Intel Sandy Bridge E review

14 Nov 2011

Intel’s latest processors aren't cheap, but those in the market for the ultimate in raw power likely won't care when faced with such record-breaking speeds

Price when reviewed 
840
5

Intel has had its own way in the high-end desktop CPU market for a couple of years but, since the six-core i7-980X and i7-990X, it hasn’t released any Extreme Edition chips to tempt tweakers. That’s all changed with the arrival of the second generation of Core i7 chips, its X79 chipset and LGA2011 socket.

The three-chip range, also known as Sandy Bridge E, is topped off by the Core i7-3960X – a 3.3GHz monster that delivers six cores (servicing twelve threads) of processing grunt. One step down is the i7-3930K, which has six cores running 100MHz slower, and those on tighter budgets will have to settle for the i7-3820, which is slated for release in the spring. It will be cheaper still and, despite a higher stock speed of 3.6GHz, it will “only” have four cores.

Intel Sandy Bridge E comparison chart

So, what makes Intel’s new chips worthy of the Second Generation name? There’s nothing revolutionary here – the underlying 32nm architecture is unchanged over the previous generation – but a range of improvements to key features promises to boost performance in a variety of ways.

Turbo Boost 2 has been, well, boosted. Whereas the last generation of Sandy Bridge chips saw the high-end Core i7-2600K gaining up to 400MHz across a single active core, the new i7 CPUs-3960X can add 600MHz. If all six cores are active, you’ll get an extra 300MHz of juice per core – an improvement over the additional 100MHz the i7-2600K provided.

There’s more L3 cache on offer, too: the older Sandy Bridge chips have a maximum of 8MB, but that’s almost doubled to 15MB on the top-end i7-3960X, with 12MB and 10MB available on the two lesser processors.

Chipset changes

The new processors are also around twice the size of older Sandy Bridge chips, and Intel has developed a new socket – dubbed LGA 2011 – to house them. The new motherboards built around this socket have a new high-end chipset, too: X79.

Intel X79 Chipset

One of the big changes introduced with the X79 chipset can be found either side of the socket: two banks of four DIMMs. They’re indicative that the X79 chipset can handle a massive 64GB of quad-channel RAM – so that’s more gigabytes and more bandwidth than we’ve ever seen on a consumer systems, with Intel’s own calculations claiming a maximum bandwidth of 51.2GB/sec.

Details

Price ex VAT £700
Price inc VAT £840
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3
Performance 6

Specifications

Cores (number of) 6
Frequency 3.30GHz
L3 cache size (total) 15MB
Thermal design power 130W
Fab process 32nm
Clock-unlocked? yes