Intel Core i7-3930K Sandy Bridge-E Processor Review
The Core i7-3930K runs at about 100 MHz slower than the Core i7-3960X (I say "about" because depending on the core usage count, Turbo Boost may have that at 0 MHz or 200 MHz in a single case) and the program and application performance seen with that frequency gap is about what you would expect: 2.5% in areas where the CPU performance is a straight bottleneck. If the performance of the Core i7-3960X impressed you in our first review, then this should as well. If it didn't, the Core i7-3930K isn't going to change your mind.
As you would expect, decreasing the performance even a bit brings the Core i7-3930K ever so slightly closer to the performance of the Core i7-2600K or i7-2700K processors that can be found for a much lower price. In applications where the added cores are fully utilized, like in Handbrake, the performance gap is fairly impressive when you need it. In many use cases though, including gaming, that difference will still be minimal.
This issue really remains the same - there are two nice features of the Core i7-2xxx series parts and the Z68 chipset that are missing from Sandy Bridge-E: QuickSync technology and Smart Response Technology. QuickSync is gone because of the removal of the processor graphics portion of Sandy Bridge so users that loved the boost in speed on video transcoding that it offered will be out of luck here. And SRT, the SSD caching technology introduced on Z68, is also MIA so users that wanted to use a small SSD to improve the overall response time of their system will be using motherboard-specific implementations from companies like Marvell.
While I might have been down on the X79 chipset in terms of the lack of new features and additions (and I stick by that - we should have had integrated USB 3.0 and additional SATA 6G ports by now!), the truth is that with the configurations we have seen and the overclocking capability built into the new CPU, a rig build around an X79 motherboard will probably be the enthusiast platform of choice for quite some time. Having 40 lanes of PCI Express really gives companies like ASUS and MSI a lot of flexibility in what they can do, how they can lay their boards out, and what features they can add. Having boards with support for 4-way SLI and CrossFire on the first day of the new Sandy Bridge-E release is a great sign.
Overclocking looks like it will be a big push on the new motherboards as well as we have seen some impressive results and some impressive use of the new UEFI implementations from several board vendors (that we'll be showcasing soon).
Pricing and Availability
Obviously this is the big sticking point with the first wave of Sandy Bridge-E processors. The Core i7-3960X will cost you about $990 while the MSRP on the Core i7-3930K is significantly less, at $555. The issue? As of this writing they are hard to find and even hard to find close to that price point.
If availability doesn't pick up for this part soon, it could be a disappointing new year for enthusiasts looking to build a new rig. Including us! We are going to be completely rebuilding our GPU test bed and with the performance of Sandy Bridge-E and the options in motherboard selection with the X79 chipset, we were really looking forward to picking up one of the Core i7-3930K for our own use. But not at $694, which is what Amazon has it listed at as of this writing. For less than half the cost of that, you can pick up the Core i7-2600K and still having a pretty nice configuration.
Even with pricing considerations to take into account, the Core i7-3930K will likely become the processor of choice for high-end PC enthusiasts simply because it currently offers the best platform (Sandy Bridge-E + X79) for the lowest price (compared to the $990 Core i7-3960X). Will this processor sell in droves like the Core i7-920 did upon its release and long lifespan? I doubt it, but maybe the forthcoming Core i7-3820 will take that crown with a sub-$300 price tag.
If you are thinking about building a new multi-GPU gaming rig or just one of the fastest PCs on the planet without completely breaking the bank, then I think the Core i7-3930K is the best option for you today!