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

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Sandy Bridge-E, and by extension the Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition, has a lot in common with the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, which arrived earlier this year with the Core i7-2600K and other members of the second generation Intel Core processor family—it’s just bigger and badder. As such, we won’t be rehashing many of the details again here, but we would suggest checking out a few previous articles if you’d like more details regarding Intel’s Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, Smart Cache, and Smart Response Technology.

In our Core i7-2600K and Core i5-2500K launch article, we go in-depth on the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture and cover many details that are pertinent to today’s launch as well. In our Core i7-2820QM coverage, we outline more architectural details and in on our Intel Z68 Express with Smart Response Technology article, we detail Intel’s SSD caching technology, a.k.a SRT.


Intel Sandy Bridge-E Die Map

As we’ve mentioned, Sandy Bridge-E shares many of the same features of the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, but as the “E” denotes, SBE is more extreme. What you see pictured above is a die map of a Sandy Bridge-E based Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition processor. The chip is manufactured using Intel’s advanced 32nm process node and features roughly 2.27 billion transistors. The die size is approximately 434.7mm2 (20.8 mm x 20.9 mm).

The initial batch of processors based on the Sandy Bridge-E microarchitecture will feature 6 active execution cores that can each process two threads simultaneously courtesy of Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology, for support of a total of 12 threads. Although, you’ll notice in the die map that there are actually two cores dormant in the chip. The die actually has eight cores, but due to power and yield constraints with the current revision, only six are active at this time. We asked when / if an 8-core SBE would ship and were of course told that Intel doesn’t comment on unreleased products, but you can bet the farm they’ll be coming at some point. The actual cores are essentially identical to the original Sandy Bridge microarchitecture and support the same Intel AVX and AES instructions, along with SSE4.1, SSE4.2, etc.

Sandy Bridge-E based processors like the Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition are designed for a new socket, LGA 2011, and require a compatible motherboard built around the new X79 Express chipset (more on that later). The processors will support up to 15MB of shared L3 Intel Smart Cache, although there is actually 20MB on die (the remaining L3 is disabled along with those other two cores), and feature integrated quad-channel memory controllers with official support for DDR3 memory at speeds up to 1600MHz, although higher speeds are possible through overclocking.

Sandy Bridge-E based processors also feature 40 integrated lanes of PCI Express connectivity, that support speeds equivalent to the 8GT/s PCI Express 3.0 specification. Intel won’t be designating the lanes as PCIe 3.0 compliant at this time, however, because the company has been unable to qualify them with the necessary PCIe 3.0 compliant add in boards, which don’t exist just yet.

  
Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition Processor CPU-Z Details

The Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition processor we’ll be featuring here today has a base clock frequency of 3.3GHz with a maximum Turbo frequency of 3.9GHz. It achieves those clocks using a BCLK of 100MHz (mistakenly labeled bus speed in the image above) and multipliers ranging from 33 to 39, although lower and higher multipliers are available with this unlocked processor. The chip sports 192K of L1 data cache (32K per core), 192K of L1 instruction cache (32K per core), and 1.5MB of L2 cache (256K per core). The Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition is also outfitted with 15MB of shared L3 cache, although lower-end variants of the chip will have 12MB (or potentially less).

The chip has a 130W TDP similar to Intel’s current high-end Gulftown-based processors and has a .95 to 1v base input voltage, although that voltage will automatically scale upwards when higher multipliers are used, when Turbo Boost frequencies kick in, for example.

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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,.......

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makes me even more excited for ivy

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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. :-)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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"@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. " 

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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.

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