A new and rather large socket
Of course, with all the changes to platform plumbing, Sandy Bridge-E will drop into a new socket, pictured above. With a land grid array-style layout and a cheeky 2011 total pins, the new socket type is known as LGA2011. Its size may not be evident from the image above, but have a look at these pictures.
Sandy Bridge-E is a big chip, and it comes in a big package—substantially larger than the LGA1366 package used for the Core i7-900 series and a heckuva lot larger than its Sandy Bridge sister. Then again, it looks like it needs to be that large in order to accommodate its outsized pin count. I remember former AMD CTO Fred Weber once saying that pin count is a pretty good indicator of a chip's I/O capacity. If so, well, this one wins.
This socket uses a funky dual-lever retention mechanism that take a little getting used to. You have to move two levers in a specific sequence to open or close the CPU retention mechanism. Seems like a bit of a pain to me, but Geoff, who is reviewing X79 motherboards for us, says he likes it.
Yep, Intel is slapping its brand name on an Asetek liquid cooler, much like AMD is doing for its FX processors. In this case, the Intel-branded cooler will be sold separately from the CPU for between $85 and $100. Intel says the cooler is compatible with both Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge systems and Sandy Bridge-E. Curiously, it also says the cooler will work with Ivy Bridge-E, the presumptive successor to today's new chip. Since Intel mentioned it, we pressed on this front, inquiring whether Ivy Bridge-E will be compatible with LGA2011 motherboards and when it might hit the market. Unfortunately, Intel wasn't ready to talk about it, leaving us with nothing more than a sense that, hey, the coolers should be compatible.
The cooler itself is quite nice, with a four-pin PWM fan rated for 21 dBA at 800 RPM and 35 dBA at 2200 RPM, which is pretty quiet as these things go. In our experience, it's an acoustically unobtrusive and effective way to cool one of these CPUs while adding a little bit of thermal headroom for overclocking. Of course, there will be a fairly broad selection of third-party air and liquid coolers for this new platform, as well. If you've already blown your budget on the CPU itself, you may be pleased to learn Intel will also be selling a basic air cooler for under 20 bucks.
Also pictured above is Asus' P9X79 Deluxe motherboard, which we originally intended to use for our performance testing. Unfortunately, issues with this board's Turbo Boost behavior caused our performance results for the Core i7-3960X to be somewhat inflated. We're hoping Asus can fix this problem via an update to the mobo's firmware, but given limited time, we chose to switch over to Intel's DX79SI Extreme motherboard instead and re-test. I believe Geoff will be addressing Asus' peculiar choices regarding Turbo Boost policies in his X79 mobo roundup.
Finally, the RAM we used is a four-module kit from Corsair that's expressly tailored for Sandy Bridge Extreme. These 4GB DIMMs are rated for 1866 MT/s operation at 1.5V.
Now, let's move on to our test results...