Intel Core i7-3960X review

Chris Finnamore
14 Nov 2011
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
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Hugely fast, but very few people regularly run enough applications at once to need a processor with this many cores



The Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition is the first processor we've seen from the new Intel Sandy Bridge Extreme, or Sandy Bridge E, range. It's a six-core 3.3GHz processor with a fully unlocked multiplier for easy overclocking, and is squarely aimed at power users and enthusiasts.

Sandy Bridge E die

There will be three processors in total in the Sandy Bridge E range, all of which require a new socket type - LGA2011 - and a new chipset - Intel X79 Express. The specifications are below.

Sandy Bridge E comparison

The differences between the top two chips are fairly small - both have six cores with Hyper-Threading (so the processors show up as having 12 cores in Windows) but the cheaper £480 i7-3930K has 12MB of level 3 cache rather than the 15MB on the top-end chip. Like normal Sandy Bridge chips, the E series' level 3 cache is shared between all the cores, and each core can grab cache from the pool as it needs it.

The i7-3820 chip is a very different beast, with just four cores and 10MB of level 3 cache, but its higher 3.6GHz clock speed should go some way towards compensating for this. In this regard it doesn’t seem much different from the Sandy Bridge-based Intel Core i7-2600K, which has four cores running at 3.4GHz and 8MB of level 3 cache - look out for our full comparison soon.

A major difference between Sandy Bridge and Sandy Bridge E is that the Extreme chips don’t have on-board graphics; anyone spending this much on an enthusiast chip would most certainly have a dedicated graphics card. However, the lack of on-board graphics does mean that you won’t be able to use Intel's Quick Sync hardware video-encoding technology.

Next page: Benchmark testing

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