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Sandy Bridge-E: More Speed On The Desktop, But A Bigger Deal To Servers

Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview
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Although we don’t yet have a die shot or block diagram of Sandy Bridge-E, it’s pretty clearly an amalgam of Sandy Bridge’s architecture and scalable cache structure with the same core count that previously gave Gulftown an advantage in well-threaded applications.

Of course, in the segment it was designed to address, Intel moves PCI Express control from X58 to the Sandy Bridge-E die itself, adding a fourth 64-bit memory channel able to run at higher data rates. The result is a simpler two-chip platform than X58 better able to service the server apps dependent on memory bandwidth. Decidedly, consumer apps see little, if any, benefit from the more complex memory controller.

Cumulatively, the impact of Sandy Bridge-E over Core i7-990X is felt in both single- and multi-threaded apps, topping out in the 30% range in a benchmark like Blender. If you count yourself amongst the workstation users justified in spending £800 on a six-core processor due to the productivity gains it provides, Core i7-3960X looks to be a substantial upgrade as a result of its Sandy Bridge roots.

We can’t ignore the value still so apparent in the mainstream Sandy Bridge-based chips, though. Core i7-2600K holds its own against our pre-production Sandy Bridge-E sample, tying it in single-threaded apps, and trailing it in more threaded titles. That chip, along with the cheaper Core i5-2500K, remains a winner for budget-conscious power users and gamers alike.

Of the three Sandy Bridge-E-based CPUs expected to launch later this year, the Core i7-3930K is perhaps the most interesting. An unlocked multiplier, 2 MB/core of L3 cache, and a hexa-core configuration could be a powerful combination, overclocked. The -3960X will of course be too expensive for most enthusiasts, while the quad-core -3820 may have a tough time proving its worth against existing Sandy Bridge platforms.

At least in the shape we’re previewing today, the X79 platform won’t last as long as X58 did, if only because appears to have given up the features that were expected to set it apart. Without PCI Express 3.0, USB 3.0, or its more advanced storage connectivity, X79 ends up looking a lot like P67 or Z68.

Update: Again, the PCI Express support in Sandy Bridge-E is said to be 8 GT/s-capable, but not yet validated to work with the third-gen standard. An official blessing could be forthcoming, but it's not yet a sure thing.

Looking Forward

We’re at least a month or two away from Sandy Bridge-E’s launch, and a lot is expected to happen in that time. There’s AMD’s anticipated Bulldozer architecture, to start.

Also, by the time you read this, we’ll be on the way to IDF in San Francisco, where we’re scheduled to sit in on several briefings about Ivy Bridge, its 22 nm tri-gate transistors, improvements to the architecture’s media functionality, and Windows 8.

Though Sandy Bridge-E promises notable gains in the server world, it’s destined to be less influential on the desktop, if only because the number of folks willing to pay a steep premium for two additional cores and an otherwise-similar platform is small. Sandy Bridge spoiled us, so a high-end part just doesn't have the impact on enthusiasts that Bloomfield had back in 2008.

Ivy Bridge is sure to make a bigger splash, so stay tuned for more information from Intel as it flows out of IDF.

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  • 0 Hide
    AdrianPerry , 12 September 2011 16:15
    It's a shame Deus Ex: Human Revolution wasn't included in the benchmark testing since we know CPU plays a very big role in the FPS the game can deliver. Other than that, interesting article :) 
  • 0 Hide
    mathew7 , 12 September 2011 18:34
    On the "Hardware Setup and Benchmarks" page, please correct the "Active cores" row with the rest of the table. It should be 1/2 active cores have 6 TB bins and 5/6 have 3 TB bins. After all, it's with 1 active core that 3.9GHz is allowed.
  • 0 Hide
    CPU666d1 , 12 September 2011 21:24
    Bad luck I can't afford to buy any of these Sandy-E chipsets yet. The Benchmarks ain't too bad either.
  • 1 Hide
    ps3hacker12 , 12 September 2011 22:02
    too bad its likely to cost three to four times what the current sandy bridge setup costs (a 2600K for example...)
  • 0 Hide
    icehot , 15 September 2011 16:47
    Hrm, so basically a little bit of improvement, but mostly extra pci-express lanes, and 2 extra cores, along with additional power draw... Think i'll stick to my 2600k until ivybridge comes out and see what that brings.
  • -1 Hide
    mathew7 , 15 September 2011 18:00
    icehotHrm, so basically a little bit of improvement, but mostly extra pci-express lanes, and 2 extra cores, along with additional power draw... Think i'll stick to my 2600k until ivybridge comes out and see what that brings.


    You forgot about the additional 2 chanels of RAM. Consider 4 identical modules. With LGA1155, the additional 2 modules (3 and 4) offer only additional RAM, but do not affect performance. On LGA2011, the additional 2 modules also increase memory access speed (think about a 4-lane highway vs 2-lane).
  • 0 Hide
    icehot , 15 September 2011 19:02
    mathew7You forgot about the additional 2 chanels of RAM. Consider 4 identical modules. With LGA1155, the additional 2 modules (3 and 4) offer only additional RAM, but do not affect performance. On LGA2011, the additional 2 modules also increase memory access speed (think about a 4-lane highway vs 2-lane).


    That's cool, except I have 2 sticks of 4gb's, I still can't see a need to go beyond 8gb (at home at least). Despite this though, looking at the benchmarks is incredibly disappointing, clock for clock it's generally the same as the 2600k, the only improvement is if something requires 6 cores... For gaming, we all know the additional pci express lanes even in crossfire makes very little difference, maybe a bit more in quadfire, but still, not sure if it's worth it
  • 0 Hide
    Gonemad , 21 September 2011 04:25
    I am more concerned if I should start my milling machine for a new copper brick matching the new socket and lineup. We are back at 130W TDP guys. The last generation on that TDP was less than forgiving on air cooling. Or, should it be no concern? Still, that i7-2600k is still crushing the bang-per-buck charts. The new chip should be smashing the previous ones with over 20% difference; instead they are trading punches here and there.
    From my POV, the 2600k is still the best upgrade right now.
  • 0 Hide
    bobwya , 26 September 2011 23:14
    mathew7You forgot about the additional 2 chanels of RAM. Consider 4 identical modules. With LGA1155, the additional 2 modules (3 and 4) offer only additional RAM, but do not affect performance. On LGA2011, the additional 2 modules also increase memory access speed (think about a 4-lane highway vs 2-lane).


    Hey dude,

    Hate to break it to you but if you don't need all that memory bandwidth then it's like buying a Ferrari to pootle about town - at 30mph.

    Don't forget that for regular Desktop CPU stuff (web browsing, gaming, etc.) it's memory latency that counts - not bandwidth...

    CPU Architecture #101

  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 1 November 2011 22:42
    Large amounts of RAM is great for HD Video editing and even more so for the big sample libraries people who make music on their PC use (eg. NI Kontakt, Vienna Symphonic Library, Synthogy Ivory).

    It would be great if all future CPU benchmarks included the DAWbench benchmark. Especially those that feature products not targeted at gamers but at creative people.
  • 0 Hide
    mathew7 , 17 December 2011 07:13
    Quote:
    Hey dude,

    Hate to break it to you but if you don't need all that memory bandwidth then it's like buying a Ferrari to pootle about town - at 30mph.

    Don't forget that for regular Desktop CPU stuff (web browsing, gaming, etc.) it's memory latency that counts - not bandwidth...

    CPU Architecture #101

    Except that the examples you gave, even memory latency does not affect it much. It's hidden pretty good behing cache.
    But turn to compiling a big project on an SSD(like Android 4 which they say requires 16GB or RAM), and the additional 2 channels give a nice boost. Also video compression scales good with bandwidth.


    And those that have the money and go for "Extreme", those would drive a Ferrary in town at 30mph (ok, maybe 60 if traffic is light).