Final Words

There are two aspects of today's launch that bother me: the lack of Quick Sync and the chipset. The former is easy to understand. Sandy Bridge E is supposed to be a no-compromise, ultra high-end desktop solution. The lack of an on-die GPU with Quick Sync support means you have to inherently compromise in adopting the platform. I'm not sure what sort of a solution Intel could've come to (I wouldn't want to give up a pair of cores for a GPU+QuickSync) but I don't like performance/functionality tradeoffs with this class of product. Secondly, while I'm not a SAS user, I would've at least appreciated some more 6Gbps SATA ports on the chipset. Native USB 3.0 support would've been nice as well. Instead what we got was effectively a 6-series chipset with a new name. As Intel's flagship chipset, the X79 falls short.


From left to right: Intel Core i7 (SNB-E), Core i7 (Gulftown), Core i5 (SNB), Core i5 (Clarkdale), Core 2 Duo
LGA-2011, 1366, 1155, 1156, 775

The vast majority of desktop users, even enthusiast-class users, will likely have no need for Sandy Bridge E. The Core i7 3960X may be the world's fastest desktop CPU, but it really requires a heavily threaded workload to prove it. What the 3960X doesn't do is make your gaming experience any better or speed up the majority of desktop applications. The 3960X won't be any slower than the fastest Sandy Bridge CPUs, but it won't be tremendously faster either. The desktop market is clearly well served by Intel's LGA-1155 platform (and its lineage); LGA-2011 is simply a platform for users who need a true powerhouse.

There are no surprises there, we came to the same conclusion when we reviewed Intel's first 6-core CPU last year. If you do happen to have a heavily threaded workload that needs the absolute best performance, the Core i7 3960X can deliver. In our most thread heavy tests the 3960X had no problems outpacing the Core i7 2600K by over 50%. If your livelihood depends on it, the 3960X is worth its entry fee. I suspect for those same workloads, the 3930K will be a good balance of price/performance despite having a smaller L3 cache. I'm not terribly interested in next year's Core i7 3820. Its point is obviously for those users who need the memory bandwidth or PCIe lanes of SNB-E, but don't need more than four cores. I would've liked to have seen a value 6-core offering instead, but I guess with a 435mm2 die size it's a tough sell for Intel management.

Of course compute isn't the only advantage of the Sandy Bridge E platform. With eight DIMM slots on most high end LGA-2011 motherboards you'll be able to throw tons of memory at your system if you need it without having to shop for workstation motherboards with fewer frills.

As for the future of the platform, Intel has already begun talking about Ivy Bridge E. If it follows the pattern set for Ivy Bridge on LGA-1155, IVB-E should be a drop in replacement for LGA-2011 motherboards. The biggest issue there is timing. Ivy will arrive for the mainstream LGA-1155 platforms around the middle of 2012. At earliest, I don't know that we'd see it for LGA-2011 until the end of next year, or perhaps even early 2013 given the late launch of SNB-E. This seems to be the long-term downside to these ultra high-end desktop platforms these days: you end up on a delayed release cadence for each tick/tock on the roadmap. If you've always got to have the latest and greatest, this may prove to be frustrating. Based on what we know of Ivy Bridge however, I suspect that if you're using all six of these cores in SNB-E that you'll wish you had IVB-E sooner, but won't be tempted away from the platform by a quad-core Ivy Bridge on LGA-1155. 

I do worry about the long term viability of the ultra high-end desktop platform. As we showed here, some of the gains in threaded apps exceed 50% over a standard Sandy Bridge. That's tangible performance to those who can use it. With the growth in cloud computing it's clear there's demand for these types of chips in servers. I just hope Intel continues to offer a version for desktop users as well.

Overclocked Performance
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  • Zak - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    I want native USB3 plus significantly higher number of PCIe channels so I can run two cards at full 16x and a decent RAID controller at 4x without having to pay over $300 for the mobo. Oh, and for god's sake say goodbye to the PCI slots please while improving the motherboard layout so dual slot cards don't cover any available PCIe slots.

    Bullshit like "Three PCIe x16 slots!!!! (running at 8x, 8x, 2x) make me sick. The latest Intel motherboards were rather underwhelming in terms of features.
    Reply
  • chizow - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    It really seems as if Intel wants to kill off this high-end enthusiast desktop segment completely; what we have here is a by-product of their server market and perhaps the last of a dying breed. First sign was the change to multiple sockets and locking clock frequency on their non-enthusiast parts. Also, SB-E comes with a huge increase in platform cost compared to Nehalem that doesn't really justify the increase in performance over SB.

    $500 for the entry-level SB-E CPU and $300+ for the motherboard is going to be a bitter pill to swallow for those used to the $200-$300 entry-level Nehalem CPUs and $200 boards. I know there's going to be a 4-core part that may be closer to that price point sometime next year, but again, one has to ask if it will be worthwhile over a 2600K at that point, especially since the K is unlocked and the SB-E part isn't.

    Also factor in the reality PCIE 3.0 is going to be a negligible benefit of the chipset. Maybe if ATI/Nvidia's next-gen GPUs make use of the extra bandwidth. You also don't get any additional benefits in the way of SATA or USB support compared to last-gen SB products....its really quite disappointing for a chipset that was held off this long.

    Overall the performance looks good, but at the price and size....is this the path CPUs are headed for? Huge and hot like GPUs? I mean we thought Bulldozer was massive, SB-E is just as big but at least it delivers when it comes to performance I guess. I can see why Intel wanted to bifurcate their server/desktop business, but I think the unfortunate casualty will be the high-end enthusiast market that don't want to pay e"X"treme prices for the privelege.
    Reply
  • redisnidma - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Looking at these results, you have to wander what in the world was AMD thinking when they designed Bulldozer (AKA Crapdozer).

    Feel sorry for them. :(
    Reply
  • just4U - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    For the most part Amd's bulldozer did give us 2500K speeds.. and multithreaded performance is there. This cpu is the fastest we've seen but it certainly doesn't blow one away in comparison to the 2600K. The Amd CPU is criticized for one thing really.. it's single threaded performance which is no better then it's cheapest proccessors. Reply
  • Guspaz - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    A minor performance boost in most real-world scenarios, and yet a massive increase in cost and power consumption...

    This whole chip is basically a big kludge. Take an 8-core Xeon and disable a quarter of the chip, slap a "consumer" label on it, and call it a day? That's not even trying, that's just lazy.

    This chip is 50% faster than SNB in heavily multithreaded applications because it has 50% more cores. A much more interesting chip would have been to take the existing SandyBridge chips and increase the core count, rather than taking a Xeon and disabling parts of the core.
    Reply
  • EJ257 - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Actually isn't that basically what they did with this? They took 8 SB cores and threw it on the die, took out the IGP and dropped in a massive L3 cache. I mean if your going to be building a gaming rig based on SB-E, would you actually care about the IGP at that point when you got SLI or X-Fire GPUs?

    I understand how this move would make some people feel like they've been slapped in the face by Intel. Years as loyal customers and this time around they get a "crippled" part to call a flagship. Look at what the state of the high end CPU market is like. At this point Intel is dominating and there is really no incentive for them to do a completely different chip when a "crippled" Xeon can run circles around the best AMD has to offer. From their point of view this is the most economic way to do business. But yes, meh indeed when you already have a i7 2600K running smoothly.
    Reply
  • adamantinepiggy - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Or will there be a desktop version again without ECC support and a workstation Xeon version that does? (890x/990x vs x5680 Xeon) I'll take ECC support for RAM over faster RAM with eight populated slots please. The larger and larger memory amounts means more likelihood of bit errors, but for two generations of CPU's from Intel, no EEC RAM support on the CPU memory controller. Reply
  • hechacker1 - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    I agree. With massive amounts of memory that you could potentially put onto this platform, I'd really like to have a version with ECC for the workstation. Reply
  • BSMonitor - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    I understand the need to keep news positive for AMD. Competition and all. However, repeatedly stating over time that they are competitive on price is kind of misleading in the grand scheme. Each new CPU arch. from Intel yields double digit performance gains(lately). AMD's are often delayed and in BD's case yield backwards results in many benchmarks.

    The truth is, clock for clock, given as many transistors, given as much power and heat, AMD is grossly not competitive.

    The ONLY reason one can say that their chips are competitive in relation to price, is that they have NO other choice but to sell them at that price. AMD looks at where it's new CPU's relate in terms of performance to Intel's lineup and price accordingly. As many R&D $$, transistors, etc that go into each FX-8150, the flagship CPU should be at least competing with the 2600K, 990X, etc of the world. Forcing either Intel either to lower the $1000 tag on SNB-E or allowing AMD a $1000 alternative.

    However, all we get from AMD is mediocre, late to market attempts to "catch-up". My point, AMD needs a new infusion of engineers and/or new approach. A complete new idea/redesign/etc..

    Let's face it, the x86 market is now Intel x86. Perhaps, AMD should take what it knows in processor design and embrace a new idea.. Maybe a mixed ARM/x86 or an enhanced ARM 64-bit for desktop PCs. Something to stand out and deliver on. Pure x86, AMD is falling further behind. BD did not even catch up to 4 core SNB. And Ivy Bridge is being held back, as there is no really competition for it. The landscape looks like AMD will be out of the desktop CPU space within a year or two. Or at least religated to Cyrix status from the 2000's.
    Reply
  • bji - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Your point about AMD's prices don't make any sense. You're saying that AMD is not a good value because it is selling its chips at a price that makes them a good value rather than making faster chips and selling them for more money like Intel does?!?

    Since when does "a good price:performance ratio" not equal "a good value" just because the CPU vendor doesn't have high (or any!) profit margins?
    Reply

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