Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E review: Intel’s Great Limp Forward

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IVBE-FeaturesToday, Intel is launching the Core i7-4960X, the first core update for its high-end consumer LGA2011 platform since it launched in 2011. Back then, the new CPU socket and Sandy Bridge-E offered far more RAM bandwidth, the fastest consumer CPU on the market (the Sandy Bridge-based Core i7-3960X) and support for up to 64GB of RAM. This new chip is launching on the same platform — with exactly the same features. And while it’s going to offer some very limited utility to a small set of people, the vast majority of consumers, including enthusiast customers, have no reason to consider this part.The platform and processorThere are some differences between the Sandy Bridge-E 3960X and the new Ivy Bridge 4960X that go beyond the 22nm die shrink. When Intel built the SNB-E, it took an eight-core Xeon and fused off two of the cores to create an enthusiast part. This time, the company is selling a native six-core architecture with 1.86B transistors on a 257mm sq die. Like the Core i7-3960X, this is a hexa-core part, with 15MB of L3. Core frequencies have been tweaked slightly, from 3.3GHz base/3.9GHz Turbo to 3.6GHz base/4GHz Turbo.Core i7-4960X Core plotAs for the general comparison between the 3960X and 4960X, I’m going to let this slide from Intel’s own presentation deck speak for itself:3960X - 4960X Intel's slide deckFrom Intel’s presentation: 3960X vs. 4960X

The X79 platform, meanwhile, is exactly the same platform we’ve been using for two years. Exactly how desirable it is is going to depend on which features you need — the X79 still has more PCIe lanes than any other Intel platform and it offers double the memory bandwidth. The relative paucity of Intel-based SATA 6G ports (just two) and lack of Intel USB 3.0 may be downsides for some, but the X79 Deluxe board that Asus sent over for testing really is a sexy piece of kit.

This board features six USB 3.0 ports in the rear and a header for two more in the front, support for Asmedia’s advanced USB 3.0 driver protocol, integrated WiFi, and support for up to DDR3-2400, though this speed isn’t JEDEC defined or formally supported. There appear to be fewer restrictions on quad-channel configurations, though this isn’t explicitly formalized in the literature. The chipset may not have changed, but the X79 Deluxe is still a much nicer motherboard than the Intel DX79SI that we reviewed for the Sandy Bridge-E debut.

Unfortunately, a great motherboard alone can’t make a chip appealing. There are several reasons why the Ivy Bridge-E is only going to appeal to a narrow group of people.

Next page: Benchmarks

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