Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition Sandy Bridge-E CPU

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We’ve been in this business here at HotHardware for a long time now. For most of that time, we’ve heard from countless so-called "industry experts" that the PC is dead, or at the very least dying. Quite frankly, we’re sick of hearing it. The PC is far from dead. One has to look no further than Intel's most recent finanical results, or even the contents of this website. In fact, we’d argue that the PC is more pervasive than ever. The PC isn’t dead, it just so happens to be one of the most flexible and versatile pieces of technology in existence, and it has simply gone through a number of transformations in its illustrious lifetime. What was once a non-descript, beige box good for little more than word processing and spreadsheets is now the sleek, aesthetically pleasing, hub of our digital world, that can take many different shapes. And despite its impending doom, today the PC is about to become more powerful than ever.

November 14th, 2011 marks the release of Intel’s Sandy Bridge-E microarchitecture and its companion X79 Express chipset. Sandy Bridge-E is the ‘tock’ in Intel’s tick-tock release schedule cadence, that bridges the gap between current Sandy Bridge processors and next year’s Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. The first processor to arrive in the SBE line-up is the Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, a six-core chip poised to knock Intel’s aging Gulftown-based processors from their position atop the PC food chain, one that they've held for almost two years.

We’ve got a Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition in house, along with a handful of X79 Express-based motherboards, and have pitted them against an assortment of high-end processors in an array of benchmark scenarios. Our results are laid out for you on the pages ahead, but before we get to the juicy performance details, let’s get some of the particulars out of the way first; specifications coming right up...

Intel Core i7-3690X Extreme Edition Processor
Specifications & Features

  • Core Frequency:
    3.3GHz (Up To 3.9GHz w/ Turbo)
  • QPI Speed:
  • TDP (Thermal Design Power):
  • Number of CPU Cores:
     6 (12 Threads w/ HT)
  • Intel SmartCache:
  • L2 Cache:
    1.5MB (256K x 6)
  • Processor input voltage (VID):
  • .032-micron manufacturing process
  • Shared Smart Cache Technology
  • Enhanced Intel SpeedStep Technology (EIST)
  • Extended HALT State (C1E) Enabled
  • Execute Disable Bit (XD) Enabled
  • Intel 64 Technology
  • AES-NI: Processor instructions
  • Intel Virtualization Technology (VT)
  • Packaging - Flip Chip LGA2011
  • Total Die Size: Approximately 434.7mm2
  • Approximately 2.27B Transistors
  • Price - $950
Six Core Processing: Runs 6 independent processor cores in one physical package

Base Processor Frequency: 3.30 GHz

Massive PCI Express Bandwidth: 40 lanes of PCIe supported through the processor

Intel Turbo Boost Technology: Dynamically increases the processor frequency up to 3.90GHz when applications demand more performance. Speed when you need it, energy efficiency when you don’t.

Intel Hyper-Threading Technology: 12 threads provide unprecedented processing capability for better multi-tasking and threaded applications. Do more with less wait time.

Intel Smart Cache: Up to 15MB of shared cached allows faster access to your data by enabling dynamic and efficient allocation of the cache to match the needs of each core significantly reducing latency to frequently used data and improving performance.

Overclocking Enabled: Core (Turbo) and DDR3 ratios are unlocked for ease of overclocking

Integrated Memory Controller: Supports 4 channels of DDR3-1600 memory with 1 DIMM per channel. Support for XMP memory. See this site for certified XMP memory.

Intel LGA 2011Sandy Bridge-E Processor, Top and Bottom

Before we get to the technical details regarding Sandy Bridge-E and the Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition processor, Intel asked us to get the word out regarding a joint promotion they’re working on with NewEgg to usher in their newest products, dubbed 32-in-32.

Our evaluation kit arrived in elaborate packaging that opened up to reveal multiple levels inside. On the first level we found an Intel RTS2011LC thermal solution, a Sony Bloggie video camera, and an Intel 510 Series SSD. On another level was the Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition packaging, and on yet another was the X79 Express-based DX79SI motherboard. Each level was also adorned with a different QR code that pointed to various promotional materials. The goal of the elaborate packaging was to inform us that this is no ordinary product launch and that our readers could win some of this gear. Below is the low-down on the 32-in-32 promotion straight for the horse’s mouth...



Win an Incredible Intel Unlocked PC & More: 32 in 32 Challenge
Win weekly unlocked prize packages from Intel and Newegg starting November 14. Take home the grand prize and you'll fly to Newegg HQ for a chance to build your own Intel Enthusiast PC valued at over $5,000. Weekly prize bundles include Intel® Core™ i7 Extreme Edition processors, Intel® Desktop Boards, Intel® Solid-State Drives, and other system components.

Each week is a chance to win a different unlocked prize package. To win the grand prize, create and submit a video explaining in about 32 seconds why you deserve to a chance to build your ultimate unlocked PC.

For complete rules and entry details,
check out Intel’s Facebook page.

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realneil 3 years ago

Absolute kick-ass CPU and platform!

Intel seems to have hit it out of the park with this new Tech.

Great review Marco, as always,.......

jonation 3 years ago

makes me even more excited for ivy

acarzt 3 years ago

I am underwhelmed by the Single Threaded performance. It is the same or slightly better than the normal Sandy Bridge.

How about some high end gaming benches?

I am concerned that the high end gaming with be about the same on the SB and SBE chips. And if that is the case, it wouldn't be worth it to spend all the extra money for SBE when you can have the same performance in MOST of the things you'll be doing anyway for a lot less.

Great multi-thread performance tho. About a 50% performance increase on some of those test which is about right considering it has 50% more cores.

Also, if you plan on overclocking these things, you're gonna need a pretty beefy PSU.

Anyway, I will probably wait until they unlock the extra 2 cores, and add in all those other features we were promised before I consider one of these. :-)

CDeeter 3 years ago

Great chip, but doesn't seem to be worth $658 more than an i7 2700. $600 total maybe, considering the i7 would still be half that price.

realneil 3 years ago

I think that the value is in the ~combination~ of the CPU and the more advanced platform that it resides on. Quad Channel Memory for one will be significant once it tweaked for better performance. There are other benefits to the new chipset as well.

I agree that it will take better PSU's to run it and better heat mitigation as well. But there are many very capable PSU's out there now and a whole lot of great coolers too. These tests were done with an Intel branded Water Cooler with a 120MM radiator.

What result would we see with a H100 on it? How about a top of the line Noctua cooler? How about a custom water cooling loop?

Maybe if it was tweaked the way that many enthusiasts will want to tweak it we would see even better performance?

It's interesting to me and I can't wait for more reviews to roll in.

acarzt 3 years ago

I went out and found some other reviews and my concerns for high end gaming have been confirmed.

It is the same and even sometimes slower than the current Sandy bridge. There are also times when it excels.

The only game it held a clear lead in was WoW.

So with better optimization for multi-core chips, i'd assume the advantages of the new SBE will become more apparent.

rrplay 3 years ago

[quote user="realneil"]

I think that the value is in the ~combination~ of the CPU and the more advanced platform that it resides on. Quad Channel Memory for one will be significant once it tweaked for better performance. There are other benefits to the new chipset as well....

if it was tweaked the way that many enthusiasts will want to tweak it we would see even better performance?...


Sure do appreciate an excellent review.& what I like too is about adding the info about the memory available.This would be a must when considering the latest SB-E and carefully select the optimal memory for a build.Looks the the G.Skill's that were used "4GB, DDR3-1866 sticks of memory (total 16GB), model number F3-14900CLQ9-16GBZ" would be an excellent choice. no wonder there is a New Intel  XMP 1.3 memory profile and some further tweaking would be possible.

Looking forward to reading more as more becomes available with the new Sandy Bridge -E platform.

rapid1 3 years ago

I really like the split memory (2 slots on either side of the CPU socket), not to mention this is I think the first I have seen like this.

OptimusPrimeTime 3 years ago

"@Marco, I think your intro to this article really set the tone for what's unarguably the most powerful and exciting processor ever made. Really impressive and the bandwidth advantage of  Quad channel memory is incredible. For workstation purposes there is no better choice. For gamers, I still say that the 2600K is the best value hand down."

"One thing that's against it already is Why did Intel not decide to make available the 3820 at launch, its really going to hurt the platform sales until January. " 

Inspector 3 years ago

the memory split is cool, but why? lol

Loving the chip, sadly i will never get it nor need it but would love to have it :( lol.

AKwyn 3 years ago

Nice review Marco... I wouldn't say that it's the fastest though; reading all of those charts, it's only marginally faster then the 990X, I was expecting it to blow it out of the water with it's 32nm manufacturing process and all... I'm still holding out for Ivy Bridge as the die shrink equals up to major performance increases and less heat... I mean 91 degrees on an Asetek cooler? If a processor can do that when overclocked (assuming you didn't put in a second fan for a push/pull configuration) then imagine what Ivy Bridge with it's 6 cores and it's 22nm could do when overclocked... It is surprising that an i7-2600K can keep up with the "fastest processor around".

It's also ironic that a processor like this is priced at $699.99. Compared to the 990x, that is a ridiculous steal... I'm guessing that the $1,000 pricetag will belong to the 8-core version though... Can't mark out that price range for Intel...

As far as the motherboards provided... I'd say that the ASUS and ASRock boards are anybodies good choice. Don't get me wrong, the MSI is good but ASUS and ASRock has the features that the enthusiasts want. Plus they are respectable brands and have much more of a community presence then MSI has... Don't know what the prices are for all of them but I'm guessing they'll be reasonably priced?

Anyway, great review... While I was expecting it to blow it out of the water, what we got was good enough... I'm still holding out for Ivy Bridge though, not wild about Sandy Bridge-E. Those that are wild about it will not be disappointed.

Mike Coyne 3 years ago

Great review! I was very impressed with new i7 3960X and little fast than i7 990X. I know Intel i7 990X price will drop little while new flagship i7 3960X at $1000.00. And I enjoyed to read the review about new i7 Extreme Edition based on SBE. It make me wish to have that in next build. One thing is I am looking forward to read some reviews soon.

omegadraco 3 years ago

Thanks for the great reviews as usual. I finally had the opportunity to read through the entire thing this morning. The multi-threaded performance is quite impressive but I feel the single threaded performance has left a bit to be desired even if it still beats the other processors. At this point I am not sure if it is worth spending $300 dollars extra on the 3930 from a 2700K the extreme processors have always been out of most peoples price ranges.

Drake_McNasty 3 years ago

Awesome review marco, great work. Not much else to add to the discussion, it's a beast and performs like one too. A lot of impressive features and the days of a 32gig of ram standard aren't that far off! Can't wait to see some of the other goodies that come along with this release.

gazd1 2 years ago

Good to read this review! Good to keep informed!Yes

realneil 2 years ago

[quote user="gazd1"]Good to read this review! Good to keep informed!Yes[/quote]


How come there's not someone instantly agreeing with your post?


OptimusPrimeTime 2 years ago

[quote user="realneil"]

[quote user="gazd1"]Good to read this review! Good to keep informed!Yes[/quote]


How come there's not someone instantly agreeing with your post?


"LMFAO, @realneil, its usually gazd1 who comments first , then gloriad1 agreeing a while later, that's how it works. Its coming,  wait for it. LOL." 


AKwyn 2 years ago

[quote user="realneil"]


How come there's not someone instantly agreeing with your post?


Yeah... Where is gloriad1 anyway?

Side note, I'd like to think that gloriad1 is gazd's sockpuppet account; I mean all she mainly does is tell gazd1 that he's right. Sort of like Mr. Garrison and Mr. Hat from South Park.

realneil 2 years ago

[quote user="TaylorKarras"]sockpuppet account[/quote]


I lost Pepsi through my nose when I read that,.........

tzaar0723 2 years ago

It looks like Intel has once again secured their place at the top of the performance pile, but again at a premium price ...

I don't really see too much appealing from a price/performance standpoint to the newer chips over the I-7 K series processors.  I guess if you're wanting the best of the best, the price won't matter, but this is definitely not a mainstream CPU, and not one I'll be able to afford any time soon.


omegadraco 2 years ago

[quote user="realneil"]

[quote user="TaylorKarras"]sockpuppet account[/quote]


I lost Pepsi through my nose when I read that,.........


The entertainment will be almost as good as the Kewl Tower! was.

juicyfruitsweet 2 years ago

This Core i7 3960X price is so high. I wish I had that type of money to spend on just a CPU

RDyne 2 years ago

these are amazing! i want one!

Ryan H. Cowley 2 years ago

Core Frequency:

3.3GHz (Up To 3.9GHz w/ Turbo) 3.9 !!!!! OMG !!! 3.....................9 XD

QPI Speed:


Number of CPU Cores:

6 (12 Threads w/ HT)

(OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! XD

I can die happy is i own one of these)

Intel SmartCache:


L2 Cache:

1.5MB (256K x 6)

Base Processor Frequency: 3.30 GHz

(XD Taking On Extremely High graphic games and shrugging it off LIKA BOSS)

Massive PCI Express Bandwidth: 40 lanes of PCIe supported through the processor


[_] *Sound of Jaw Hitting the floor. *

Intel consider me impressed.

$1000 For this baby now the god like speeds are making sense. Now they just need to make an affordable one,

No Doubt will see it in some New Maingear Computers.

Aydee 2 years ago

The i7 2600k is definitely value for money at this point. This chip (3960x) is just too pricey..

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