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!
The Intel Ivy Bridge-E Line
Ahh CPU die wafers. Looking at these never gets old. Dozens of i7 4960Xs, ripe for the cutting.
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.
As you can see, the Ivy Bridge-E hexacore offerings are native six-core dies.
In case you don’t know off-hand what those dies actually mean, here’s the diagram.
We’ll run our own numbers of course, but Intel has dutifully supplied their own improvement comparison numbers.
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…).
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.
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.
Intel has plenty of partners with their XMP program for Ivy Bridge-E.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
*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.
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|
|Intel DZ77GA-70K||Intel DZ87KLT-75K|
|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|
|Motherboard||Intel DX79SI||EVGA X79 Dark|
|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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 11 isn’t as sensitive to CPU ability, but it still shows promise. The Physics score at 4.6 GHz here was 15755.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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+%.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ok, fine, one validation for those that just can’t wait – 5011 MHz @ 125.28 MHz BCLK.