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X79 Express And Another New Processor Interface

Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview
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It won’t surprise anyone that Sandy Bridge-E necessitates yet another new socket interface.

That’s four introductions in three years, if you’re keeping count. First, there was LGA 1366 for Bloomfield, and later the Gulftown design. Then, there was LGA 1156 for Lynnfield and Clarkdale. After that we saw Sandy Bridge shift to an LGA 1155 interface. And now we have LGA 2011.

Intel’s strategy is pretty clear-cut. It’s trying to carve out one path for desktop PC users and another for the SMB server and workstation folks using 1P and 2P platforms. The company just so happens to also give desktop enthusiasts a taste of that same high-end functionality, basically re-badging Xeons as Core i7s.

AMD, on the other hand, is doing everything it can to keep the desktop and server/workstation platforms separate, which is why we’ve seen a seemingly-slower progression from Socket AM2 to AM2+ to AM3 and now AM3+. Over time, the result has been superior interoperability between platforms. The thing you have to remember, though, is that realizing the potential of each new interface still requires a motherboard upgrade.

Why LGA 2011?

If you bought into LGA 1366, you didn’t step down when LGA 1156 launched, and you probably even held off on Sandy Bridge, knowing full well Sandy Bridge-E was slated for launch this year, too. In that context, a shift to LGA 2011 three years after we were first introduced to LGA 1366 is actually pretty reasonable.

A number of (obvious) changes make the transition necessary. To begin, Sandy Bridge-E does away with the three-component platform that defined Nehalem, X58, and the ICH10. Instead, northbridge functionality migrates into the CPU, leaving just the Sandy Bridge-E processor and X79 platform controller hub. Then you have a four-channel memory controller and 40 lanes of PCI Express, requiring a lot more power and signal pins.   

X79 Express: Specifications In Flux

Although we’re sure to see multiple versions of the Patsburg platform controller hub, enthusiasts only have to worry about the one that’ll become X79. The rest will be trimmed and tailored to serve the needs of workstation and server customers.

Feature
X79 Express
Processor Interface
LGA 2011
Graphics Configurations
2 x 16 and 1 x 8
1 x 16 and 3 x 8
1 x 16, 2 x 8, and 2 x 4
Overclocking Support
Processor and Memory Overclocking
USB 2.0
14
SATA2 x SATA 6 Gb/s, 4 x SATA 3 Gb/s (6 x Total)
Rapid Storage TechnologyRAID 0, 1, 5, 10
PCI Express 2.0 (5 GT/s)
8
PCI Bus
Yes
Gigabit Ethernet
Yes


As mentioned, the expectation of X79 has changed fairly dramatically since its existence was first acknowledged. It was supposed to have a dedicated four-lane storage-oriented link to the CPU, it was supposed to have a lot more storage connectivity, and it was supposed to be SAS-capable.

It looks like we’ll instead see a PCH that sports the same storage package as P67 and Z68: six total SATA ports, two of which run at 6 Gb/s data rates. SAS connectivity is no longer a feature; that’ll instead need to come from a mezzanine or add-in card. Intel also makes it clear that the x4 uplink between Patsburg and Sandy Bridge-E will not be enabled when the platform launches. Like PCI Express 3.0 support, this might become a reality at some point down the line. Upon introduction, X79 will attach to Sandy Bridge-E solely through a four-lane DMI link.

Patsburg doesn’t support USB 3.0. And now its storage block is looking a little mainstream, too. Consequently, motherboard manufacturers are going to have to use a lot of third-party controllers to get X79-based platforms feature-heavy enough to succeed beefy Z68 boards. Expect at least a handful of the PCH’s eight PCI Express 2.0 lanes to host extras.

The bottom line is that X79 ends up looking a lot like P67 Express. All of the platform’s differentiated functionality comes from the Sandy Bridge-E processor itself.

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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).