Intel Core i7-5960X Extreme CPU Performance Review


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Core i7-5960X Overclocking

Overclocking the Haswell-E CPUs is pretty simple: although you can fiddle with literally dozens of settings in a modern X99 BIOS, you can get 95+ of your best overclock simply by setting the multiplier and CPU core voltage…and making sure you have a good cooling solution, since this baby can dissipate 140 watts without any overclocking at all.

Starting with the Devil’s Canyon iteration of the LGA1150 Haswell CPUs, Intel has changed the thermal interface material used between the CPU die and the heat spreader. Intel calls it a “next generation polymer thermal interface” and says it should address the problems enthusiasts had overclocking the previous generation chips. The Haswell-E CPUs get this too, so I was hoping for some pretty epic overclocking action.

And I did get it, although not to the degree I had hoped. Intel’s press materials say that most CPUs should be stable at 4.5GHz @ 1.3VCORE, but the best I could do, even with my Corsair H100i cooler, was 4.4GHz. The system would boot into Windows at 4.5GHz but would crash running any benchmark. This is disappointing considering I had easily hit 4.8GHz in the Sandy Bridge Extreme Core i7-3960X CPU, and that was with Intel’s uninspiring 120mm liquid cooler. Granted, the 5960X does have an additional 10 watts in its TDP (140W vs. 130W), but I think some of the difference might simply be due to the extra complexity.


The maximum temperatures I saw running AIDA64’s “System Stability Test” were in the high 70s (Celsius). This caused the H100i fans to rev up a bit but were still within the acceptable range.

Although the overclock was less than what I’d hoped for, it did result in substantial performance increases in many of the benchmarks (items flagged with an asterisk: lower score is better):

Benchmark Stock [email protected] % Increase
AIDA64 Queen 74078 99055 33.7
AIDA64 Photoworxx 27673 27742 0.25
AIDA64 ZLIB 561.9 741.9 32.0
AIDA64 Hash 6762 9007 33.2
CINEBENCH Single 1.54 1.95 26.6
CINEBENCH Multi 14.1 18.7 32.6
Handbrake 76.3 57.7 31.9
x264HD Pass 1 117.3 154.7 31.9
x264HD Pass 2 28.3 37.0 30.7
SPECAPC Lightwave Interactive 540 441 18.3
SPECAPC Lightwave Multitask 971 724 25.4
SPECAPC Lightwave Rendering 384 302 21.4
Blender/Icetest 56.1 42.3 24.6
POV-Ray 98.2 74.1 25.4
Average increase 26.3%

So, there’s 26% free performance that should be readily available to almost any 5960X whose owner is willing to spend a couple of minutes in the BIOS.

I’ll present my thoughts and conclusion on this new CPU in the next section.


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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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