Intel Core i7 4960X (Ivy Bridge E) Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi on September 3, 2013 4:10 AM EST
I remember writing a tepid conclusion to my Sandy Bridge E review almost two years ago. At the time, both the LGA-2011 and LGA-1155 platforms were on the same architecture - Sandy Bridge. My conclusion ultimately boiled down to how much having 6 cores mattered to you. As LGA-2011 was the only way to get more than 4 cores in an Intel desktop system, if you needed the cores it was clearly the better option. For everyone else, the more affordable LGA-1155 route made more sense.
Today, the arrival of Ivy Bridge E does little to change that conclusion. In fact, compared to Sandy Bridge E, the IVB version only adds about 5% better performance, while shaving off around 20W under load. To further complicate matters, while SNB-E launched before Ivy Bridge, Ivy Bridge E shows up months after Haswell's debut for the rest of the desktop space. If you want Ivy Bridge E, you need to be comfortable with the fact that you're buying into an older architecture.
Although Haswell didn't break any records when it showed up on the desktop, there are definitely situations where it is clearly faster than even the fastest IVB-E SKU. Anything that doesn't make use of all six cores on a 4960X will likely be faster on a cheaper Haswell based 4770K. My guess is that this covers not only the overwhelming majority of the desktop market, but actually a good portion of the enthusiast desktop community as well.
The other downsides remain intact as well. Intel's X79 chipset remains very dated, even more so now that we have Z87 with Haswell. A fresh coat of paint and updated firmware isn't enough to hide the fact that you only get two 6Gbps SATA ports and no native USB 3.0 ports. All motherboard makers have worked around this by adding a plethora of 3rd party controllers to their motherboards, but I tend to prefer the native Intel solutions from a validation and compatibility standpoint. You also lose QuickSync support as there's no integrated GPU, although the two extra cores do help video transcoding go by a lot quicker.
In what I hope will be less than 22 months, Haswell E will likely fix many of these problems. Until that time comes, your decision is pretty simple. Ivy Bridge E picks up where Sandy Bridge E left off. If you have the money to spend and absolutely need any of the following:
1) More than 4 cores,
2) More than 4 DIMM slots,
3) More than 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes
...then Ivy Bridge E is your only option, and it's not a bad one at that. My biggest complaint about IVB-E isn't that it's bad; it's just that it could be so much more. With a modern chipset, an affordable 6-core variant (and/or a high-end 8-core option) and at least using a current gen architecture, this ultra high-end enthusiast platform could be very compelling. Unfortunately it's just not that today. I understand why (Xeon roadmaps and all), but it doesn't make me any happier about the situation. Instead we're left with the great option that is Haswell/Z87. If what you need falls outside of what Z87 can deliver then you're left with a decent, but very compromised (and pricey) alternative.