Intel i7 4960X - Ivy Bridge-E - CPU Review

Intel is back with a new socket 2011 processor. After what seems like a long wait since Sandy Bridge-E, which launched in November, 2011, we now have Ivy Bridge-E, Intel’s newest top tier line of CPUs. Much stays the same with this platform, but there have been advancements too. Is it enough to make you upgrade from Sandy Bridge-E, or to invest in a socket 2011 platform in the first place? That’s what we’re here to help you figure out!

LGA 2011, Reloaded

LGA 2011, Reloaded

The Intel Ivy Bridge-E Line

Ahh CPU die wafers. Looking at these never gets old. Dozens of i7 4960Xs, ripe for the cutting.

Die Wafer

Die Wafer

The i7 4960X is built using Intel’s Ivy Bridge micro-architecture on their 22nm process. The top two CPUs (4960X and 4930K) have six physical cores with twelve threads thanks to hyperthreading. They come with a quad channel memory controller that’s rated up to DDR3-1866, but as you’ll see it is much stronger than that rating.

While not explicitly stated in their press deck, the Turbo Boost 2.0 on this CPU, with its max bin of 4.0 GHz should replicate the i7 3970X’s boost frequencies, operating all six cores at 3.7 GHz, up to four at 3.8 GHz and up to two at 4.0 GHz.

Another big selling point to this platform is the massive 40-lane wide PCIe bus that makes the mainstream platform’s sixteen seem paltry in comparison. This update also brings the platform up to official PCIe 3.0 spec, so there are forty true lanes of PCIe 3.0 goodness.

4960X Features

4960X Features

Ivy Bridge-E - 22nm

Ivy Bridge-E – 22nm

As you can see, the Ivy Bridge-E hexacore offerings are native six-core dies.

Die Wafer

Die Wafer

Die Closeup

Die Closeup

In case you don’t know off-hand what those dies actually mean, here’s the diagram.

i7 4960X Die Detail

i7 4960X Die Detail

We’ll run our own numbers of course, but Intel has dutifully supplied their own improvement comparison numbers.

Improvement Over i7 3960X

Improvement Over i7 3960X

Additional vs. 3960X Numbers

Additional vs. 3960X Numbers

4960X vs. 4770K

4960X vs. 4770K

Overclocking hasn’t changed too much, but for extreme overclockers, there is one huge thing that has changed vs. Sandy Bridge-E: Max multiplier, which has increased to 63x. That, combined with the available 1.25 and 1.67 ratios mean you’ll run out of frequency headroom long before you’ll run out of mulitiplier (63 x 125 = 7875…).

Overclocking Ivy Bridge-E

Overclocking Ivy Bridge-E

Intel has updated their Extreme Tuning Untility (XTU) with the release of Ivy Bridge-E. If you frequent HWBot, you also know Intel has partnered with them to bring a built-in benchmark for comparing most modern Intel system overclocks. You can even export and import XTU settings so you can see what others used to get their scores. The partnership has paid off, both for HWBot and the overclocking community, which is getting notable support with this type of integration.

Intel XTU

Intel XTU

XTU and HWBot

XTU and HWBot

The retail packages for IVB-E look like Haswell’s packaging, but without a cooler included. Intel will be offering an Asetek-built closed loop cooler, but frankly, based on their last offering, I would suggest looking elsewhere for that kind of money.

Retail Boxes - No Cooler

Retail Boxes – No Cooler

Meh Asetek Cooler

Meh Asetek Cooler

Intel has plenty of partners with their XMP program for Ivy Bridge-E.

XMP Profile Partneres

XMP Profile Partneres

Now we come to pricing, where the rubber meets the road so to speak. Prices this time around haven’t changed versus the Sandy Bridge-E prices-per-1,000-units. The top of the line i7 4960X will run $990. The i7 4930K, with slightly reduced frequency and smaller cache is arguably the best value at $555.

Interestingly, this time around on IVB-E, Intel has totally unlocked its quad-core -E model, the i7 4820K at $310. This is huge for people with multiple GPUs that need the forty lanes of PCIe 3.0 but don’t necessarily need the six core power of the upper models. They now have an overclockable quad core socket 2011 CPU at their disposal. The i7 3820 was pretty much a pointless investment for an -E platform because it didn’t have an unlocked multiplier. This time around things are different in that department, and that’s a good thing.

Processor Positioning

Processor Positioning

Obviously the Ivy Bridge-E series isn’t a budget CPU. This is Intel’s top of the line and they’re priced as such, which will be a surprise to no one at this point.

Meet the Intel i7 4960X

Amusingly, because the X79 platform isn’t getting a refresh, Intel sent what is arguably its smallest reviewer kit ever. However, good things come in small packages.

Smallest Review Kit Ever

Smallest Review Kit Ever

Good Things Come in Small Packages

Good Things Come in Small Packages

CPUs aren’t much to look at on their own, so I’ll just leave you with a few photos and we’ll move on with the review.

Intel i7 4960X

Intel i7 4960X

Intel i7 4960X

Intel i7 4960X

Intel i7 4960X Pads

Intel i7 4960X Pads

Resistor City

Resistor City

Even CPUs can be fun to photograph.

The X79 Chipset

There isn’t a whole lot to talk about here. Aside from the official upgrade to PCIe 3.0 (assuming your motherboard supports it, which most socket 2011 boards should), everything has pretty well stayed the same. The memory bandwidth has increased, but that’s due to the CPU’s IMC and not the chipset.

X79 already had six SATA 6 Gb/s ports and gigabit LAN, so no changes were needed there.

X79 Chipset Diagram

X79 Chipset Diagram

The glaring omission that unfortunately can’t be magically added with an updated BIOS is USB 3.0. It’s 2013 and Intel’s highest end platform still doesn’t have native USB 3.0. It was a big omission in 2011. In 2013, it’s just embarrassing. We’ll still have to rely on ASMedia/Marvell controllers – which means extra drivers to download and install – for USB 3.0 on X79 motherboards.

Aside from that, the X79 platform is reasonably up-to-date already. Not having to pay for another expensive motherboard to upgrade the CPU is a good thing, especially for those that have X79 boards paired with i7 3820 CPUs. That doesn’t make up for the fact that X79 didn’t have USB 3.0 to start with, but it’s at least one decent reason for not switching chipsets.

Power Consumption

Nobody expects Intel’s most powerful CPU to sip power and, indeed, it actually increases slightly over its predecessor, as its increased TDP would seem to imply. For these numbers, the CPU is loaded with all available threads using Prime95. Even with that increase, it’s still not as power hungry as AMD’s FX CPU.

Power Consumption

Power Consumption

*Note the BIOS on this EVGA board is in beta and doesn’t take full advantage of power saving EIST & C-States yet.

Overclocking for Stability

Overclocking the 4960X is very similar to Ivy Bridge, but with a soldered IHS instead of one with thermal paste between the CPU and IHS. I mean, look at these temperatures, you’ve got a 4.6 GHz overclock, which is decent, and core temperatures below 70 DEGREES C – and with six cores putting out heat instead of four.

4.6 GHz / DDR3-2400 Stable

4.6 GHz / DDR3-2400 Stable

While I was hoping for 4.7 GHz, 4.6 GHz isn’t anything to complain about. It’s a solid performance boost on ambient cooling with reasonable voltages (it ended up at 1.399 V for this overclock to be completely stable through all testing) and great temperatures.

As a side note, after working with the CPU for a while, it seems to like the 1.25x BCLK multiplier (125 MHz strap), but not the 1.66x multi. I’m not sure whether this is BIOS related or CPU related, so we’ll just have to wait for further testing to flesh that out.

Test System, Opponents and Methodology

There is plenty of competition today, mostly from Intel. AMD just hasn’t come out with a new enthusiast processor, so we’re stuck using old results. Thankfully, for everything but 3D benching, we have results of the FX-8350 at 4.9 GHz. Thus you’re seeing what AMD’s brand new FX-9590 (which costs $879.99) can do against this CPU as well.

CPU AMD FX-8350 Intel i7 3770K Intel i7 4770K
Stock / Turbo 4.0 / 4.2 GHz 3.5 / 3.9 GHz 3.5 / 3.9 GHz
Price $199.99 $324.99 $339.99
Motherboard ASUS Crosshair
V Formula
Intel DZ77GA-70K Intel DZ87KLT-75K
RAM G.Skill TridentX
DDR3-2400
10-12-12-31
G.Skill RipjawsX
DDR3-2133
9-11-9-24
G.Skill TridentX
DDR3-2600
10-12-12-31
GPU ASUS HD 7970
DirectCU II TOP
ASUS HD 7970
DirectCU II TOP
ASUS HD 7970
DirectCU II TOP
CPU Intel 7 3960X Intel i7 4960X
Stock / Turbo 3.3 / 3.9 GHz 3.6 / 4.0 GHz
Price $1,069.99 $990
Motherboard Intel DX79SI EVGA X79 Dark
RAM G.Skill RipjawsZ
DDR3-1600
9-11-9-28
G.Skill TridentX
DDR3-2400
10-12-12-31
GPU n/a ASUS HD 7970
DirectCU II TOP

In addition to the overclocked FX-8350, we’re leaving in overclocked i7 4770K results in so you can see how the mainstream line compares with the high end -E line. Just remember that my results appear to be a bit better than your average retail 4770K, which will clock in more in the 4.5-4.7 GHz range.

Here is today’s system with the EVGA X79 Dark motherboard, G.Skill TridentX RAM and ASUS HD 7970 DirectCU II GPU.

Ivy Bridge-E System

Ivy Bridge-E System

Benchmark Results

To measure CPU performance, all of the CPUs we test are extensively benchmarked throughout a variety of scenarios. All stock benchmarks are run three times and the result is averaged. Overclocked benchmarks are run once. Other than game FPS, results are expressed as percentages calculated from relative performance. Everything is graphed relative to the stock 4960X’s performance, so the stock 4960X is always 100%. As an example, if the 4960X scores 10 on a benchmark and a 3770K scores 8, the 3770K’s performance is 80% as good as the 4960X.

In a timed benchmark, where lower times are better, the division is reversed. If the 4960x (still 100%) runs a benchmark in 10 seconds and the 3770K does it in 15 seconds, the 3770K is 66.67% as good as the 4960X.

AIDA64 Benchmarks

We’re starting off with the AIDA 64 benchmark. Unfortunately, they completely changed their scoring methods and the results don’t encompass all our tested CPUs. So for these comparisons, we have the 3770K, 4770K and of course the 4960X. The CPU tests definitely take advantage of the multi-threaded ability of this CPU (six cores, twelve threads) and it basically trounces the two quad cores.

AIDA 64 CPU Tests

AIDA 64 CPU Tests

One of the four FPU tests doesn’t seem to take advantage of all of the available threads, but the other three do and it equally trounces the quad cores here.

AIDA 64 FPU Tests

AIDA 64 FPU Tests

You didn’t think CPU threads were all this CPU had to offer did you? It also has a quad-channel memory controller and, interestingly, it scales pretty much perfectly over dual channel, basically doubling the read, write and copy data throughput. Latency does suffer quite a bit though, with the dual channel controllers initiating those transfers in about half the time as the quad channel controller.

AIDA 64 Memory Tests

AIDA 64 Memory Tests

Things definitely look great in AIDA when compared to a couple quad cores. Ivy Bridge-E is performing as well as it should here.

3D Benchmarking

3D Benchmarking likes two things – very strong graphics and very fast CPU threads; lots of very fast CPU threads. It won’t surprise anyone then when I say that the 4960X will probably be the go-to CPU for 3D benchmarkers from here on out. As expected (at least by those familiar with the 3D benchmarking scene), Vantage takes the most advantage of this CPU. Overclocked to 4.6 GHz, the CPU score came in at a whopping 49655.

3DMark Vantage

3DMark Vantage

3DMark 11 isn’t as sensitive to CPU ability, but it still shows promise. The Physics score at 4.6 GHz here was 15755.

3DMark 11

3DMark 11

The newest 3DMark (Fire Strike) does seem to like all this CPU power, gaining quite a bit as 3D benchmark overall scores go. The Physics score at 4.6 GHz in this bench was 17373.

3DMark Fire Strike

3DMark Fire Strike

Last but not least, Heaven Xtreme has been and remains pretty well ambivalent about what CPU you use. If it’s a modern architecture, it’s fine for Heaven.

HWBot Heaven Xtreme

HWBot Heaven Xtreme

So, to reiterate, those that benchmark video cards for fun will like this CPU, not only for its score increases, but because of the 40 lane wide PCIe bus.

Gaming

It will probably surprise exactly no one that we won’t be recommending this CPU for gamers. It’s not bad, but it’s not quite as good as Haswell (at stock, which is where we recorded game benchmarks) and doesn’t give you additional performance for your money.

Games

Games

The only exception would be those that need the forty PCIe lanes, which pretty well means those running three or four GPUs. One or two GPUs should stick with Haswell.

Compression, Rendering & Video Conversion

Now we get to the important part of the review. these real-world type benchmarks show situations in which people will use a CPU like this. To start, we look at compression and see the 4960X stumble at stock but come back very strong overclocked. Outside the 3960X, nothing compares here.

7zip

7zip

Cinebench R10 is a bit long in the tooth, but still scales with both overclocks and cores. The overclocked 4770K actually does well here, beating the stock 4960X, but then you overclock the 4960X and it runs away.

Cinebench 10

Cinebench 10

Cinebench R11.5 is more recent and takes advantage of all available threads. The 4.8 GHz 4770K still does well for itself, coming in only six percent below the stock 4960X, which again has an astronomical increase when overclocked.

Cinebench R11.5

Cinebench R11.5

Pass 1 of the x264 benchmark is a run through of the data, basically a scanning pass of the video to be converted. It does seem to respond to more available threads, but not quite as much as the actual encoding pass. The 4960X beats the 3960X by a good ten percent (well, ok 9.7%) in x264 in both Pass 1 and Pass 2. In the more thread oriented Pass 2, the 4770K can’t really hold a candle to the 4960X until being heavily overclocked and when you clock up the 4960X, it again runs up the score by 20+%.

X264 Benchmark, Pass 1

X264 Benchmark, Pass 1

X264 Benchmark, Pass 2

X264 Benchmark, Pass 2

PoV Ray is surprisingly not as responsive as the other benchmarks here, with an overclocked increase of “only” 11% over stock. There is still a good 9% increase stock for stock against the 3960X.

PoV Ray 3.7

PoV Ray 3.7

For any computing that takes advantage of this many available cores/threads, this CPU is the best you can get. There is a limited market for people that would use a CPU like this on a daily basis, but for those that need it, the 4960X will do a good job for you.

2D Benchmarking

Interestingly, in SuperPi 1M, the 4960X comes in ahead of Haswell at stock due to the increased stock boost (4.0 GHz). However, the Haswell chip jumps ahead for SuperPi 32M, stock and overclocked since it overclocks farther. Long story short, this CPU is neither intended for nor will it set any world records at single-threaded SuperPi.

SuperPi 1M

SuperPi 1M

Interestingly, in SuperPi 32M it seems latency is more important than high throughput. Even though the quad channel RAM seems very fast, counter-intuitively, it’s the slower latency that kills the 4960X vs. the 4770K.

SuperPi 32M

SuperPi 32M

WPrime is another story, and the 4960X doesn’t disappoint. It comes in first at stock and gains a whopping 23.9% and 24.7% (in WPrime 32M and 1024M, respectively) when overclocked.

WPrime 32M

WPrime 32M

WPrime 1024M

WPrime 1024M

Benchmarkers are going to like Ivy Bridge-E. It remains to be seen how well chips will do under cold, but for ambient 24/7 overclocking, they do very well for themselves. Multi-threaded loads are where this CPU excels.

Final Thoughts & Conclusion

Well, let’s get the obvious part out of the way. This processor is expensive. At roughly a kilobuck each, the slight of wallet aren’t going to be considering this platform. However, there is good news too – the i7 4960X is indeed the strongest CPU Intel has ever produced. There are caveats, as there always are. Haswell is better at single-threaded tasks and Ivy Bridge-E is a whole lot better when you introduce applications that take advantage of that twelve threaded goodness.

That brings me to target markets. Every single piece of hardware reviewed in a niche market always has its niche within a niche. First, you have the people that need this kind of processing power. By need, I mean those for whom time is money. I can absolutely attest to the time savings when processing photos. All of these photos you see me taking? They’ve all been edited, sized and watermarked on the 3960X since it came out. It’s fast, it’s stable and it is perfectly suited to that kind of task.

Likewise, while I haven’t done a ton of video, the ones I do (like this one) are made easier and faster on this type of CPU. So there is definitely a productivity market here, as Intel points out in this list.

Multi-Threaded Software

Multi-Threaded Software

So those that can take advantage of this kind of productivity, both amateur and professional, will want to look at the Ivy Bridge-E series. Most of this crowd will probably want to look toward the 4930K, which will save you a good four hundred bucks and do essentially the same thing. For that much cash, I could live with having to overclock a bit and less cache.

Which brings us to market two – benchmarkers. The people that want the best scores no matter what. These folks probably already have a Haswell system and maybe have even binned a CPU or two trying to find a better one. They know they will jump on an Ivy Bridge-E CPU and beat the heck out of it. Again though, even these folks will mostly go for the 4930K, just like they may have done with the 3930K.

Now we get to the crux of the matter. The 4960X is better than the 3930K and 3960X, clock for clock, but not by much. This is a very incremental improvement. If you already have a good 3930K or 3960X, keep it and stay happy. If you have been trying to find a good one or gave up (my sample topped out at 5.1 GHz, not one MHz more) and have a bit of money to spend, maybe now is a good time to give it another try.

Last, but not least, gamers. Gamers now have a more reasonable ‘in’ to the -E series with Intel in the 4830K. An overclockable quad core Ivy Bridge-E CPU with forty lanes of PCIe bandwidth. Those of you that run very high resolutions, multiple monitors and 3D with three or four GPUs. However, the entrance fee for a good motherboard is going to increase over Haswell, so if you plan on using one or two GPUs, stick with the more mainstream offering.

Well, I’m starting to get a bit long here, so let’s wrap it up, shall we? If you already have a 3960X or 3930K that you’re satisfied with, there’s no reason to upgrade to Ivy Bridge-E. I don’t necessarily think Intel thinks they’ll be wooing most of those users anyway. For everyone else, if you will use the power available with a hex-core, twelve-threaded monster of a CPU like the 4960x or 4930K – and you can afford it – by all means, knock yourself out.

There is nothing at all wrong with this CPU and platform. Intel has moved forward with Ivy Bridge-E. Not very far forward mind you, but forward. Here’s hoping Haswell with its rumored quad channel DDR4 and its (also rumored) 2014 release date pushes things a bit farther forward.

Overclockers_clear_approved

Jeremy Vaughan (hokiealumnus)

You may have noticed there wasn’t any “Pushing the Limits” section. Like with all CPU reviews, we’re not done yet. It may be a couple weeks before I will be able to get some liquid nitrogen to properly test it, but we will have full coverage of how the brand new EVGA X79 Dark works with the new Ivy Bridge-E CPUs. I’ll also try to update this thread with ambient overclocks as they come in. First impressions are that this is a great board. EVGA is trying to return to its former glory when the X58 Classified was the extreme motherboard to have. Based on how it works so far, they seem to be doing just that. We’ll leave you with a teaser photo to wet your whistle.

EVGA X79 Dark

EVGA X79 Dark

Ok, fine, one validation for those that just can’t wait – 5011 MHz @ 125.28 MHz BCLK.

5011 MHz Validated

5011 MHz Validated

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Discussion
  1. Bjoern
    Any recommendations on a board and PSU to go with the 4960X - currently have 2 titans and was looking at picking up 1-2 more but am rather worried the 4 will overtax a single PSU with a decent air or water oc.


    Those Enermax PSU's are a good choice I personally use the 1350 Platimax.

    As far as a board goes the Asus R4E is running my 4930k like a champ.
    My problem is that there are only 2 dedicated +12v, i.e., +12V3 & +12V5, the rest are shared with everything. Dreading the idea of a 2 PSU system. :shock:
    Enermax Maxrevo 1500w. Done.

    Great psu, can do 1500 workout breaking a sweat.

    If you're not ocing the Platimax 1350 is even more zomg.

    Board wise, no clue.
    Any recommendations on a board and PSU to go with the 4960X - currently have 2 titans and was looking at picking up 1-2 more but am rather worried the 4 will overtax a single PSU with a decent air or water oc.
    Nice review. Definitely dont need it but Im due to upgrade. Been sitting on this 2600k for 3 years come January! Longest Ive ever had a CPU.
    I feel it's worth mentioning that for the most part the X58 classified boards required soldering mods to work well cold, otherwise they tended towards a -60°C coldbug. Once that mod was done, they were the best out there till Gulftown and the R3E showed up.

    Personally I think EVGA should aim just a touch higher, and go for something you don't have to take a soldering iron to :D
    Thanks for the reply. You scored it almost what I "believed" you would have scored it if we did use a "subjective" index.

    This certainly was unexpected: "and/or memory bandwidth or needs the PCIe lanes for 3-4 GPUs could do worse than IVB-E."

    Thank you again for your time and review!
    dudleycpa
    Very nice review hokie! (as usual).

    "you’ve got a 4.6 GHz overclock, which is decent, and core temperatures below 70 DEGREES C – and with six cores putting out heat instead of four."

    Wow! Intel has done somethings right! (Just Kidding)

    Benchmarks are all over the place. Wins on some, loses on others. Definitely not the best solution for gamers.

    No USB 3.0 - that isn't that big of deal. WE assume that wouldn't hold anyone back (upgrade point of view).

    On a scale of 1 to ten what would you give it?

    Thanks Again!


    We don't do scores because they're so subjective. If pressed, probably a 6-7/10. It's Sandy Bridge-E with a little bit higher IPC and doesn't bring much (anything) new to the table. Anyone that already has a decent SNB-E chip should keep what they've got. Anyone that is just a gamer with 1-2 GPUs should go Haswell. Anyone that needs the available threads and/or memory bandwidth or needs the PCIe lanes for 3-4 GPUs could do worse than IVB-E.

    ATMINSIDE
    Nice one Jeremy, when are you using it for the Bot?


    Whenever time allows me to get some LN2, and there isn't much of that right now unfortunately.
    Very nice review hokie! (as usual).

    "you’ve got a 4.6 GHz overclock, which is decent, and core temperatures below 70 DEGREES C – and with six cores putting out heat instead of four."

    Wow! Intel has done somethings right! (Just Kidding)

    Benchmarks are all over the place. Wins on some, loses on others. Definitely not the best solution for gamers.

    No USB 3.0 - that isn't that big of deal. WE assume that wouldn't hold anyone back (upgrade point of view).

    On a scale of 1 to ten what would you give it?

    Thanks Again!
    As we're an equal opportunity publication, here are some more reviews for your reading pleasure.

    I'm surprised there wasn't a thread yet; NDA lifted at (the odd time of) 12:01am PST. Here are some more:

    Hardware Canucks

    Overclockersclub

    TechReport

    PCPer

    Guru3D

    VR Zone

    There we go. Tired of copying/pasting now. :)

    (I refuse to link to the two that published before NDA, one of which RE-published today under the auspices of benchmark verification with a later sample, because they suck like that.)
    The NDA expired this morning at 12:01am but we weren't told a specific hard release date. Some sites had them for sale last week already (MetalRacer has had his since Thursday or Friday) but they're not on Newegg, Tiger Direct or Microcenter's site. IDF is the 10th through the 12th, so they may be waiting until then.

    I started up a live chat with Newegg and asked so I could have an answer directly from the horse's mouth. If nothing else, it's good for a laugh.

    :facepalm: