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Intel Core i7-5960X Extreme CPU Performance Review

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Haswell-E Final Thoughts

It’s good to see Intel finally update the LGA2011 platform, even if by “update”, I mean “replace with a system that’s completely incompatible with the previous generation system.” This system replaces LGA2011 entirely, and if the name “LGA2011-V3” confuses people into thinking that they can drop their Sandy Bridge Extreme or Ivy Bridge Extreme CPUs and DDR3 memory into an X99 Express motherboard, well, that’s the fault of Intel’s marketing department.

intel_core_i7_5960x

The truth is that unless you’re a professional content creator, or a really rich and avid video hobbyist for whom transcoding performance is the only metric that matters, it’s hard to justify the cost of a top-end LGA2011-V3 system. Aside from the number of cores, the main advantage to these systems is the surfeit of PCI-E lanes from the CPU: 40 for the 5960X and 5930K, and 28 from the 5820K. Any of these is a huge increase over the paltry 16 that Intel seems determined to keep the LGA1150 users shackled with. Although it’s true that running dual GPUs at x8/x8 won’t result in any noticeable performance deficits over x16/x16, more and more things like SATA Express and m.2 SSDs are making use of PCI-E lanes, which is why you see high-end LGA1150 motherboards using expensive ASMEDIA PLX chips to multiplex the existing lanes.

Although we didn’t receive the two other members of the Haswell-E family to test, I’d say that either one would represent a much better value for most people than the top-end Core i7-5960X. If a new Devil’s Canyon Core i7-4790K just isn’t enough, an additional $50 more ($389 at Newegg) gets you a Core i7-5820K with two more cores, almost double the on-chip cache, and 12 more PCI-E lanes to play with. And $389 goes down a lot easier than $1049.99 (Newegg | Amazon | B&H).

Intel Core i7-5960X Conclusion

It’s hard to compare the performance of this processor directly to the previous generation since Intel has changed so many things this time around. When you compare CPUs, you’d prefer that as much of the rest of the system as possible– memory, hard disk, etc.– be the same since this will isolate any differences noticed to the CPU. But here we have a new supporting chipset and a new DDR4 memory controller, so the best we can do is test complete systems against each other.

Starting with the Core i7-980X CPU and its X58 chipset four years ago, Intel has used core count to distinguish its Extreme CPUs. And the price has remained remarkably constant over the years: if you want the top-end Intel consumer CPU, you’re going to pay a little over a grand for it.

But unless whatever applications you run keep all 8 cores working, you’re paying a lot of money for performance you’re not going to see. In fact you’ll see better performance in most applications from the much less expensive Core i7-4790K, simply because it’s using the same cores clocked at 4GHz base/4.5 turbo whereas the power and cooling issues with what’s essentially two of these CPUs on one die limit the 5960X to 3.0GHz base/3.5 turbo. Yes, you can overclock it– with the right cooling– but guess what? You can overclock the 4970K, too.

So this chip is a conundrum to me, really. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for most consumers or gamers, who will actually get better performance in most applications from the much less expensive Core i7-4790K. And if you’re a content creation professional– a modeler or animator or video production person for whom core count is king– then you should probably be looking at a multi-CPU Xeon-based system. A couple of 12-core Xeons in a server motherboard will easily outperform the 5960X in transcoding or rendering tasks, even if they will cost a lot more.

Granted, the canny enthusiast can come up with edge cases to effectively use this kind of power: you could start a DVD rip and limit the encoder to four cores, then play Crysis 3 with no hit in performance. Or maybe you’re setting up a tri- or quad-SLI system and really, really need every PCI-E lane you can get your hands on.

This processor’s native habitat is an entry-level content production workstation, for which it is admirably suited. My scores reflect this usage; most consumers, gamers, and enthusiasts would be best served by an LGA1150-based Haswell.

Pros:Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award

+ A new level of performance in a “consumer” CPU
+ Easily overclockable processor
+ 48 (total) PCI-E lanes as compared to the 24 lanes of an LGA1150 system
+ First use of DDR4 memory

Cons:

– Very, very expensive for a desktop CPU
– Requires new X99 motherboard and new DDR4 memory
– Single-core performance lags behind that of much less expensive 4790K
– No CPU cooler included

Ratings:

  • Performance: 9.5
  • Construction: 9.00
  • Overclock: 9.00
  • Functionality: 9.50
  • Value: 9.5 (professional use)

Final Score: 9.3 out of 10 (professional use)

Excellence Achievement: Benchmark Reviews Golden Tachometer Award.

NewEgg.com

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11 comments

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  1. Chris

    On the last page, you wrote 48 vs 24 PCI-E lanes. I believe that should be 40 or 28 PCI-E lanes versus 16.

    In terms of value, it’s hard to justify this processor for most people. Only people with multi-threaded work can really benefit from this.

    I think though that the 5820k might be a decent value though. For perhaps $80 in a CPU compared to a 4790K and around $50-$100, you do get another 2 cores, which might be useful, although there will be a premium you have to pay for DDR4.

    1. David Ramsey

      What I said was “48 (total) PCI-E lanes as compared to the 24 lanes of an LGA1150 system”. Since I was talking about systems rather than CPUs, I included the PCI-E lanes provided by the chipsets as well.

  2. Ethan

    1. Page 2, you say Z79 instead of X79
    2. Page 8 says the RAM on the 3960X is running at 1066 while on page 2, you say that you are running 1600. Which is it?
    3. Page 8, you typed 3096X instead of 3960X.
    4. Why no clock for clock comparison? I mean in both the CPU and RAM speed, especially since you are giving tests scores with the 5960X being overclocked?

    1. David Ramsey

      Thanks for the corrections; I’ve updated the article.

      Clock for clock comparisons are are interesting if you’re into CPU architecture, or like to make people think you are. But there are so many other factors– amount of cache, clock speed which varies based on number of active cores, and so forth– that I think real-world performance tests are more useful.

      Overclocking results are never guaranteed. Of course I always include overclock results for the CPU I’m testing, and I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not to include overclocking results from previously-tested comparison CPUs. Currently I don’t include them since it introduces another uncertainty into the comparison.

  3. Tradesman

    Why 1600 DRAM on 1150 and X79 – 2133 would have been more appropriate?

    1. David Ramsey

      Two reasons:

      — Neither the 4770K nor 3960X officially support DDR3-2133. It is a supported speed for Haswell-E.

      — In any case I didn’t have any DDR3-2133 available.

  4. Tradesman

    If you can put your hands on some 2133 (decent sticks) you’d be surprised at the change you’ll see, and both the 4770K and the 3960X both easily run 2133…

    ” 46.5 gigabytes per second is about 20% higher than we see from the late-2011 Core i7-3960X. As usual, overclocking the CPU has no effect on memory bandwidth.”

    OCing won’t have any real effect, but it’s an apples and oranges difference in the 3960X results when also running at 2133 (and that’s where the bandwidth differences in your charts come from – 2133 vs 1600)…

    The slow CLs in DDR4 have caused many to reconsider moving to X99

    1. David Ramsey

      Benchmark Reviews has been testing memory for many years, and we’ve never seen much real-world difference with expensive, high speed enthusiast memory vs. standard memory. Synthetic benchmarks, of course, will be different.

      There’s another reason I wouldn’t do this, though: when we test components, we try to isolate the performance of the component as most users would see it, not as most users with lots of money who will equip their systems with high end memory, SSDs, and so forth. By sticking to the supported memory speeds for each platform, I’m providing a more accurate look at relative CPU performance, rather than “Haswell-E with stock memory vs. Sandy Bridge E with unsupported high speed memory”.

      Still, testing each CPU with high speed memory on enthusiast motherboards would make an interesting article in its own right. Maybe someday…

    2. Caring1

      I run 2133MHz Ram in an Ivy Bridge system with an i5K series, it has no problems running in that, but as David says, there is no appreciable difference to 1600MHz, but it does give me that warm and fuzzy feeling knowing I have fast Ram. 😉

  5. spikey27

    It’s looking like the end of the line has been reached, with regard to heat-related issues, the overclocking tied to the heat, cost, and actually performance.

    So, Intel’s predictions about the demise – or maybe more correctly, the end of the development road – is rapidly coming into view.

    Except for the guys who actually need a zillion of everything (cores, PCI-E lanes) and just about everything else that keeps climbing with each new chip issue, and maybe the highest calibre gamers, it looks like everything has been invented, and the gravy offered by Haswell-E, etc. may not be such a necessity after all.

    Just my 2cents worth.

    1. Olin Coles

      Your comment reminds me of an editorial I wrote for this website nearly four years ago:
      Intel Sandy Bridge CPUs Chill Aftermarket Cooling. I argued much the same, and lost some sponsors in the process. Read more: http://archive.benchmarkreviews.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13488&Itemid=8

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