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.
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.
+ 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
– 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
Value: 9.5 (professional use)