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Intel's Core i7-4960X processor reviewed


Ivy Bridge Extreme finally arrives
— 2:00 AM on September 3, 2013

Begin NSA intercept.
Time: 21:30 09-02-13.
Station: Medina/Lackland RSOC. San Antonio, TX.
Source feed: Time Warner Cable, MKC-CPE-65-26-res.rr.com.

Hey, Jamaal, check this out. This computer nerd guy is doing another review of a CPU chip. Been doing them for over a decade, every time they come out with a new one, like clockwork. This has gotta be, like, number 150 or so. I don't know how he does it.

What's that? Now, don't get all prissy on me for looking in on civilians. Everybody snuck a peek at that Nebraska cheerleader, even you. Things changed when Hanley got the commendation from Biden for that one. Besides, this guy's review will be completely public in a few hours. What's the harm?

This is about the latest high-end chip from Intel. World's fastest or something like that. He hasn't put any text in it yet, but all the pictures and speed graphs are in there. These reviews are totally formula, kinda rote. I've kinda been following this stuff, thinking about upgrading my gaming rig. Betcha I can tell you what he'd say about it just from what's in there now.


Code name Key
products
Cores/
modules
Threads Last-level
cache size
Process node
(Nanometers)
Estimated
transistors
(Millions)
Die
area
(mm²)
Gulftown Core i7-9xx 6 12 12 MB 32 1168 248
Sandy Bridge-E Core-i7-39xx 8 16 20 MB 32 2270 435
Ivy Bridge-E Core-i7-49xx 6 12 15 MB 22 1860 257
Vishera FX 4 8 8 MB 32 1200 315

Yeah, look, it's Ivy Bridge-E. Basically a server chip with more cores and cache that's been converted into an expensive desktop part. This one is a drop-in replacement for an older chip, Sandy Bridge-E—same socket, but built with a newer manufacturing method.

Hmm. Last time, they used an eight-core chip and disabled a couple of cores and some cache. This time, they're showing a native six-core part with less cache. That's weird. The chip size is way down, too. Even the transistor count. I wonder what Jenkins in IT thinks about that.

Dials extension.

Hey, Jenkins. This is Blanda up in observation. Quick question for your computer-geeky brain to answer for me. What do you think of a 22-nanometer Xeon chip that has fewer cores and less cache than the 32-nm one? Like six and 15MB versus eight and 20MB. Would they really do that?

Uh hum. Really. Lots cheaper? Hmm. Gotcha.

Seriously? Coming out soon? Haha, wow.

Ok, thanks, man. See you at the fantasy draft tomorrow night. Blandanna is going all the way this year!

Hangs up.

Ok, so get this. Jenkins says the guys down the hall from him have been testing a 22-nm Xeon chip—pre-release thing we can't talk about—that has twice the everything inside of that Ivy Bridge-E. Man, some of those extreme builder dudes are gonna be pissed if they drop nearly a grand on one of those six-core chips and find out later about this other one. I guess Intel thinks people don't need more than six cores in a desktop system. I see the logic, but wow. You've gotta think some of those guys would pay even more for the bragging rights.


Pretty sure the 4770K's TDP is actually 84W, not 95W. Source: Intel.

Speaking of that, check out these prices. The psychology is almost as fascinating as whatever was happening with that rancher dude in Wyoming with the chickens and the laser pointer. Still can't believe we got that on tape.

You can pay nearly $1K for the top dog, the Core i7-4960X, that tops out at 4GHz, or you can pay just over half that for the same basic thing with 3MB less cache and a 0.1GHz lower peak clock. And these things come unlocked, so you can set your own clock frequencies in the BIOS. Seriously, no one should buy the 4960X when the 4930K exists, but you know people will. I'd kill to know the sales breakdowns on those.

Well, that's hyperbole. I might put out some feelers with our friends up in CORPINT, though. Kinda interesting.

Man, looking over that table, I just don't see much difference between this new 4960X and the Core i7-3960X that came out two years ago. Both have six cores, twelve threads, 15MB last-level cache, and a 130W power envelope. The new chip's base clock is like 300MHz higher, and its peak clock is 100MHz higher, but that's about it. Intel even did a 3970X last year, with a 3.5GHz base and 4GHz peak, so we're talking baby steps here.

The only other change I see in the table is that 1866MHz memory now has the official blessing. That's nice, but the X79 already has quad memory channels. I wonder if it matters.

That last, "cheap" model, the 4820K, is priced below the top regular desktop CPU, the 4770K. The 4770K is a newer architecture, but it kinda has less of everything else, like cache, memory channels, and power headroom. I'll betcha the 4770K is still faster for most stuff.


Block diagram of the X79 platform. Source: Intel.

I guess the 4820K exists as kind of an entry point into the X79 platform. Get a load of those numbers. Four memory channels at almost 15 GB/s each, 40 PCI Express 3.0 lanes coming straight off the CPU. That's, like, more bandwidth than the NSA backbone.

Well, as far as Congress knows.

The X79 still looks nice on paper, but it is getting kinda old. No USB 3.0? Only two SATA 6Gbps ports? Kinda weaksauce for 2013, really—and those Haswell systems look awfully nice. In fact, let me give you Blanda's big list of reasons to build an X79-based system and the percentage of people who fit each one:

  • Need more cores, cache, and memory bandwidth for a real application. (2%)
  • Need higher memory capacity for actual workloads. (4%)
  • Need more PCIe lanes for multi-GPU configs. (1%)
  • Thinks you need more PCIe lanes for multi-GPU configs. (12%)
  • Need more knobs for extreme overclocking. (5%)
  • Bragging rights, money > sense. (51%)
  • Clicked the wrong button on Falcon Northwest online store. (27%)

Really, people make less sense the more you know about them. Anybody who works here knows what I mean.