Intel Core i7-3960X CPU
Intel's latest Extreme Edition CPU is a worthy successor to the throne, but this US$1000 processor is strictly for the enthusiast set
- Good performance increases from standard Sandy Bridge processors
Is Sandy Bridge E worth it? Even at $1000, the answer is a resounding yes--if you're using the right apps, are a dedicated overclocker, or have barrels of cash that you simply can't spend fast enough.
Intel Core i7-3960X: Media and power
When I put Sandy Bridge to the test earlier this year, I was especially impressed by Intel's Quick Sync technology. Quick Sync was designed to speed up video transcoding efforts without requiring a discrete graphics card, and it works well — but it doesn't show up on Intel's higher-end wares. The company's rationale is that, if you're buying a $300 (or $1000) processor, you probably plan to pair it with a proper graphics card.
I converted a 1080p version of Big Buck Bunny to an iPad friendly 720p, using Arcsoft's Media Converter 7 software. As Quick Sync wasn't available, I went with AMD Stream hardware acceleration technology, built for AMD's graphics cards. The results: The Core i7-3960X transcoded the video in an average of 2 minutes, 13 seconds, while the Core i7-990X took 3 minutes, 12 seconds, and the Core i7-2600K took 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
Usually, with great performance comes great power consumption. That said, though the Core i7-3960X sports a 130W TDP, those specs don't represent too much of a leap over the Core i7-2600K and its 95W TDP.
When sitting idle, the Core i7-3960X drew 112 watts of power, the Core i7-990X drew 119 watts, and the Core i7-2600K drew 93.6 watts. That works out to a 20 percent jump over the 2600K for the 3960X — considerable, but hardly beyond the pale. The greater offender against power efficiency here is the Core i7-990X, but again this result just goes to show Sandy Bridge's improved power savings.
Power consumption while under load maintained roughly the same pattern for the three CPUs. Over the course of a strenuous workload, the Core i7-3690X used 5 percent less power than the Core i7-990X, and 24 percent more power than the Core i7-2600K.
Intel Core i7-3960X: Conclusion
The Core i7-3960X is a worthy successor to last year's Extreme Edition processors, but the same caveats apply to it as to them. You'll see the greatest benefit in programs that are heavily threaded — computation-heavy spreadsheets, video encoding applications like Sony Vegas Pro, and 3D rendering applications like Maxon Cinema 4D, for example.
On the gaming front, whether you use Intel's excellent overclocking assistant or muck about in the BIOS, you'll be able to cobble together a nauseatingly potent performance machine. And if a $1000 CPU is within your gaming budget, you can't go wrong. This processor is poised to be the foundation of many of 2012's performance desktop juggernauts, and a few early efforts that have already trickled into the lab are sure to make waves. But if you aren't overclocking — or looking to get some gaming done — you don't need this much power.
Ivy Bridge does throw a wrench into the works. At the moment, we know very little about the platform: It'll be shrunk down to the 22nm processor, which should cut power consumption a bit.
Is Sandy Bridge E worth it? Even at $1000, the answer is a resounding yes — if you're using the right apps, are a dedicated overclocker, or have barrels of cash that you simply can't spend fast enough.
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