Intel has held the absolute performance lead ever since its Core series CPUs launched, and AMD has just not been able to keep up. AMD’s Bulldozer was supposed to have been able to provide some competition, but it barely keeps up with even Intel’s previous generation, so there’s no surprise in the fact that Sandy Bridge E, the architecture inside this new Extreme Edition CPU, is the fastest thing we’ve ever tested—by a wide margin.
Hands on preview with the Intel Sandy Bridge E
In fact, Intel seems to have gotten a little complacent over the past few years, causing mild headaches for high-end PC buyers. It launched its last set of Extreme Edition CPUs, the Bloomfield XE i7-9xx series in late 2008 and the Gulftown i7-9xx refresh in early 2011. These series were set apart from the mainstream Core line-up by the use of their own socket and chipset, LGA1366 on the X58, which allowed for exotic triple-channel memory configurations. In the meanwhile, the mainstream CPU line-up was replaced by the Sandy Bridge generation, which often matched the older XE CPUs in terms of performance, but drastically undercut them in price. In effect, high-end buyers were left without much of an upgrade path, despite their massive initial investment. That changes now, with Sandy Bridge E.
The CPU and Chipset
The Core i7-3960X is now the fastest consumer desktop CPU in Intel’s line-up. The 2.27-billion transistor chip has eight cores, but the models being launched at the moment use only six of them. These six cores can execute two threads each, and there’s a 15 MB cache to keep them all occupied. The 3960X’s nominal clock speed is 3.3 GHz, but this goes up to 3.6 GHz on all cores or 3.9 GHz on a single core, when Turbo Boost kicks in to speed up demanding applications.
The six-legged beast
Intel's water-cooling solution
A breakdown of the new chipset
Intel Sandy Bridge-E platform Review
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