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Intel Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E CPU Review
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Date: Sep 03, 2013
Section:Processors
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

This most recent metamorphosis of the PC hasn’t been kind to the high-end desktop processor segment. While the industry as a whole continues to focus on the steadily growing ultra-mobile market, and releases new products in rapid succession, there have only been two major flagship desktop processors released since the Intel Core i7-3960X hit the scene in late 2011—the slightly faster Intel Core i7-3970X and AMD’s limited edition FX-9590. And even then, AMD’s chip is most likely going to compete with Intel’s more mainstream quad-core parts. We’ll know exactly how it performs soon enough, when we complete our full evaluation of the FX-9590.

Low-power parts that fit into small form factors may be all the rage right now, but today Intel advances the high-end desktop processor segment forward with the official unveiling of its Ivy Bridge-E microarchitecture and its associated products. The Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition processor is the flagship product in Intel’s initial line-up of Ivy Bridge-E based parts and it just so happens to be the processor we’ll be showing you here today. As its branding suggests, the Core i7-4960X is a generation update to the Core i7-3960X, 2011’s flagship desktop processor which was based on the Sandy Bridge-E microarchitecture.


Intel's Latest Flagship: The Core i7-4960X

Intel Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition Processor
Specifications & Features
Six Core Processing:
Runs 6 independent processor cores in one physical package

Base Processor Frequency:
3.60 GHz (Turbo to 4GHz)

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:
Fully unlocked multipliers for altering CPU and memory frequencies.

Integrated Memory Controller:
Supports 4 channels of DDR3-1866 memory with 1 DIMM per channel.

Support for XMP memory.
eXtreme Memory Profiles allow for simple performance tuning.
  • 6 Cores, 12 Threads (Fully Unlocked)
     
  • Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
     
  • Intel Hyper-Threading Technology
     
  • Supports LGA 2011 /  X79 based motherboards
     
  • Up to 15 MB Intel Smart Cache
     
  • Integrated Memory Controller
     
  • 4 channels of DDR3 1866 MHz, 1DPC
     
  • Intel AVX and AES
     
  • 40 PCI Express Lanes
     
  • SSE4.1 & SSE4.2 Instructions


Ivy Bridge-E Wafer


For those of you not quite familiar with Intel’s codenames, Ivy Bridge was the codename used for a family of products built using Intel’s 22nm process technology. Ivy Bridge was a “Tick” in Intel’s CPU release cadence, which meant it was a somewhat mild revision of an existing microarchitecture—in this case Sandy Bridge—manufactured using a new process node, and with some new features thrown into the mix. It is not a totally new microarchitecture (that distinction came with Haswell), but a lower-power, better performing, and more economical to produce refinement of a previous product.

Ivy Bridge-E leverages those refinements and is a derivative of the original Ivy Bridge which launched last year. However, Ivy Bridge-E is also the more extreme variant of the microarchitecture that's meant to be a follow up to 2011's flagship Sandy Bridge-E lineup.

Above (in the spec table) we have a shot of an entire wafer of Ivy Bridge-E processors, along with the features and some specifications of the Core i7-4960X we'll be showing you here today. If you're a student of the desktop processor scene, you notice that most of the features are carryovers from previous-generation Intel processor offerings, but Ivy Bridge-E does have a few new tricks up its virtual sleeve as well. We’ll explain more and dive a little deeper on the pages ahead...
 

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Ivy Bridge-E and the Core i7-4960X

Ivy Bridge-E, and by extension the Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition, has a lot in common with the mainstream Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, which arrived last year with the Core i7-3770K and other members of the third generation Intel Core processor family. As we've mentioned, Ivy Bridge-E is a more powerful variant, however, with more cores and cache and a wider memory interface.

Due to the similarities to Ivy Bridge, we won’t be rehashing many of the architectural details again here, but we would suggest checking out a few previous articles if you’d like more details regarding the architecture and technologies at work here, like Intel’s Turbo Boost 2.0, Smart Cache, Hyper Threading, and AVX, among others.

In our Core i7-3770K launch article, we go in-depth on the Ivy Bridge microarchitecture and cover many details that are pertinent to today’s launch as well. In our Core i7-3960X coverage, we dig into Intel’s previous-gen Extreme Edition processor, which is quite similar to the Core i7-4960X, and also detail the X79 Express chipset, which remains the platform of choice for Ivy Bridge-E.


Intel Ivy Bridge-E Die Map

Ivy Bridge-E shares many of the same features of the Sandy Bridge-E and the more mainstream Ivy Bridge microarchitectures, but as the “E” denotes, IVB-E is more extreme derivative. What you see pictured above is a die map of an Ivy Bridge-E based Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition processor. The chip is manufactured using Intel’s advanced 22nm process node and features roughly 1.86 billion transistors, with a die size of approximately 257mm2 (15 mm x 17.1 mm). If you're keeping track, that's about 410M fewer transistors and a 41% smaller die than SBE.

The Ivy Bridge-E microarchitecture features up to 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. The actual cores used in the chips are essentially identical to the original Ivy Bridge microarchitecture and support the same Intel AVX and AES instructions, along with SSE4.1, SSE4.2, etc.

 
The Core i7-4960X, Top and Bottom

Ivy Bridge-E based processors like the Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition are designed for Intel’s LGA 2011 socket, and require a compatible motherboard built around the X79 Express chipset (more on that later). The processors will support up to 15MB of shared L3 Intel Smart Cache and feature integrated quad-channel memory controllers with official support for DDR3 memory at speeds up to 1866MHz, although higher speeds are possible through overclocking.

Ivy 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 officially designating the lanes as PCIe 3.0 compliant, however.
 

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IVB-E Motherboards and Memory

Unlike previous new processor launches, Intel will not be releasing a new chipset to work with Ivy Bridge-E. Instead, the again X79 will remain the companion chipset to Intel's flagship desktop processor line.  This is somewhat disappointing in that the X79 Express doesn't have native USB 3.0, sports a only a couple of native SATA 6G ports, and has been out for a couple of years, but save for its ages, those other niggles can be resolved with third-party controllers.

To recap, the X79 Express is essentially an I/O hub, as all of the traditional Northbridge functionality is integrated into the processor itself. The chipset is paired to Intel's LGA2011 socket and IVB-E processors offer a whopping 40 lanes of PCI Express connectivity along with an integrated quad-channel DDR3 memory controller. The PCIe links can be arranged in any number of configurations and support PCI Express 3.0 speeds.

The processors are linked to the chipset via a 20Gb/s interface (DMI) and the X79 Express is outfitted with 8 more PCIe 2.0 lanes, along with various other I/O options, like USB 2.0 (14 ports), six SATA ports (2 x SATA III), an integrated Gigabit MAC, HD audio, etc. As we've mentioned, the X79 Express has native support for SATA 6Gbs on two of its ports, but not USB 3.0. USB 3.0 is only available through the use of third-party controllers like those from VIA, Reneasas / NEC, or ASMedia.


 
 
Asus X79 Deluxe Motherboard

Intel will not be officially supporting IVB-E on its existing X79-based motherboards, which is probably going to be a major disappointment to anyone who bought one of the boards hoping to upgrade CPUs at some point. Intel's board partners are at the ready, however. With a new BIOS/UEFI most enthusiast-class X79-based motherboards will support IVB-E, but some manufacturers readied new, more refined motherboards as well.

What you see pictured above is the Asus X79 Deluxe, and as is typical of the manufacturer, this board is overloaded with features. In addition to exploiting all of the features inherent to the X79 Express chipset, the X79 Deluxe offers USB 3.0 support, Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11ac WiFi connectivity, additional SATA 6Gbps ports (12 total), and what Asus calls its “Dual Intelligent Processors 4”. The Dual Intelligent Processors consist of Asus’ EPU unit, which we’ve covered in the past, and the TurboV processing unit. The processors work together with the X79 Deluxe's digital VRM (DIGI+ VRM) and give users the ability to monitor and adjust power delivery across multiple sections of the board. According to Asus, the combination of the programmable digital VRM and Dual Intelligent Processors 4 results in superior efficiency and longevity, as well as better power delivery than previous generation products.

The Asus X79 Deluxe also supports SLI and CrossFireX support, DTS Surround, and Asus includes a copy of their AI Suite II as well, which gives users easy access to all of the Asus-proprietary features mentioned here in a single software package. In addition to the aforementioned features, the X79 Deluxe also sports an excellent UEFI with one-click overclocking, per-header fan controls (even on 3-pin headers), and many of the changes introduced with the 8-series chipsets for Haswell, like Quick Notes, Favorites, list of Changes on Exit, etc. With Asus also offers their own SSD caching feature on four SATA ports powered by a Marvell 9230 controller (1 mechanical HDD + 3 SSD), simplified USB UEFI flashing, and their MemOK! and Ai Charger technologies.

As we've come to expect from Asus, the X79 Deluxe also ships with an extensive accessory bundle and like other members of Asus’ Xtreme Design family of products, the board is tuned for overclockers. Not only is the layout user-friendly, but the board sports heavy-duty passive cooling, integrated power and reset switches, plenty of I/O connectivity (including Intel Gigabit LAN), and its overclocking capabilities are best-of-class.

Though the board looks similar to the P9X79 Deluxe, save for the newer black and gold color scheme, the X79 Deluxe has a number of other low-level improvements. The board you see pictured here sports new power topology with new inductors and MOSFET driver package for better efficiency and power output. The X79 Deluxe’s DRAM traces have been updated for Ivy Bridge-E so 64GB memory configurations that may have topped out at 2133 may now be able to run 2400. The board also has newer AsMedia 1042a USB 3.0 controllers that support UASP in Windows 8, a better audio solution (ALC1150), an updated Intel NIC, and it’s certified for Intel RST 12 and MEI 9.


G.SKILL RipJaws Z F3-2400C10Q-16GZH Quad-Channel DDR3-2400 Memory Kit

To coincide with the release of Ivy Bridge-E, a number of Intel’s memory partners are also launching quad-channel memory kits optimized for the platform. We got our hands on a kit from G.SKILL, which is pictured above.

The G.SKILL RipJaws Z F3-2400C10Q-16GZH kit supports Intel's Extreme Memory Profile (XMP 1.3) specification, for easy optimization and overclocking. The kit you see here consists of four, 4GB, DDR3-2400 sticks of memory (total 16GB) that run at 1.65v with CL10-12-12-31 timings. This is the memory kit we used for all of our IVB-E testing, under both stock and overclocked conditions, and it ran great throughout.
 

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Vital Signs and Overclocking

Below are a couple of screenshots from the latest version of CPU-Z that detail some of the new Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition processor’s inner-workings.

     
Intel Core i7-4960X CPU-Z Details

As the screenshot show, the Intel Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition processor we’ll be featuring here today has a base clock frequency of 3.6GHz with a maximum Turbo frequency of 4GHz. It achieves those clocks using a BCLK of 100MHz (mistakenly labeled bus speed in the image above) and multipliers ranging from 36 to 40, 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 i7-4960X Extreme Edition is also outfitted with 15MB of shared L3 cache, although lower-end variants of the chip will have 12MB or 10MB, depending on the model.

The chip has a 130W TDP similar to Intel’s previous generation flagship desktop processors and has a .95 to 1.040v base input voltage, although that voltage will automatically scale upwards or downwards when different multipliers are used, when Turbo Boost or Seed Step frequencies kick in, for example.

Overclocking The Core i7-4960X
Taking Turbo To The Extreme 

We also spent some time overclocking our Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition sample using an Asus X79 Deluxe motherboard Cooler Master TPC 812 Cooler.

Like mainstream Ivy Bridge-based third generation Intel Core processors, new Ivy Bridge-E based processors offer limited flexibility when overclocking via BCLK manipulation. If you want to tweak CPU and memory frequencies via the BCLK, it can only be increased by a few MHz (think 3-5MHz) maximum.

However, with Ivy Bridge-E, two additional BCLK multiples or straps are also available, that are not offered on Ivy Bridge processors. With standard Ivy Bridge, only a 100MHz BCLK is available, but with Ivy Bridge-E 100MHz, 125MHz, and 166MHz BCLK frequencies are also possible. In addition, like K series SKUs, the Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition is fully unlocked; so CPU, Turbo, and Memory frequencies can be easily altered through multiplier manipulation as well.

With a chip as large and complex as the Intel Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition, power and cooling considerations are very important when overclocking. At its stock configuration the Core i7-4960X is rated for 130W, but power consumption and heat output can shoot up considerably when the chip is pushed well beyond spec. As such, Intel and its board partners have incorporated options to increase voltages and specify peak current thresholds too. The additional options and power / heat considerations add some wrinkles and complexity to the overclocking process, but we still found overclocking IVB-E to be quite easy.


Intel Core i7-4960X @ 4.6GHz Running Cinebench 11.5 with CPU-Z

We suspect that most Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition processors will asily hit 4.5GHz with good air or liquid cooling. 80-90% of the CPUs will probably hit up to 4.6GHz, 60-70% will do 4.7GHz, and approximately 50% of the CPUs will hit the 4.8GHz mark with the right combination of voltage and a powerful liquid cooler. Although the options are there to disable SpeedStep and various C states, overclocking IVB-E is really as easy as finding the right combo of voltage, BCLK, and peak Turbo frequencies. By altering those options and leaving SpeedStep, etc. alone, the processor can still clock-down when not under load, minimizing power consumption and overall heat output.

Using a Cooler Master TPC 812 cooler with dual 120mm fans (in a push/pull configuration), we were able to take our particular Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition processor up to 4.6GHz using a 100MHz BCLK and a peak all-core Turbo multiplier of 46 with a .15v offset. At that speed, however, we were pushing the limits of the thermal solution as the processor would approach the 90ºC mark after long periods of sustained load. At 91ºC, the chip began to throttle. At 4.6GHz, the Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition processor put up a Cinebench 11.5 MT score of 13.06.

We also spent some time using the “easy” overclocking tools available on Asus’ X79 Deluxe board with great success. Hitting the “High Performance” performance option in Asus board’s UEFI main menu, for example, yielded a peak CPU frequency of about 4.3GHz, with only a single click. And at that speed, the chip barely broke a sweat, running at about 77’C under load.
 

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Test Setup and SiSoft SANDRA

Test System Configuration Notes: When configuring our test systems for this article, we first entered their respective system BIOSes and set each board to its "Optimized" or "High performance Defaults". We then saved the settings, re-entered the BIOS and ensured the memory speeds were set to each platform's maximum, officially supported frequency (DDR3-1866 with Ivy Bridge-E).


G.SKILL RipJawZ Memory Kit Installed In the Asus X79 Deluxe with the Core i7-4960X

The solid state drives in the test systems were then formatted, and Windows 7 Ultimate x64 was installed. When the Windows installation was complete, we fully updated the OS, and installed all of the drivers necessary for our components. Auto-Updating and Windows Defender were then disabled and we installed all of our benchmarking software. We then performed a disk clean-up, cleared any prefetch and temp data, and ran the tests.

HotHardware's Test Systems
Intel and AMD - Head To Head

System 1:
Intel Core i7-4770K
(3.5GHz - Quad-Core)

MS Z87-GD65
Intel DZ87KLT-75K
Asus Z87-Deluxe
Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H
(Z87 Express Chipset)

2x4GB G.SKILL DDR3-1866
(@ 1600MHz)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

OCZ Vertex 3 MaxIOPS

Windows 7 x64
System 2:
Intel Core i7-3770K
(3.5GHz - Quad-Core)
Intel Core i7-2700K
(3.5GHz - Quad-Core)

MSI Z77A-GD65
(Z77 Express Chipset)

2x4GB G.SKILL DDR3-1866
(@ 1600MHz)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

OCZ Vertex 3 MaxIOPS

Windows 7 x64
System 3:
Cntel Core i7-4960X
(3.6GHz - Hex-Core)
Cntel Core i7-3690X
(3.3GHz - Hex-Core) 
Intel Core i7-3820
(3.6GHz - Quad-Core)

Asus X79 Deluxe
Asus P9X79 Deluxe
(X79 Express Chipset)

4x4GB G.SKILL DDR3-1866
(@ 1866MHz)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

OCZ Vertex 3 MaxIOPS

Windows 7 x64
System 4:
AMD FX 8150
(3.6GHz Eight-Core)
AMD FX 8350
(4GHz Eight-Core)

Asus CrossHair V Formula
(AMD 990FX Chipset)

2x4GB G.SKILL DDR3-1866
(@ 1866MHz)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

OCZ Vertex 3 MaxIOPS

Windows 7 x64
System 5:
Intel Core i7-990X
(3.43GHz Hex-Core)

Gigabyte EX58-UD4
(X58 Express Chipset)

3x4GB G.SKILL DDR3-1866
(@ 1333MHz)

GeForce GTX 280
On-Board Ethernet
On-board Audio

OCZ Vertex 3 MaxIOPS

Windows 7 x64

Preliminary Testing with SiSoft SANDRA 2013
Synthetic Benchmarks

We began our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2013, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests that partially comprise the SANDRA 2013 suite with Intel's new Core i7-4960X processor (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, and Cache Bandwidth). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speed of 3.3GHz (4GHz Turbo) with 16GB of DDR3-1866 RAM running in quad-channel mode on the Asus X79 Deluxe motherboard.


Processor Arithmetic
 


Processor Multimedia
 


Memory Bandwidth


Cache Bandwidth


The new Core i7-4960X performed right about where you'd expect it to in SiSoft SANDRA's Processor Arithmetic and Multimedia benchmarks, considering its six-cores (with HT) and up to 4GHz Turbo frequency.  In the Memory Bandwidth benchmarks, the Core i7-4960X offered up just shy of 52GB/s of peak bandwidth when configured with a quad-channel DDR3-1866 memory setup and the Cache benchmark revealed peak bandwidth 307GB/s - 846GB/s depending on which level of cache (L1, L2, or L3) is being utilized.
 

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Futuremark PCMark 7 Tests

Futuremark's PCMark 7 is the latest version of the PCMark whole-system benchmarking suite. It has updated application performance measurements targeted for a Windows 7 environment and uses newer metrics to gauge relative performance. Below is what Futuremark says is incorporated into the base PCMark suite and the Entertainment, Creativity, and Productivity suites--the four modules we have benchmark scores for you here.
Futuremark PCMark 7
General Application and Multimedia Performance

The PCMark test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance during typical desktop usage. This is the most important test since it returns the official PCMark score for the system
Storage
  • Windows Defender
  • Importing pictures
  • Gaming

Video Playback and transcoding
Graphics

  • DirectX 9

Image manipulation
Web browsing and decrypting

The Entertainment test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance in entertainment scenarios using mostly application workloads. Individual tests include recording, viewing, streaming and transcoding TV shows and movies, importing, organizing and browsing new music and several gaming related workloads. If the target system is not capable of running DirectX 10 workloads then those tests are skipped. At the end of the benchmark run the system is given an Entertainment test score.

The Creativity test contains a collection of workloads to measure the system performance in typical creativity scenarios. Individual tests include viewing, editing, transcoding and storing photos and videos. At the end of the benchmark run the system is given a Creativity test score.

The Productivity test is a collection of workloads that measure system performance in typical productivity scenarios. Individual workloads include loading web pages and using home office applications. At the end of the benchmark run the system is given a Productivity test score.

 
The Core i7-4960X outpaced the previous-gen Extreme Edition chip according to PCMark by a few percentage points, but trailed the Haswell-based Core i7 processors and the Ivy Bridge-based 3770K when using on-processor graphics. The Quick Sync video engine available in Haswell and Ivy Bridge when the on-processor graphics are used give them a massive performance boost in the Creativity test, which helps boost them to the top of the charts.
 

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LAME MT and SunSpider

In our custom LAME MT MP3 encoding test, we convert a large WAV file to the MP3 format, which is a popular scenario that many end users work with on a day-to-day basis to provide portability and storage of their digital audio content. LAME is an open-source MP3 audio encoder that is used widely in a multitude of third party applications.

LAME MT
Audio Encoding

In this test, we created our own 223MB WAV file (a hallucinogenically-induced Grateful Dead jam) and converted it to the MP3 format using the multi-thread capable LAME MT application, in both single and multi-thread modes. Processing times are recorded below, listed in seconds. Shorter times equate to better performance.

 

Our custom LAME MT benchmark uses only one or two threads. As a result, the Core i7-4960X's ability to Turbo to higher frequencies than the other processors, in addition to the slight IPC enhancements of the architecture, allow it to outpace all of our older reference systems. It trailed only the Haswell-based processor in the MT test.

SunSpider JavaScript Benchmark
JavsScript Performance Testing

Next up, we have some numbers from the SunSpoder JavaScript benchmark. According to the SunSpider website:

This benchmark tests the core JavaScript language only, not the DOM or other browser APIs. It is designed to compare different versions of the same browser, and different browsers to each other. Unlike many widely available JavaScript benchmarks, this test is:

Real World - This test mostly avoids microbenchmarks, and tries to focus on the kinds of actual problems developers solve with JavaScript today, and the problems they may want to tackle in the future as the language gets faster. This includes tests to generate a tagcloud from JSON input, a 3D raytracer, cryptography tests, code decompression, and many more examples. There are a few microbenchmarkish things, but they mostly represent real performance problems that developers have encountered.

Balanced - This test is balanced between different areas of the language and different types of code. It's not all math, all string processing, or all timing simple loops. In addition to having tests in many categories, the individual tests were balanced to take similar amounts of time on currently shipping versions of popular browsers.

Statistically Sound - One of the challenges of benchmarking is knowing how much noise you have in your measurements. This benchmark runs each test multiple times and determines an error range (technically, a 95% confidence interval). In addition, in comparison mode it tells you if you have enough data to determine if the difference is statistically significant.

All of the systems were tested using the latest version of Internet Explorer 9, with default browser settings, on a clean install of Windows 7 Ultimate x64.

The Core i7-4960X performed right about on par with the Ivy Bridge-based Core i7-3770K in the SunSpider benchmark, but trailed the Haswell-based processors, due to the latter's architectural enhancements which help single-thread / per core performance.
 

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Cinebench R11.5 and POV-Ray

Cinebench R11.5 is a 3D rendering performance test based on Cinema 4D from Maxon. Cinema 4D is a 3D rendering and animation suite used by animation houses and producers like Sony Animation and many others. It's very demanding of processor resources and is an excellent gauge of pure computational throughput.
Cinebench R11.5
3D Rendering

This is a multi-threaded, multi-processor aware benchmark that renders a photorealistic 3D scene (from the viral "No Keyframes" animation by AixSponza). This scene makes use of various algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The rate at which each test system was able to render the entire scene is represented in the graph below.

 

The new Core i7-4960X put up the best multi-threaded score of any processor in the Cinebench R11.5 benchmark, outpacing the Core i7-3970X by a fraction. In terms of single-thread performance, the Core i7-4960X also scores well, but it outpaced slightly by the Haswell-based processors. 

POV-Ray Performance
Ray Tracing

POV-Ray, or the Persistence of Vision Ray-Tracer, is an open source tool for creating realistically lit 3D graphics artwork. We tested with POV-Ray's standard 'one-CPU' and 'all-CPU' benchmarking tools on all of our test machines, and recorded the scores reported for each. Results are measured in pixels-per-second throughput; higher scores equate to better performance.

 

The POV-Ray benchmark tells the same story as Cinebench. In these tests, the Haswell-based Core i7 processors put up the best single-thread performance, but the Core i7-4960X's additional cores and relatively high clocks give it an edge over everything else in the multi-threaded benchmark.

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Low-Res Gaming: Crysis and ETQW

For our next set of tests, we moved on to some in-game benchmarking with Crysis (DirectX) and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (OpenGL). When testing processors with Crysis or ET:QW, we drop the resolution to 1024x768, and reduce all of the in-game graphical options to their minimum values to isolate CPU and memory performance as much as possible. However, the in-game effects, which control the level of detail for the games' physics engines and particle systems, are left at their maximum values, since these actually place some load on the CPU rather than GPU.

Low-Resolution Gaming: Crysis and ET: Quake Wars
Taking the GPU out of the Equation

The Core i7-4960X performed right on-par with the Haswell-based Core i7-4770K in the Crysis CPU benchmark, but outpaced everything else by a slight margin. In the OpenGL-based ET:Quake Wars benchmark, however, the Core i7-4960X ruled the roost, outperforming every other processor we tested.
 

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Total System Power Consumption

Throughout all of our benchmarking and testing, we also monitored how much power our test systems consumed using a power meter. Our goal was to give you all an idea as to how much power each configuration used while idling and while under a heavy workload. Please keep in mind that we were testing total system power consumption at the outlet here, not just the power being drawn by the processors alone.

Total System Power Consumption
Tested at the Outlet

 

The Core i7-4960X ended up consuming somewhat less power than the six-core Core i7-3960X under both idle and load conditions, but considerably more than the quad-core Core i7-4770K. The Core i7-4960X's idle and load power was also somewhat higher than the AMD FX-8350, but considering the massive performance increases offered by the Core i7-4960X, using a bit more power is easily justified. It may use more power at peak, but the Core i7-4960X is more efficient with that power than AMD’s fastest desktop processors available today.

As we mentioned earlier, overclocking the Core i7-4960X can result in large increases in power consumption. To demonstrate this, we also monitored power consumption with the chip running at its stock configuration and while overclocked to 4.6GHz. As you can see, power consumption jumped up almost 150 watts with the chip overclocked to 4.6GHz.
 

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The new Intel Core i7-4960X is an insanely fast processor, under the right conditions. It is easily the fastest desktop processor Intel has released to date when tasked with highly-threaded workloads or when its massive amount of cache comes into play, as evidenced by our 3D rendering, ray tracing, and gaming benchmarks. However, assuming similar clock speeds, the newer Haswell microarchitecture employed in the recently released Core i7-4770K (and other 4th Gen Core processors) offers somewhat better single-core performance. As such, with lightly threaded or single-threaded workloads a similarly or even slightly lower clocked Haswell-based chip may offer better overall performance.



Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition Packaging - Intel Core i7 Processors at Amazon

In the conclusion of our original Ivy Bridge launch article, we said, “Ivy Bridge does not feature a brand-new microarchitecture designed to obliterate the previous generation. Rather, Ivy Bridge, and the 3rd Generation Core processor family based on the microarchitecture, is an evolution of Sandy Bridge that improves upon its predecessor in a number of key ways. If you simply perused our processor-centric benchmarks, this [Ivy Bridge] will probably look like a mild upgrade.”  That statement pertains to today’s launch as well. The Core i7-4960X is an upgrade over 2011’s Sandy Bridge-E based Core i7-3960X, but it’s not a generational lead over its predecessor. Rather, the Core i7-4960X offers a mild performance boost and marginal improvement in power efficiency.

The Core i7-4960X isn’t the only Ivy Bridge-E based processor coming down the pipeline; Intel also has the quad-core / 8-thread Core i7-4820K and hex-core / 12-thread Core i7-4930K in the works as well, with prices ranging from $310 for the 4820K to $990 for the flagship Core i7-4960X. As has always been the case, if you want to enjoy the benefits of Intel’s top-of-the-line desktop processor, you’ll have to shell out about a grand, but we’re sure you already knew that. Flagship processors from Intel have never been cheap.

Ultimately, it is fair to say the Core i7-4960X is Intel’s fastest desktop processor ever. But because Haswell-based processors, which feature a newer, more advanced, microarchitecture have already landed, the Core i7-4960X is not the undisputed performance champion the Core i7-3960X was when it arrived. The Core i7-4960X is still a killer piece of hardware, there are just some caveats this time around. With that said, if money was no object, this is still the processor we’d buy. It’s just not the monster it could been if Intel had decided to up the ante a bit further by adding more cores or goosing clocks just a bit further.

  • Uber Fast
  • More Power Efficient Than Its Predecessor
  • Fits In Existing Socket
  • Not Much Faster Than SBE
  • Pricey
  • Haswell Offers Better Single Thread Performance
  • No Support On Intel X79 motherboards



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