Intel Ivy Bridge-E Core i7-4960X review

Intel Ivy Bridge-E Core i7-4960X

Intel reserves Extreme branding for its fastest chips, but its Ivy Bridge-E range has been a long time coming – Sandy Bridge-E emerged in 2011 and, four months ago, Intel released Haswell. (See also: PC Specialist Vanquish 912 review - first 4th-gen Intel Core 'Haswell' PC benchmarks.)

The three new chips use 2012's Ivy Bridge architecture rather than Haswell. That's because they're based on workstation Xeon parts, which are released behind the curve of Intel's consumer chips for reasons of longevity and reliability.

The new chips use a 22nm manufacturing process, an improvement on Sandy Bridge-E's 28nm, and it makes for a die that's smaller, cooler and more efficient. The flagship Core i7-4960X has a fearsome specification: six Hyper-Threaded cores clocked to 3.6GHz, a top Turbo Boost speed of 4.0GHz, and 15MB of L3 cache. (See also: FAQ: Intel Ivy Bridge processors.)

Ivy Bridge improves on its Sandy Bridge predecessor with better branch prediction, improved out-of-order execution and more cache bandwidth. And the Extreme-edition of these chips have their own enhancements too: support for forty PCI-Express 3.0 lanes and quad-channel 1866 MHz DDR3 memory both improve over Sandy Bridge-E.

The Core i7-4960X isn't the only Ivy Bridge-E chip. The i7-4930K also has six cores, but they're clocked to 3.4GHz with a Turbo speed of 3.9GHz, and it's got 12MB of cache. The i7-4820K is a quad-core 3.7GHz chip that maxes out at 3.9GHz and has a 10MB cache.

Intel Ivy Bridge-E Core i7-4960XThe LGA 2011 socket and X79 chipset remain from Sandy Bridge-E, so you won't need to buy a new motherboard. Old heatsinks will work, and so will the vast majority of motherboards – although most need a BIOS update.

The older chipset has its downsides, especially if you're building a fresh machine. There's no native USB 3.0 support, and only support for two SATA 6 Gb/s sockets. Both of these are rectified by third-party chips on motherboards, but these increase the price and the potential for instability. See also: Dell XPS 12 Haswell Ultrabook (late 2013) review: improved performance and battery life.

Intel Ivy Bridge-E Core i7-4960X: benchmarks

The Core i7-4960X returned great benchmark results – but don't expect this chip, made from an older architecture, to always outpace Haswell. Its overall PCMark 7 score of 6099 points beats the 5246 points scored by the Sandy Bridge-E based i7-3960X, but it's a little slower than the Haswell-based i7-4770K.

That's disappointing, but not surprising – Haswell is newer, and PCMark 7 doesn't necessarily make the best use of the i7-4960X's six cores.

Intel Ivy Bridge-E Core i7-4960XOther tests show off the i7-4960X's multithreaded advantage. The i7-4960X's score of 11.85 points in the Cinebench video rendering benchmark is excellent: the Core i7-4770K managed just 8.12 in the same test, and the Sandy Bridge-E based i7-3960X scored 11.01.

We were easily able to overclock the i7-4960X to a stable 4.4GHz. In PCMark 7, the tweaked chip actually returned a lower overall score of 5851 points, but that was caused by just one test: in the Productivity benchmark – which measures basic system tasks – the i7-4960X's score nearly hlaved from a superb 5648 to a still-quick 2733.

In every other PCMark 7 test, the overclocked chip improved: its Entertainment score rose from 4915 to 5109 points, the Creativity test leaped from 7811 to 8042, and the i7-4960X's Computation result jumped from 8879 to 9604.

The overclocked i7-4960X also scored 13.3 points in the Cinebench test – a stunning result that ably demonstrates the part's multicore abilities.

Our final test, wPrime, calculates prime numbers using every available thread to truly evaluate multicore performance. The i7-4960X completed the 1024MB test in 132 seconds – the i7-3960X needed 151 secs.

Intel has upped its Extreme-edition chip's multithreaded performance levels without compromising on heat or power draw. The i7-4960X's top temperature of 63 °C is fine, and the peak power draw of 247 W during the Cinebench test is only 4 W more than Sandy Bridge-E managed, while providing a hefty performance leap. See also: Schenker Notebooks XMG A523 review - first 4th-gen Intel Core 'Haswell' laptop tested.

Intel Ivy Bridge-E Core i7-4960X: Specs

  • 3.6GHz stock speed, 4.0GHz Turbo
  • Ivy Bridge-E 22 nm architecture
  • 6 cores, Hyper-Threading
  • 32KB L1 cache per core, 256KB L2 cache per core, 15MB L3 cache
  • quad-channel 1866MHz DDR3 memory controller
  • LGA 2011 socket
  • 3.6GHz stock speed, 4.0GHz Turbo
  • Ivy Bridge-E 22 nm architecture
  • 6 cores, Hyper-Threading
  • 32KB L1 cache per core, 256KB L2 cache per core, 15MB L3 cache
  • quad-channel 1866MHz DDR3 memory controller
  • LGA 2011 socket

OUR VERDICT

Benchmarks show that the i7-4960X is the most powerful processor around in multithreaded tasks and when running intensive applications because of its six cores, but it's marginally slower than Haswell in less demanding single-threaded tasks. Its mixed performance, ageing ancillary hardware and stratospheric price means this is only worth buying if you really do need the extra power that its six cores can provide.

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