Intel Core i7-3960X (Sandy Bridge-E) And X79 Platform Preview

Interesting to see a major site in hardware-land post actual numbers on SB-E. The conspiracy theorist in me says Intel allowed performance numbers to leak to anticipate AMD's Bulldozer launch.

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.

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 $1000 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.

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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