Intel Ivy Bridge-E ‘i7-4960X’ Review – The HEDT Advantage Put to the Test

Usman Pirzada
Posted Jan 12, 2014
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Intel’s High End Desktop lineup is the spectrum reserved for the hardcore enthusiasts and professionals wanting that extra edge in their workstation or gaming rigs. Today we will be reviewing the Intel Ivy Bridge-E processor i7-4960X, which as you might recall is the highest of the highest end. HEDT, which stands for High End Desktop has a few distinguishing features. Intel Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E CPU

Intel HEDT Ivy Bridge-E i7-4960X Review

Now as is customary the socket has remained the LGA-2011 socket since Sandy Bridge-E and it was accompanied by more PCIe lanes and more memory bandwidth. Now Ivy Bridge is of course a die shrink and is located at the 22nm node. Intel HEDT Ivy Bridge-E contains up to 1.86 Billion Transistors and a maximum of 6 cores. You are looking at about 15MB of L3 cache. The IVB-E Series consits of 3 SKUs namely the quad core i7-4820K, the i7-4930K and the i7-4960X.Ivy Bridge-E Core i7 Lineup

Model Core i7-4960X Core i7-4930K Core i7-4820K
Cores 6 6 4
Threads 12 12 8
Base Clock (GHz) 3.6 GHz 3.4 GHz 3.7 GHz
Turbo Clock (GHz) 4.0 GHz 3.9 GHz 3.9 GHz
L3 Cache 15 MB 12 MB 10 MB
Memory DDR3-1866 DDR-1866 DDR3-1866
TDP 130W 130W 130W
Price $990 $555 $310

As you can see the IVB-E flagship is the i7-4960X and is clocked at a decent 3.6Ghz with 4.0Ghz of turbo frequency. It has 15MB of level 3 cache and supports DDR3 memory upto 1866 (non-oc). All the IVB-E SKUs have a TDP of 130W and cost $990, $555 and $310 respectively. Ofcourse this is also one of the most clear examples of the law of diminishing returns. For $440 less you get the flagship with 3MB less L3 Cache and a few hundred Mhz shaved off. And at $310 you get the i7-4820K which, just like the consumer processors consists only of 4 cores. Its base clock is higher than all three thanks to the temperature overhead generated by 2 less cores. It also has just 10MB of L3 cache. Ofcourse the most optimum sku here is the i7-4930K. The multipliers of all three processors are unlocked so clocks are of very little consequence. If you are going for an IVB-E CPU, then you almost certainly know how over clocking works. Ofcourse Intel does not supply any sort of cooling along with the processors usually (except in certain combinations) so you will have to buy that separately. And since the target audience is enthusiast after all, I doubt anyone would have used the stock cooler if one had been provided anyways.i7-4960x

Now here’s the interesting part, take a look at the die shot above and at the cores. There are 6 right? Well that is the interesting part. But you ask, there are supposed to be 6 cores aren’t there? well yes, but that is not accounting into affect the interesting phenomenon known as yield. See Sandy Bridge-E had 8 cores natively but two of them were disabled and lasered off to give you the net result of 6 cores. The down side? After accounting for the previous process node and 2 disabled cores SB-E had a massive die size of 435mm2. That is practically insane. However thanks to the die shrink and IVB-E being a native 6 core design we get a much much more reasonable die size of just 257mm2.Ivy Bridge-E Wafer

Now why are we looking at the Ivy Bridge-E architecture when we have Haswell processors running rampant in the market? Well the thing is that HEDT answers to a different portion of the market. This portion not only includes hardcore enthusiasts but professionals and some entry level server markets as well. That means that it is more feasible to have a 2 year life span as opposed to a 1 year life span. Since there is literally zero competition and no alternatives in sight Intel can easily afford to slow down this particular  spectrum. Ofcourse the other equally obvious reason is the Profit Motive. Since this particular sector needs the extra cores, something the consumer sector cannot offer, Microsoft can run the brand new architecture through the mainstream spectrum first then wash it down to the enthusiast spectrums. It makes perfect sense and is the most optimum policy to maximize profits and not waste resources. Ofcourse that means that we wont be getting Haswell-E until the next year or year end 2014 at the very least.

Intel’s X79 Chipset Overview

Intel X79 is the same chipset and consequently the same motherboards that were introduced for Sandy Bridge-E and sadly do not have USB 3.0 support and contain only 2 Sata 6.0Gbps ports. Ofcourse the good news is that you do not have to switch motherboards to upgrade to IVB-E since the same board will be completely compatible with IVB-E. That is one big advantage of choosing the HEDT spectrum. Ofcourse before that can happen the particular motherboard needs a uefi and bios update otherwise which you will run into a plethora of unsuitability and bugs. That also means that there might be the odd X79 motherboard that does not get graced with IVB-E compatibility. The sad news is that no Intel X79 motherboard will be getting the IVB update which means that if you bought an Intel based mobo, you are sadly out of luck.Intel XTU 4.2 Ivy Bridge-E

The Intel Ivy Bridge-E lineup is feature-packed with new overclocking tools and configurations such as the Intel XTU 4.2 which has been launched with Ivy Bridge-E delivering enthusiasts with powerful tools for setting new overclocks and changing configurations in real-time. The max ratio has been increased to 63 in 100 MHz BCLK increments and Intel has also enabled real time core overclocking, power limits and turbo voltage control giving users the access to more options to overclock the new high-end processors. Overall, the Ivy Bridge-E processors are an 5-7% improvement over the Sandy Bridge-E and around 20 – 25% faster over the Haswell Core i7-4770K processor.Alright time to go into detail about the X79 platform:Intel Core i7 Ivy Bridge-E

  • Support for Intel® Core™ i7 processor family in LGA 2011 socket only.
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology enterprise 3.0 (With additional Solid State Drives or Hard Disk Drives added, provides quicker access to digital photo, video and data files with RAID 0, 5 and 10, and greater data protection against a drive failure with RAID 1, 5, 10.)
  • Intel Identity Protection Technology (Intel® Identity Protection Technology (Intel® IPT) provides a simple way for websites and organizations to validate that a user is logging in from a trusted PC, protecting your account against remote takeover even if your username and password have been phished.)
  • PCI-E 2.0 ( Offers up to 5 GT/s for fast access to peripheral devices and networking with up to 8 PCI Express 2.0 x1 ports, configurable as 2 x1s and 1 x4 depending on motherboard designs.)
  • Intel High Definition Audio (Integrated audio support enables premium digital surround sound and delivers advanced features such as multiple audio streams and jack re-tasking.)
  • USB 2.0 (Hi-speed USB 2.0 provides greater enhancement in performance with a design data rate of up to 480 megabits per second (Mbps) with up to 14 USB 2.0 ports.)
  • SATA 6Gbps (Next-generation high-speed storage interface supporting up to 6 Gb/s transfer rates for optimal data access with up to 2 SATA ports.)
  • SATA 3Gbps (High-speed storage interface supporting up to 4 SATA ports.)
  • eSata (SATA interface designed for use with external SATA devices. It provides a link for 3 Gb/s data speeds to eliminate bottlenecks found with current external storage solutions.)
  • Intel® Integrated 10/100/1000 MAC (Support for the Intel® Gigabit Network Connection.)
  • Green Tech ( Manufactured with lead-free and halogen-free component packages.)

IVB-E General Purpose Performance Detailed

Alright, so now is the moment we have been waiting for. Actual performance numbers. Keep in mind that no Intel board is going to work so we are going to use the ASUS X79 motherboard which is Ivy Bridge-E Ready. I have given the test bed below and the configuration will hold true throughout our testing so any bottleneck which any component other than the CPU might present, is effectively neutralized (due to relativity). So without any further ado the specs:

Processor Intel Core i7-4960X
Motherboard: ASUS X79 Deluxe
Power Supply: Xigmatek NRP-MC1002 1000 Watt
Hard Disk: Kingston HyperX 3K 90 GB (OS)
Seagate Barracuda 500GB 7200.12
Memory: 4 x 4 GB Kingston HyperX 2400 MHz
10th Anniversary Edition Memory Kit
Case: Cooler Master HAF 932
Video Cards: EVGA GeForce GTX 770 ACX
Cooling Solutions: Phantek PH-TC14PE Triple Fan
OS: Windows 8 Ultimate 64-bit

PC Mark 7 Benchmark

Lets begin with the PCMark 7 benchmarking suite, which will serve as the stepping stone to realizing the GP CPU potential of the i7-4960X. Now do keep in mind that since we are looking at 6 cores, most commercial applications are not configured to take advantage of more than 8 threads. However with Ivy Bridge-E we have 12 Threads. That is 4 more threads then any commercial software is configured to take. The 4960X fares very well in PCMark 7 and shows decent IPC gains over the i7-3960X which also has six cores and 12 threads. It effectively ends up at the top of the chart.PCMark 7 Benchmark

Cinebench R11.5 Benchmark

Cinebench is the CPU benchmark that many enthusiasts swear by. It has a highly efficient algorithm and is basically a 3d renderer. This means that this is the perfect benchmark for professionals or enthusiasts who are looking for real life 3d rendering benchmarks. Now there is some noticeable IPC improvement over the 3960X when we are taking about single threaded rendering but the 4960X absolutely blows away the competition when we talk about multi threaded performance numbers. Recall the slide above where Intel claims an upto 30% increase in 3D modelling performance. Well even though most of that number is marketing exaggeration you WILL see a very decent performance increase over SB-E. These are one of the few applications that can truly take advantage of the extra threads provided by Intel’s HEDT series. Cinebench R11

3D Mark Vantage CPU Benchmark

Now 3d Mark Vantage’s CPU benchmark is one of those few benchmarks that are fairly synthetic. That means that they have very little real world application. This particular benchmark is supposed to show you how much improvement this CPU can land in a CPU Intensive game, if such a game existed that could efficiently utilize 12 threads. Ofcourse I can tell you right now that there is no such game, so this particular benchmark is just for the bragging rights.

WinRar Benchmark

WinRar’s benchmark is a very curious little thing. It is not a very optimized benchmark yet it is intelligent enough to take advantage of additional threads if there, however inefficiently. This is why this is the perfect benchmark to test real world performance increases for non-Gaming based applications. Basically a general, highly optimistic idea on what to expect from the HEDT Ivy Bridge-E i7-4960X. That said, the 4960X does show IPC gains over the 3960X and that is a remarkable achievement considering we see nearly no significant gain while jumping from i7-3770k to the Haswell i7-4770k. The CPU is quite obviously once again, at the top of our charts:

IVB-E Gaming Performance Detailed

Intel does market the IVB-E as an “Extreme Gamer” CPU as well so it is my duty to show you just how little truth is in that statement. There are a very few modern games that can take advantage of the 8Threads provided by your consumer i7 and most of them can only effectively utilize the 4 Threads present in an i5. So that  means that when you put a 6 Core/12 Thread processor into the gaming mix, dont expect any miracles. We chose 3 games for our benchmarks. The machine-bending specification nightmare that is Crysis 3, the mildly demanding Skyrim and the highly optimized Battlefield 3. Lets start with Crysis 3 first.

Crysis 3As you can see while going from an i5-3570K (4 threads) to the i7-4960X (12 threads) there is a difference of barely 2-3 frames. So let me ask you this, are you ready to plop an additional $700 for 3 frames? No? Thought not. That money would be better spent in buying a better GPU or even putting two together in SLI or Crossfire mode. Moving on to Skyrim benchmarks.

SkyrimSurprisingly the frames difference has increased over here. Whats going on? Well see the thing is, there are two different bottlenecks in the gaming Industry, called CPU Bound and GPU Bound. A CPU Bound scenario is where the CPU is not able to send out enough draw calls to fully utilize the GPU’s power. Similarly a GPU Bound scenario is where a GPU is not able to cope with the drawcalls requested by the CPU. Basically if the game is very graphic intensive or you are playing a game at a very high resolution, CPU tends to matter very less. However if the game is not graphic intensive or you are playing at a low resolution, CPU becomes a factor and that is this phenomenon we are seeing here. So the frames here are CPU bound because of the relatively low requirement of Skyrim. Lets take a look at a game that is not that much demanding and is not CPU bound. I am talking ofcourse about Battlefield 3. Battlefield 3Before you go “woah that looks like a big difference”, take a look at the x axis. Thats right, the entire benchmark spans exactly 1.5 Frames. That means that you are going from a hundred bucks to a grand and only getting an improvement of 1.5 frames. Even if you are loaded, this does not justify a buy, under any circumstances. And to top it all off, the 4960X doesn’t even win the charts. Its IPC gains cannot compete with the superior architecture of Haswell i7-4770K which takes the crown.

Power Consumption and Conclusion

Now the Ivy Bridge-E 4960X sips around 75 Watts of juice independently. However once you load off all cores, you end up with 211 Watts of juice independently. Now it is certainly going to be more than any of the consumer processors but that is to be expected because of the increased core count. However, interestingly the processor actually sips around 18 Watts less than the SB-E counterpart the 3960X. Which is a nod in the right direction. As far as overclocking is concerned, if you use a water cooling system you can go as high as 4.4 Ghz on all cores or 4.2 Ghz on all cores with air cooling. However overclocking will vary greatly by models and because of the die shrink and bad TIM expect to see much worse OC headroom than what SB-E had to offer. That is certainly food for thought.Ivy Bridge-E Overclocking

On an ending note I would like to point out some things. This SKU is not meant for gamers, regardless of what Intel’s PR department is marketing it as.  This CPU can however benefit the right professional or enthusiast. However, personally speaking, I still wouldn’t recommend the top model 4960X to anyone. You want 6 cores? fine, go for the i7-4930K and save yourself half a grand. Because all of them have an unlocked multiplier you can overcome the clock difference easily. The only thing you wont be able to change is the L3 cache, and lets face it 3MB worth of L3 is not worth $440. If you are a professional you would be much better suited to buying two 4930K’s instead of one 4960X and setting up a rendering network. Ofcourse at the end the only person who can tell you whether this is a good buy, is you.

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