Intel Core i7-3960X Review

Intel Core i7-3960X Review


Anyone who has a passing interest in gaming knows that this years game version comes with next years date upon it. Either that or EA Sports are capable of coding in the future. But with Intel, if it’s the year 2011, then it must be time to take a look at the LGA2011 we’ve all be waiting for. Even if the 2011 connection is merely coincidental.

Intel always work on a Tick Tock system, wherein the Tock is a major hardware revision, and the Tick is a refinement of that, normally a die shrink. Today we’re looking at the Tick in the cycle, but changes are such it doesn’t easily fit into either category. Sit tight, this will get technical.

To bring you swiftly up to speed, in November 2007 Intel released the first 45nm architecture, the Tick, which was the Core 2 revision. A year later we saw a huge shift in processor capabilities with the Tock of Nehalem, the original 45nm Core-i7s and also the LGA1156 i7-870, i5-760 etc. This was refined with the Tick of the Westmere die-shrink down to 32nm which we saw as both the LGA1366 i7-970, i7-980 and i7-990. The next Tock we saw was Sandy Bridge which introduced the LGA1155 socket and 32nm i7-2600Ks and the like.

That is now adjusted with a the Tick we’re looking at today which, on previous form, should be a die-shrink, but it’s retaining the 32nm process. It isn’t retaining the LGA1155 socket either, rather introducing the LGA2011 socket. It’s not even a successor to the current i7-2600K’s. What it actually is is moving the high end X58 Hex-Core i7s from the Westmere range (990X etc) onto the Sandy Bridge line, here labelled the Sandy Bridge E and adding Quad Channel memory support.

Every new socket release comes with a new chipset, and the LGA2011 has the X79 chipset to keep it company, with USB 2.0 only (USB 3.0 comes via the usual NEC Chip), two SATA 6Gbp/s sockets on the chipset, and support for PCI Express 3.0. Because of this we’re testing the Core i7-3860X CPU on the latest Intel DX79SI motherboard so we’ve got a lot to cover. 3.3GHz of Hexcore hyper-threaded goodness coming right up.

We’ll try and keep it all as clear as possible. Let’s start with the CPU.