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Intel Core i7-3930K Sandy Bridge-E Processor Review

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Subject: Processors
Manufacturer: Intel

The Low Cost Sandy Bridge-E

In the conclusion to my original story looking at the performance characteristics of the Sandy Bridge-E platform, I wrote this:

I am most interested in the Core i7-3930K (as I think most of you will be), but we are going to have to wait a bit to see if we can get performance and power results for that part.

Well good readers, I am here with that information!  After getting my hands on the Core i7-3930K processor that makes up the other 50% of the available options for the X79 chipset motherboards, I can definitively say that THIS is the processor you want.  Unless you are crazy-go-nuts rich.  

With a clock speed only about 2.5% lower than its bigger brother yet a price that is 44% lower, the LGA2011 socket definitely has its enthusiast favorite. 

The Sandy Bridge-E Summary

I am not going to bother reprinting everything that we discussed about the new Sandy Bridge-E processor architecture, the X79 chipset and platform changes here though if you haven't read about them before today, you should definitely take a look at my earlier article

Here is a quicker summary:

The answer might surprise you, but truthfully not a whole lot has changed.  In fact, from a purely architectural stand point (when looking at the x86 processor cores), Sandy Bridge-E looks essentially identical to the cores found in currently available Sandy Bridge CPUs.  You will see the same benefits of the additional AVX instruction set in applications that take advantage of it, a shared L3 cache that exists between all of the cores for data coherency and the ring bus introduced with Sandy Bridge is still there to move data between the cores, cache and uncore sections of the die.

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Turbo Boost technology makes a return here as well with the updated 2.0 version in full effect - there are more steppings in scalability on this part than on the Nehalem or Westmere CPUs. 

Continue reading our review of the Intel Core i7-3930K Sandy Bridge-E processor!!

With that said, there are some important changes to take note of, starting with the absence of any and all Sandy Bridge aspects related to graphics and multimedia processing.  The Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-39xx and i7-38xx parts will not have processor graphics of any kind on them, and while this isn't a big deal for the targeted users of high-end hardware like this, there is one drawback.  Along with the GPU portion, the QuickSync technology is also absent from the design as it was dependent on the Intel HD Graphics technology for some of its processing.  If you were a fan, as we were, of the QuickSync media transcoding applications that worked impressively fast, then you should be prepared to live without it again if you buy a SNB-E processor.  Still, with 6-cores and 12-threads of processing, the Core i7-3960X should be able to handle media transcoding fairly well as we demonstrate in our benchmark testing.

A significant portion of the processor die is relegated to communication with the 40 lanes of PCI Express supported by Sandy Bridge-E.  This is a VAST improvement over the current Sandy Bridge parts that only support 16 lanes.  While PCI Express 3.0 support is not yet official on the SNB-E CPUs, all of the motherboard vendors we have talked to are comfortable with saying the combination of the new CPUs and X79 motherboards will run that communication protocol properly when supported cards are released in 2012.  For whatever reason, Intel has decided to not validate the PCIe 3.0 capability of the processor directly and instead claims that it "believes that some PCIe devices may be able to achieve the 8GT/s PCIe transfer rate on X79".  So...uh, there. 

As all of the motherboard designs have shown you over the last several months, Sandy Bridge-E also moves from a dual-channel memory controller to a much higher bandwidth quad-channel memory controller.  Theoretical memory bandwidth moves up to 51.2 GB/s and while some very specific applications will see (and take advantage of) this change, most consumer applications and games won't come close to seeing a 2x increase in performance.  Still, those that complained about moving from a three-channel memory controller on Nehalem to the dual-channel on Sandy Bridge will be pleased to see a move forward in this area.

Shared L3 cache size has also been increased up to a staggering 15MB on the Core i7-3960X flagship and 12MB on the Core i7-3930K.  To put that in perspective, the current Core i7-2600K Sandy Bride processor and Core i7 Nehalem parts sport 8MB of L3 cache.  From the die image we can gather that the Core i7-3960X is actually using all of the available cache size and any upcoming Xeons with 8-cores will have the same amount.

The new Sandy Bridge-E processors are larger than previous Nehalem or Sandy Bridge CPUs as inferred from the requirement of the new LGA2011 socket.  The CPU die itself is built on the same 32nm process technology as the current generation Sandy Bridge and consists of 2.27 billion transistors in the form of a nearly square 434.72 mm2 die.

Originally we only had the highest end unit available for our testing but thanks to some friends we were able to get a Core i7-3930K sent over for some testing.  This does indeed lower the price pretty dramatically without lowering the performance specifications of the processor much at all.

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The Core i7-3960X that we reviewed initially is set at a substantial price tag of $990 though it includes the highest base clock speed, the highest Turbo frequency and even the most L3 cache.  As the next step down, the Core i7-3930K comes in with an estimated price of $555 and clock speeds only 100 MHz lower than the Extreme Edition CPU while continuing to offer a fully unlocked chip for overclocking goodness.  There are still six processing cores, twelve available threads and 12MB of L3 cache to satisfy pretty much any computing need.

Let's take a quick look at our system specs and which comparisons we need to watch for in our testing!

 

December 14, 2011 | 07:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Guys, you really need to switch from the old version of Blender to the new one now that 6 core CPUs are becoming more common. The old version doesn't scale across more than 8 threads where as the new version will utilize the 12 threads of the new CPUs.

December 14, 2011 | 07:33 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Fair enough - we just haven't updated that cycle in a bit.

Thanks!

December 15, 2011 | 03:01 AM - Posted by Prodeous (not verified)

Additionally there is another setting that needs to be adjusted.

in the "performance" tab of blender, there is a tile setting. This by default is set to x=4 y=4 resulting in only 16 tiles that the image is separated. This results that a lot of cores become idle to quickly.

I've informed anandtech of the same thing for their Opteron/Xeon tests. Results speak for them selves.

http://www.anandtech.com/show/5183/quick-update-more-interlagos-testing

Finally, for Blender 2.61 (latest release) they included Cycle Render engine. It supports CPU and GPU (Cuda only) rendering. OpenCL is still being developed.

Still, with the Cycles render, it would be interesting to compare performance of the CPU's and Nvidia GPUs to show how much untapped potential there is in our current GPU's

December 15, 2011 | 08:03 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Interesting...thanks!

December 14, 2011 | 07:59 PM - Posted by jstnomega (not verified)

125W TDP? if one is flying a work station & the user attitude is 'thermals be damned', then yeah, such a chip may be worth it, but for everyone else, such a TDP is likely a significant step in the wrong direction, if not even a complete bar to adoption - is certainly of no interest to me, no matter how well it performs

December 15, 2011 | 08:04 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

125w is pretty typical for peak TDP is standard desktop computers. In fact, AMD's Bulldozer is as high as that, and even Llano will have 100w SKUs.

December 15, 2011 | 08:41 AM - Posted by rrr (not verified)

So what? Gulftown consumes more power in reality and offers slightly less performance anyway.

Ergo, in heavily threaded apps SB-E offers more perf/W than Gulftown, which BTW is clearly shown on charts.

Getting hung up on TDP is useless since actual power consumption varies from chip to chip (slightly different volts), while TDP is often the same for entire CPU series.

December 15, 2011 | 08:18 PM - Posted by Swoosh (not verified)

Popular motherboard manufacturers like Asus, MSI and
Gigabyte are now all out on supplying and selling their X79
mobos to their partners and they are happy to what Intel
did on this model and in the early weeks next year or, on
the up coming months of 2012 for sure their low X79 mobo
sales will go up because of this and as far as enthusiast
level of gaming and media encoding performance is
concerned, this processor can pretty much take whatever you
can throw at it all at the same time and get faster results
specially if its overclocked.

Speaking of X79 motherboard, im also waiting for EVGA's SR3
Dual X79, 12 DIMM slot, 4 Way SLI / Xfire enthusiast level
motherboard. Talking about enthusiast level motherboards
from Asus? Their "ROG Rampage extreme" series is a no match
to EVGA's SR3 and putting Two Intel Core i7-3930K Sandy
Bridge-E procs on it and overclocked both of it to 4.5ghz
my 3D design rendering, After Effects preview and video
editing experience will be more easier.

December 18, 2011 | 11:30 AM - Posted by Octavean (not verified)

Finally,....

An actual Intel Core i7 3930K review!!! A little tardy to the party but welcome just the same.

December 19, 2011 | 04:45 AM - Posted by mtrush (not verified)

The real gaming cpu will be the 3820.
plus new revisions of the cpu/motherboard will be out also i hear.

December 19, 2011 | 06:01 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I ordered my i7-3930K last week but my supplier is way back-ordered. Then I just came across a report that Intel is going to release a C2 stepping of the part on January 20, 2012 since the existing part had a problem with VT (Virtualization Technology) which they disabled in the C1 stepping (current part). Now I'm wondering if I'll have to wait until the end of January before I get my CPU. Just Google "i7-3930K C2 stepping" for more info.

December 19, 2011 | 02:21 PM - Posted by Octavean (not verified)

If its hard to get a Core i7 3930K CPU now just think how difficult it will be to find a specific stepping such as the C2 stepping when its released. Retailers / E-tailers specifying a guarantied C2 stepping in the future will likely be asking more for it. My understanding is that the Core i7 3930K was supposed to be ~$550 but I have yet to see it for significantly less then ~$600.

December 19, 2011 | 04:13 PM - Posted by john (not verified)

please explain; why the difference on the price of

intel 6 core i7-3860X, and AMD x8 FX-8150; as the
specifications on AMD are better

I am about to buy a new box, and I want to know the
difference on the quality' snd of course of the
price

thanks, & best regards

john

December 24, 2011 | 12:53 PM - Posted by GeorgeT (not verified)

Whatever specs on paper say about FX-8150 vs i7-39xx, all that you need to know is that in Real Life the new Intel CPUs utterly wipe the floor with AMD's best efforts (which has been par for the course since Conroe was released back in 2006). Ergo, the market will happily bear a higher price on the Intel parts.

December 25, 2011 | 08:37 AM - Posted by Jim S (not verified)

I am thinking about getting one of these. I have a four year old Q9450 (OC @ 3.2 Ghz) which still serves well. I do play a little BF3, but typically get my rear handed back to me in a bag. It works fairly well with a GTX470 and tweak the settings in the Nvidia control panel to improve performance dramatically. I can get 99% GPU usage with it at 3.2 Ghz on BF3.

The reason I would go with this is because I'm looking at getting the most years out of the upgrade. So the extra $500 in parts over a 2600k upgrade is more palatable when I look at how long I want to keep it. And with RAM at record lows that really helps. Not so concerned about the hard drive prices as I am a big fan of SSD's. Not into storing mass media as many I know are now doing and they are lamenting the price hikes.

Now if the FX-8150 would drop to $200, then I might pitch one for AMD. I know that I would be upgrading much sooner so that's another reason for the big upgrade idea to the 3930K.

January 14, 2012 | 04:43 PM - Posted by Chris K (not verified)

Can anyone who owns this processor (i7 3930k) run a test for me? I need to know if vmware ESXi 5.0 (the free version) will run on this processor.

I am debating between a Xeon processor and the i7 3930k. My primary use will be for virtualization using vmware ESXi 5.0, however if I'm spending the money I also want to be able to play games and such.
Vmware does not specifically support desktop processors, but some work and some don't. ESX 5.0 got a little more strict when it comes to hardware requirements, specifically when it comes to processors (server models only) and networking adapters (gigabit only).

I would greatly appreciate anyone's support with this! Please list all hardware in your system, including motherboard, network card, memory and hard drive. Thanks!

March 25, 2012 | 03:02 AM - Posted by Luc (not verified)

Hi,

Did you get feedback on the Intel i7-3960X and VMWare ESX 5.0 (of 4.x)? Does it runs on the 3960X? What motherboard was used?

Can you send me an email with your results/conclusions? (Luc 'dot' Krols 'at' gmail 'dot' com)

Thanks!
Kind regards,

Luc

April 3, 2013 | 12:42 PM - Posted by rofc (not verified)

Have you received any feedback? I want to know if I can buy this processor for a virtualizated lab too.

Many thanks.

January 30, 2012 | 08:45 AM - Posted by Charles (not verified)

I came across this: Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition 3930K
But I can not find it anywhere else.. the Extreme Edition of the 3930? http://www.frys.com/product/6901407#detailed

Whats the diff. w/ extreme and the standard 3930k, if the standard is already unlocked for over clock -
anyone?

February 10, 2012 | 05:14 AM - Posted by Ryan Forshaw (not verified)

hello

I'm considering purchasing the Intel Core i7 3930K and wonder if someone could please do a render test using Cine bench to see what render score this processor comes up with? If so more could please do this it will be much appreciated. Thanks

July 25, 2012 | 07:26 AM - Posted by christian (not verified)

can someone tell me whether the i7-3930K will work with an ESX. please help me

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