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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  • Phylyp - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Good review, thanks. I'm researching a new gaming PC, so this review is timely. Right now, seeing the comparative performance of the 2600K vs 3960X makes me want to wait for Ivy Bridge's 2600K replacement to see what sort of VFM that offers, compared to the 3930K. Reply
  • DaFox - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    > Here we see a 40% increase in performance over the 2600K and FX-1850.
    On Page 5.
    Reply
  • StealthGhost - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    I'm guessing by these results 2600k / 2500k is going to be a much better buy for gaming vs the 3930k

    The 2600k setup (mobo/cpu) I have is, from the prices in the motherboard and CPU review, 485 dollars cheaper than a 3930k+lga2011mobo setup ($400 vs $885). More than double what I paid and while the review for that one isn't out yet, even the 3960x isn't worth double just for gaming (obviously not what it is made for but people will buy it for gaming anyways).

    I'd like to see i7 930 vs the 3930k in the review if at all possible since that is the replacement, no? Obviously 2600k as well.

    Any idea when that one will be up?
    Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Tomshardware had the exact same conclusion.
    The 3960X is a workhorse and, arguably, the fastest CPU available to desktops today, however, at $999 its value is just not there.
    For a shademore than 1/2 its price you get something only marginally slower, and only in certain scenarios. Gamers, for example, have very little benefits from the extra $350 over the 3930.
    Reply
  • StealthGhost - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    Yeah according to their review in BF3 the $999 processor would give me 0 gains since I have one card (GTX 570). If I have 2 which I might later this month it would give me 3.5 fps more, but then I wouldn't be able to afford the 2nd card in the first place haha.

    Core scaling and cache useage isn't there yet for a lot of games I guess.
    Reply
  • B3an - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    It's pathetic that the new game engine used for BF3 dont even make use of more than 4 cores, or extra cache. And this engine is meant to be for future games... not impressed. Reply
  • Makaveli - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    so why don't you design a better engine ?? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    As soon as we can get our hands on a 3930K sample :) Reply
  • iwod - Monday, November 14, 2011 - link

    QuickSync is really for casual users only. It doesn't offer any advantage over x264 apart from the saved CPU time. x264 is faster then QuickSync with Ultrafast mode, with better quality, and much better quality with other mode then QuickSync can ever get.

    So QuickSync is good if i want to transfer my media files to my portable, where quality doesn't really matter since i have the original file backed up. It is used for convenience.

    Anyone getting a SB-E and doing encoding would properly better off with x264 then QuickSync.

    The next version of QuickSync is said to have vastly improved quality and speed.
    Reply
  • Manabu - Tuesday, November 15, 2011 - link

    Intel's QuickSync quality is somewhere around x264 superfast/veryfast, for the same bitrate. Ultrafast isnt the best tradeoff for speed and quality, as it gives up everything for speed.

    But I agree, someone with an Sandy Bridge E would be better off using x264 if he learns how to.

    A good comparison on speed and quality between GPU and CPU only encoders:
    http://www.behardware.com/articles/828-1/h-264-enc...

    The only thing they missed is that, if you only care about quality, and not an specific filesize/bitrate, you should be using CRF, and not 2-pass, and much less one pass with --bitrate.
    Reply

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