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Lundi, 12 Septembre 2011 08:00

Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview

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Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview

It's always interesting to get hands-on time with unreleased hardware. We were recently able to benchmark Intel's upcoming Core i7-3960X CPU, comparing it to Core i7-990X, Core i7-2600K, and AMD's Phenom II X6. Will you be in line for Sandy Bridge-E?

There was a lot to like about Intel’s Sandy Bridge launch earlier this year. Single-threaded performance increased significantly at any given frequency. Quick Sync demonstrated commanding dominance over GPU-based transcoding from AMD and Nvidia. And, although I wasn’t over-enthused about paying extra for a K-series SKU, a mature 32 nm process easily facilitated clock rates approaching 5 GHz on air cooling.

Combined, all of those attributes took the spotlight off of Intel’s old (but still flagship) LGA 1366 interface. Even the subsequent Core i7-990X refresh, which threw six cores and a higher clock rate into the ring, wasn’t able to outperform the Core i7-2600K in enough test scenarios to warrant its $1000 price tag. The very fastest (and most expensive) Sandy Bridge-based chip could satisfy 95% of enthusiasts at less than half of the cost.

The Gulftown design’s real redeeming quality was its core count advantage, which shone most brightly in well-threaded workstation apps. But really, that was pretty much it. We even went to great lengths to show the X58’s 36 lanes of PCI Express 2.0 weren’t a real advantage over Sandy Bridge’s 16 lanes in multi-GPU configurations through an exhaustive three-part series.

At the end of the day, we had to scratch our heads and wonder how many folks would be willing to spend almost $700 more on Core i7-990X when Core i7-2600K was already so fast, and priced at $315.

But what if it was possible to cram what originally made Gulftown sexy into the Sandy Bridge mold? That’s exactly the premise behind Sandy Bridge-E, set to become the next enthusiast-oriented platform, replacing Gulftown and its LGA 1366 infrastructure.

More important than what Sandy Bridge-E is going to do on the desktop is what it’ll become in the server space. Truly, this is a design destined to drive Intel’s Xeon E5 family, comprised of 1P-, 2P-, and 4P-capable parts.

A Naming Convention, Revised

For the time being, Sandy Bridge-E is expected to reach enthusiasts in three different trims: the Core i7-3960X, the Core i7-3930K, and the Core i7-3820.

Second-Gen Core i7 Processor Family
Processor
Base Clock
Max. Turbo Clock
Cores / Threads
L3 Cache
Memory
InterfaceTDP
Core i7-3960X
*Unlocked
3.3 GHz
3.9 GHz
6/12
15 MB
4-channel
DDR3-1600
LGA 2011
130 W
Core i7-3930K
*Unlocked
3.2 GHz
3.8 GHz
6/12
12 MB
4-channel
DDR3-1600
LGA 2011
130 W
Core i7-3820
*Partially Unlocked
3.6 GHz
3.9 GHz
4/8
10 MB
4-channel
DDR3-1600
LGA 2011
130 W
Core i7-2600K
*Unlocked
3.4 GHz
3.8 GHz
4/88 MB
2-channel
DDR3-1333
LGA 1155
95 W
Core i7-2600
3.4 GHz
3.8 GHz
4/88 MB
2-channel
DDR3-1333
LGA 115595 W
Core i7-2600S
2.8 GHz
3.8 GHz
4/88 MB
2-channel
DDR3-1333
LGA 115595 W


Although the model names suggest that Intel might consider this a third iteration of its Core micro-architecture, the press decks I’ve seen clearly list the three new Sandy Bridge-E parts as “second-generation Core i7s.”

By now, we’ve had increasingly-confusing names beaten over our heads by so many companies that the inelegance of “Core i7-3960X” bounces right off. Intel Core i7—OK, that part’s easy enough. The “3” is a generational reference, and the “960” is the actual model number. Incidentally, 960 doesn’t seem to compare favorably to the outgoing Gulftown-based 990. But Intel didn’t really give itself much room to maneuver there.

Even the letter suffixes are familiar by now. The “X” at the end of -3960X represents Intel’s Extreme Edition family—a designation generally reserved for one SKU at any given time at the top of the desktop stack. The “K” at the end of -3930K denotes lower-end, but still multiplier-unlocked models, also geared to enthusiasts. And the fact that the -3820 bears no modifier suggests it’ll follow in the footsteps of Core i7-2600 and i5-2500, offering limited overclockability (a handful of 100 MHz bins over and above the top Turbo Boost frequency, if history is any indication).

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