCLK strap at 125 MHz with the memory set to DDR4 3000 MHz and achieve a 4.625 GHz stable overclock. That took 1.3 V to the CPU, which is pretty darn impressive stuff! Back when hokiealumnus reviewed the i7 4960X, he landed at a 4.6 GHz overclock. Keep in mind though, the i7 4960X has a base clock speed 600 MHz higher than the i7 5960X. So, even though the out-of-box speed may be lower on the i7 5960X, the overclocking seems to be greatly improved over its predecessor.
If you’re wondering about thermals, the results here are pretty darn nice too. Just look at the RealTemp screenshot, again… pretty impressive stuff.
I went ahead and ran a few benchmarks at this overclock to give you an idea of the performance gains from the stock scores above. I concentrated on the multi-threaded benchmarks here because that’s where this CPU throws out some insane scores/results. See for yourself!
Pushing the Limits
It took 1.425 V to the CPU, but I got to 4.875 GHz with the memory still set to DDR4 3000 MHz. I wouldn’t call this 100% stable, but it did manage to complete both the 32M and 1024M runs of wPrime. Time permitting, I’ll lower the memory frequency and see how far it’ll go at 100 BCLK. I’ll hopefully get to try out different strap settings too… keep an eye on the forums and the review we’re doing on the ASUS X99 Deluxe for that.
Without question, Intel really stepped performance up to a new level with the i7 5960X. However, it’ll cost you dearly to experience this 8-core/16-thread goodness. The retail price of $999 at launch may seem high, but it’s below what the i7 4960X is currently selling for at Newegg ($1049). That’s likely to change quickly once the i7 5960X is readily available in retail channels, but we’ll see how that shakes out soon enough.
I think it’s safe to say, we can expect many a world record to be set using this CPU, especially when the LN2 guys get their mitts on this thing. As far as the average water-cooling enthusiast goes, there should be a good amount of overclocking to be had there too. I’ve been told by industry experts to expect 24/7 stable overclocks in the range of 4.4 GHz to 4.6 GHz at around 1.30 V, depending on the luck of the draw.
So, I guess the burning question is whether or not the i7 5960X is worth the price of admission. If you’re a single GPU gamer, the answer is probably not. But, if you’re a gamer using multiple graphics cards, then the 40 PCI-E lanes the i7 5960X has are probably very enticing. If you do a lot of work with programs that can take advantage of the eight cores the i7 5960X offers, then it’s really a no brainer as there is nothing on the market that can touch this CPU in that area.
Let’s not forget about the new features this platform brings to the table. We finally have a socket 2011 platform with native USB 3.0 support, additional native SATA 6 GB/s connectivity, and native Thunderbolt support. So, in addition to the added CPU performance, the X99 platform as a whole brings some intriguing new features.
If you like being on the cutting edge of performance or need to blaze through multi-threaded capable applications, this is no doubt the CPU for you.