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