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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  • MOBAJOBG - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Thanks for performing the analysis and share those information with us. Reply
  • tenks - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Am I the only one disappointed with this review?

    nad, you usually give some amazing insight beyond the simple #s..In this case talking about whats coming up, if this is worth it compared to upcoming stuff in the pipe, or if the rumors about a respin with fixed features, or an allusion to IVy..etc etc etc..?

    You've done it in the past. Are you just not allowed to touch on any of this per Intel?

    It was a very vanilla review and I dont mean any disrespect, but thats not why I come here for.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    I appreciate the criticism. There are a bunch of things I wanted to do that I simply ran out of time for. I added another couple of paragraphs at the end of the conclusion, hopefully directly addressing your concern.

    To answer you here though: we may see a new chipset offering next year, but IVB-E will probably be at least a year out from now (perhaps even longer). If you need the core count, you will probably be fine on SNB-E while the rest of the world moves to quad-core IVB in the middle of next year.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • tenks - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the response and updating the review..really cool of you. I didn't mean to come off not appreciative, because I am. Just a long time reader who loves the extra insight, reading between the lines and the dot connecting that you do so well...But the more I think about it, maybe it's just the platform itself that I'm disappointed with? Maybe there is no insight really to be had..There is no real "juice" or cool new info we didn't already know about. I guess with all the silence on the platform, even at IDF, I was hoping for that "And one more thing.." feature in SB-E that we didn't know about..

    Also, forgive me but I have to try..I know you know something..When well the new stepping and 8-core DESKTOP (EE) skus hit?
    Reply
  • THizzle7XU - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Will there be a video review for this given the time? Your video reviews have been awesome and I really enjoy the conversation type of setting you present. Don't let anyone complain that they are too long :)

    Also, I was looking forward to this release, but in the last week I've decided to hold off for a while and see what happens with Ivy Bridge. My alternative upgrade ended up being a 512 GB Crucial M4 for my SATA 3 Sandy Bridge laptop and basically had a trickle down effect with moving my Intel 320 SSD to my Core 2 Quad desktop, desktop Intel G2 SSD to PS3, etc. I felt that was a better way to spend $700-$800 at this point for an upgrade that benefited all my devices instead of just my desktop. With the 22 nm process, it there any chance that the mainstream Ivy Bridge will see a 6-core chip? I thought I read some speculation on that...
    Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Call me cynical, but reading this review I couldn't help but thinking about AMD Bulldozer's fail.
    Would we have the 3960X priced $999, if the FX8150 had been able to deliver decent performance (meaning, an 8-core chip beating the i7 2600 by " a little", at $250)?

    And the X79 looks just sloppy.

    I'm afraid we're starting to see the effect of poor execution by AMD ...
    Reply
  • velis - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Yep, agree 100%.
    The chipset released is - as Anand said - a rebrand of existing one. There is absolutely no reason at all to not include SATA 3 and USB 3 all across except if all budget for development was cut.

    And the CPU is actually a step back from existing Sandy bridge offerings. No, that was an understatement - it's just a binned existing offering.

    Next I'm expecting Ivy delay into late next year at best unless AMD gets its act together.
    Reply
  • JlHADJOE - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Yes of course it will still be priced at $999.

    Maybe the 2500k and 2600k will drop in price a bit if Bulldozer had been more competitive, but Intel's Extreme Edition chips have always been pegged at $999.

    Lest you forget, it was actually AMD's heydey that drove CPU prices up to the insane levels we are seeing today. Prior to Athlon's dominance, Intel's highest end chip during the Pentium II days, the PII-450 cost around $600.

    AMD went on to dominate the chip space after they stuck with their excellent Athlon line, and Intel floundered with the Presshot. Intel was being dominated badly but managed to compete on price. It was AMD who first announced the $1100+ Athlon FX, forcing Intel to re-socket the Gallatin Xeon and sell it as the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, just undercutting the Athlon FX's price by selling it at $999.

    If you look at Intel's track record while they have the performance lead, they have actually been very reasonable with pricing. Recall the $200 Celeron 300A, for instance, which was pretty good at stock, and would overclock into a PII-450 destroyer. Just recently they introduced the brilliant Sandy Bridge, again at about $200-$250, despite the fact that the 2600k destroys their $999 980/990x in gaming.

    It was when AMD had the performance lead that the $1000 CPU segment was established,one that has, for better or worse, persisted to this day (despite intel being currently the sole occupant of that segment space).
    Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Respectfully, I disagree.
    First of all, let me be clear: I am not rooting for AMD dominance: I am rooting for "competition" dominance. AMD jacked prices higher when teh Athlon was ridiculizing the P4, and would do so again -I'm sure- if it had the chance.
    But it should be recognized that Intel is doing it now. It has "the power" to do so, but that doesn't make it any better for consumers.
    Who "started" with the $1000-segment, frankly, is irrelevant: clearly Intel is enjoying it now, so let's focus on that, shall we?

    And yes, Intel's top-of the line has always been $999 for a while, however, it is pretty clear that the 3960X is only marginally better than the much more reasonably priced 3930. I don't recall such huge drop in performance/price ratio ever before (I don't have data, but it strikes me as a particularly bad ROI for the 3960).
    This said, the X79 is no excuse: re-branding is despicable, no matter who does it.

    Also, I think that if the FX8150 was half teh CPU it was supposed to be, instead of the half-ass that it is, Intel would/should have come out with a better improvement over the existing offer, than the 3960 is.
    They have delayed SB-E already by a bit, clearly, indicating that not always worked as they planned. If they had to provide an answer to AMD's "compelling" solution, I am sure they would have cranked up SB-E to be a more evident step forward over SB. But given Bulldozer's lack of performance, why bother? They could come out with SB-E "as-is" and not worry about the performance crown, no worry about the ROI, and no worry about cutting features.
    Reply
  • just4U - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    In my opinion, looking at these results Amd's FX8150 isn't so much of a fail after all. Sure it doesn't compare to this beast but they both seem to shine in multi threaded apps and don't seem to be geared up for desktop users. I was expecting to be blown away with the numbers here.... I am not. Reply

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