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Intel Core i7 4960X EE CPU / Asus X79-Deluxe Motherboard Review


i7-Retail-Packaging

Intel shipped the CPU to us in a miniature box with protective foam. Retail packaging will look similar to that of previous Intel Core series processors.

Notably thinner than the box that LGA 115x chips are supplied in, Intel’s LGA 2011 processors are not bundled with heatsinks. Intel’s thought process must be that anybody sinking over $300 (in the 4820K’s case) into an overclocking-geared processor is going to be using a cooling setup that offers considerably higher-performance than that of its diminutive heatsink and fan.

CPU-2CPU-pads

Parts forming the Ivy Bridge-E (IVB-E) line-up are ‘tick’ processors, meaning that they feature a die shrink from previous products. Sandy Bridge-E was designed with a 32nm fabrication process, while Ivy Bridge-E’s die shrink takes it down to 22nm.

Intel’s Core i7 4960X Extreme Edition is a six core, twelve thread part. Lower power consumption, henceforth improved efficiency, is one of the IVB-E series of processors’ biggest aims.

CPU-installed

Given its ‘tick’ status in Intel’s development cycle, Ivy Bridge-E fits into the same LGA 2011 socket that its predecessor – Sandy Bridge-E – did. This means that currently-available X79 motherboards will support IVB-E chips, even if they do require a BIOS update and recent drivers from Intel.

4960X-features 4960X-processor-die

Built on the 22nm fabrication process, Ivy Bridge-E’s die shrink from its 32nm predecessor is considerable. According to Intel’s information, an IVB-E processor’s die area is 256.5 millimetres-squared, as opposed to SB-E’s 434.7 millimetres-squared.

As the above processor die image shows, the Ivy Bridge-E 4960x (and presumably partnering hexacore models) is a full-blooded, six-core part, as opposed to a cut-down octacore model that Intel used for its SB-E Core i7 chips.

Some of Ivy Bridge-E’s biggest updates come in the form of true PCI-Express 3.0 capabilities, a 63x maximum core ratio, and support for up to four channels of DDR3 at 1866MHz (one DIMM per channel). Real-time core overclocking, power limits, and turbo voltage control are new features for IVB-E.

Officially, the Core i7 4xxx series processors’ integrated memory controller natively supports DRAM frequencies of up to 1866MHz, but if the desktop Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge changes are anything to go by, the improved IMC could show support for much higher memory speeds.

stock-clocks-(XMP)

Natively operating at a 3.60GHz base clock speed, with turbo boost kicking the chip up to a maximum of 4.00GHz, the Core i7 4960X is one core ratio faster than Intel’s previous consumer flagship – the 3970X. As is the standard for Intel X-series, Extreme Edition parts (and, more recently, the K-series), the Core i7 4960X features an unlocked core ratio multiplier.

The Core i7 4960X features 15MB of shared L3 cache and operates within a 130W TDP – the same as SB-E did. When idling (and operating under the necessary motherboard and OS settings), the processor will drop its core multiplier to 12x and operate at 1200MHz, hence reducing power consumption and CPU temperature.

A recent technique that has been widely adopted by motherboard manufacturers – ‘forced turbo’ – pushes the Core i7 4960X processor’s operating frequency to a constant 4.00GHz when the setting is applied. Our Asus X79-Deluxe motherboard automatically applied the ‘forced turbo’ parameter as soon as we enabled XMP.

It’s worth noting that CPU-Z version 1.66.1 (or later) is required to properly read the Core i7 4960X processor’s information. Version 1.66 incorrectly reported ridiculously low core voltage levels.

Core-i7-processor-family

Intel’s latest Core i7 processor family now includes an additional three chips from the Ivy Bridge-E camp. Haswell’s 4770K forms the current-generation family’s only unlocked, non-LGA 2011 model.

Taking a quick look at the family comparison table, with particular attention paid to the pricing column, it’s easy to see that the 4930K is going to be a favourite amongst enthusiast-level overclockers. Of particular interest is Intel’s decision to give the quad-core IVB-E 4820K an unlocked multiplier, especially given that its 3820 predecessor was partially locked.

In the 4820K, Intel is offering a more alluring and affordable way of getting onto the LGA 2011 platform, but at the expense of its own mainstream processors, it would seem. Under-cutting the 4770K’s retail price and offering 40 PCI-E lanes, as well as quad-channel memory support, we could see a fierce battle between the 4820K and its LGA 1150 brother, especially amongst dual-card gamers.

X79-Chipset

There’s nothing new about the X79 Express chipset. We still see the same disappointing omission of native USB 3.0 support, and maximum of two SATA 6Gb/s ports.

Despite the ageing chipset’s shortcomings, we have no doubt that users will be pleased to see Intel lengthen its time spent on a single platform. X79 motherboards are widely available and early BIOS glitches have typically been ironed out. Using the same chipset also gives current X79 owners a direct upgrade path to IVB-E, albeit after a BIOS update.

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