|Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition CPU|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Processors|
|Written by David Ramsey|
|Monday, 14 November 2011|
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Sandy Bridge Extreme Architecture
Architecturally, the Sandy Bridge Extreme CPUs are very similar to the existing Sandy Bridge lineup. Each core in the i7-3960X is pretty much the same as the core in an i7-2700K. The main differences between the Core i7-3960X and the Core i7-2700K are:
Most users will welcome the lack of the weak "iGPU", although its removal does mean that you can't use Intel Quick Sync for video transcoding. The most important new feature, in my opinion, is the 40 PCI-E lanes, which is a vast improvement over the stingy 16 lanes available on LGA1155 Sandy Bridge CPUs. Lane contention on an LGA1155 system with multiple video cards results in diminished performance or even non-functionality of some other interfaces that require PCI-E bandwidth, like USB 3.0 and SATA 6G ports. This won't be a problem with LGA2011. Technically, the new PCI-E lanes meet the PCI-E 3.0 specification, which means that at least in theory they should be able to deliver double the bandwidth of existing PCI-E 2.0 lanes. Some day, when PCI-E 3.0 peripherals actually exist, we might see some performance improvement...although even the beefiest current graphics cards aren't bandwidth-limited.
Of course, with a new CPU and new socket comes a new supporting chipset, the X79 Express.
Looking at the block diagrams of the Z68 and X79 chipsets side by side, the X79 seems functionally identical to the Z68, except that it lacks the digital display support and Intel Smart Response Technology. The lack of the latter is disappointing, since our tests with Intel Smart Response Technology showed that its use of an SSD as an intelligent cache to a hard drive could dramatically improve storage performance.
As with the Z68 and earlier P67 chipsets, there are 14 USB 2.0 ports and 6 SATA ports, of which only two are SATA 6G. Notably missing is Intel's "Light Peak" (aka "Thunderbolt"), which has been used as Intel's excuse for not supporting SuperSpeed USB 3.0. And it's really odd that only two of the SATA ports are SATA 6G, since 6G devices are becoming more common, especially among SSDs. For a cutting-edge platform, this is impossible to justify. At least AMD gives you a full six SATA 6G ports.
Disappointments with the chipset aside, let's get to testing this setup.