Intel Core i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E Evaluate: New flagship, previous flagship

Haswell has been out in the wild for 3 months, while Sandy Bridge-E has been Intel's "ultimate" desktop platform for almost 2 years. As we expected, Intel is now ready to update its Extreme platform, but they won't skip the Ivy Bridge architecture and move directly to Haswell. Rather, the LGA2011 platform is updated with new Ivy Bridge E processors.

Enter the Core i7-4960X, which still offers 6 cores, 12 threads, 15 MB L3 cache and quad-channel DDR3 memory and is supported by the same aging X79 chipset. That doesn't sound very exciting. So what's new?

Apart from a slight increase in frequency, which is somehow pointless on an unlocked Extreme Edition processor, and the ability to natively support DDR3-1866 memory. You get the slight efficiency improvements of the Ivy Bridge architecture, and frankly Haswell hasn't done much for the desktop anyway, so we wouldn't criticize that first.

However, before we spoil everything relevant to the new Core i7-4960X and compare Ivy Bridge-E with other Intel high-end offerings, let's give a quick look back at the history of the LGA2011 platform.

Intel introduced LGA2011 in November 2011 with two processors and a chipset – the Core i7-3960X and the i7-3930K, which run on the X79 chipset. Based on the Sandy Bridge architecture published 11 months earlier, "Sandy Bridge-E" (32 nm) was born.

With up to 6 cores, 12 threads, 15 MB L3 cache and a quad-channel memory controller, the new Sandy Bridge E processors were monsters.

The flagship and Extreme Edition models, known as the Core i7-3960X, cost a cool $ 1,000. Although it was slower than the $ 320 Core i7-2600K when comparing memory bandwidth and gaming performance, it was a world benchmark in terms of synthesis, application, and coding.

Only 5 months after the Sandy Bridge-E release, the Ivy Bridge Core i7 processors came on the market. Ivy Bridge used the same LGA1155 socket that the standard Sandy Bridge processor uses. The Core i7-3770K was at the top.

Compared to the previous i7-2600K flagship, the i7-3770K was ~ 10% faster and consumed ~ 10% less power. A remarkable improvement, but nothing to get overly excited about, and certainly not enough to warrant an upgrade if you already had a Sandy Bridge processor, although Ivy was a replacement.

Last June, the latest Haswell architecture, and thus the Core i7-4770K desktop part, was released. Interestingly (or should we say unfortunately) Haswell introduced a new socket (LGA1150) that is five pins away and is not compatible with LGA1155 processors. Our tests showed an average performance gain over Ivy Bridge of a little less than 10%, while Haswell actually consumed more power.

Back to our first question: what's new at Ivy Bridge-E?

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