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Intel Core i7 3930K & Asus P9X79 WS LGA2011 WorkStation Review

Intel Core i7 3930K

I haven’t been shocked to find out that Intel’s Core i7 3930K is a remarkable processor. Having already reviewed the Core i7 3960X Extreme Edition we had a rough idea of what we could expect. The 3960X EE has the edge as it ships 100mhz faster, out of the box. At reference clock speeds the differences are noticeable.

When we overclock both to 4.8ghz within the basic limits of modest mainstream cooling, the variables are slightly closer. The 3960X EE is always faster however, even when clocked to identical speeds. Intel have intelligently approached the problem of offering one chip at almost half the price, by ensuring that the flagship processor ships with a larger L3 cache. Without this there is very little incentive to purchase the 3960X Extreme Edition.

I often read that the 3930K is the much better buy and in most instances this is very true. For an enthusiast gamer, or system builder, the money saved is substantial. If you purchase the right motherboard and have moderate bios knowledge then overclocking to 4.8ghz is extremely straightforward. For 90% of people considering a new high end system, then the 3930K is without question the better choice.

That said, the additional 3 MB of Level 3 cache can enhance performance with professional level applications. In this sector, time is money and even a few seconds saved here and there can mount up to hours over the course of a week. We noticed that even at the same clock speeds the 3960X Extreme Edition consistently turned in faster times when 3D rendering and video encoding. Whether this is worth almost twice the price is entirely a personal, or business decision. We all know that a small percentage of the enthusiast audience will want the highest level chip even if it doesn’t always make much financial sense in the real world.

Intel are so far ahead now that it is hard to even imagine that AMD will ever catch up. The FX 8150 wasn’t a bad chip design, I still use it from time to time and it is responsive, capable and great for gaming. Sadly this chip struggles to compete against the Intel 2600k or 2700k and I know very few people who desire to build an AMD based desktop system.

It gets worse when we look at the 3820, 3930k and 3960X Extreme Edition because AMD have nothing even close to the performance of these chips. This means that Intel are basically free to charge whatever they feel is justifiable, within reason.

If we look at the current range of Intel processors, we have the i7-3820 around £240 inc vat. This 4/8 core design offers fantastic value for money and can overclock to 4.5ghz without much of a problem. For someone who wants to get into the X79 sector with benefits of Quad Channel memory support, then this is an ideal low cost purchase.

The i7-3960X Extreme Edition is Intel’s current 6/12 core flagship design and as such will always fetch a huge premium over any other processor on the market. I still honestly feel that this particular processor, in the right hands, is worth the money. It combines class leading performance, thanks to the stellar architecture and a whopping 15MB of level 3 cache. For 3D encoding and video rendering it is without equal. But the cost of ownership is high – at £780 inc vat.

The i7 3930K which we reviewed today manages to grab 95% of the performance from the 3960X EE, especially if you pair it with the right motherboard and overclock. It is a close second to the 3960X, just as Intel have wanted. They know that the ultra high end audience will buy the 3960X for the extra cache performance regardless of cost and that the majority of wealthy enthusiast users will end up with the 3930K. If I was buying a system today for myself, I would build it around the 3930K. For £450 inc vat nothing really comes close.

You can buy the 3930k direct from ARIA for £448.20 inc vat.

Pros:

  • In the right hands almost as fast as the 3960X EE.
  • Almost half the price of the 3960X EE.
  • 6/12 cores is brilliant for serious duties such as 3D rendering or encoding.
  • Did we say almost half the price of the 3960X EE?
  • Overclocks exceptionally well. 5ghz+ with powerful liquid or phase change is possible.

Cons:

  • The 3820 is only £240 and would probably be enough for almost everyone.
  • Can run hot if the cooling isn’t up to the task.

Kitguru says: This processor is a masterclass in design and great fun to overclock.

Asus P9X79 WS LGA2011 WorkStation

Having already reviewed the Asus P9X79 Deluxe and the Rampage IV Extreme my expectations were already high for the latest P9X79 WS WorkStation board. I can genuinely say that this board is as good as the Rampage IV Extreme, because it was almost impossible to crash the system even with heavy handed overclocking and silly bios settings. I even got the 3930k posting at 5.1ghz with the modest Corsair H100 cooler, although it needed more volts than I was willing to risk. I tested with Kingston, G.Skill and Corsair 2,400mhz memory and the system posted with all, without a single hitch.

ASUS really do deserve special credit for their latest UEFI bios interface because the layout is so intuitive. I really only truly appreciate it when I spend time with another manufacturer board and return later. It is second nature for me to set these boards up, as everything just ‘works’ as you would expect. This isn’t always the case when you step outside Asus territory.

ASUS earn bonus points for build quality and the broad scope of connectivity, including dual gigabit lan ports and full support for quad array graphics cards. The appearance is not as dramatic as the Rampage IV Extreme, and will not attract the hard core gaming audience, but for the target ‘professional’ sector, it is perfectly designed. We like the fact that the board is passively cooled, which keeps the potential noise levels to a minimum.

The P9X79 WS can be bought from SCAN for £304.55 and at this price it offers great value for money. If you pair it up with a 3960X EE or 3930K then you will have the foundation for a killer workstation for both professional and gaming duties.

Pros:

  • Rock solid
  • Great overclocker
  • Passive cooled
  • Class leading performance.
  • Bios is intuitive and fully loaded.

Cons:

  • A bit dull to look at, but the target audience won’t mind.

Kitguru says: Another class leading board from the ASUS team.

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Rating: 9.0.

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