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Intel Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition Review
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by Rob Williams on November 28, 2011 in Intel Processors

To those looking to build the biggest, baddest high-end PC around, the wait for Sandy Bridge-E was no doubt painful. But, it’s finally here, and much to our expectations, Intel has once again solidified its position as the performance leader. So let’s take a look at what it offers, and compare it to the i7-990X, i7-2600K and AMD FX-8150.

Compile & Execution: SPEC CPU2006 1.2

SPEC’s CPU2006 is the most comprehensive benchmark in our test suite. Its goal is to test both the general execution performance of a machine and also the chosen compiler, and as such, it makes great use of all available threads across one or more CPUs along with the memory sub-system.

You might not have heard of SPEC before, and if so, it’s likely because the non-profit group creates benchmarks targeted at the enterprise rather than the desktop. The folks responsible for each one of its benchmarks take things extremely seriously, and nothing gets released without extensive review. Many companies belong to SPEC as members, offering input and other insight. Some of these include AMD, Intel, Apple, ASUS, HP, Fujitsu, IBM, Lenovo, Microsoft, NEC, NVIDIA, Novell, Red Hat, Super Micro, VMware, Dell and EMC.

The CPU2006 suite is a about as complicated to explain as it is to run. We’ve prepared what we feel to be the best possible configuration for use with the tool, and as the result of much testing, we use Intel Compiler version 12 coupled with Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 for our testing. This is one of the few current configurations that can deliver submittable results, as Intel Compiler supports the most recent C standard, C99, whereas most compilers do not (in Linux, gcc would be a good replacement).

SPEC CPU2006

While CPU2006 can take advantage of the AVX instruction set, for the sake of fairness across all current processors we opt to not use it. The ultimate reason for this decision is that while some instruction sets might be important to programmers, AVX is not one of them. Thus, using AVX could skew results and give an unrealistic impression of what a CPU can do for people in this field.

Due to its inherent design to run each test three times over, we do not run the entire CPU2006 more than once, as it would be redundant. At the same time, a full run on an Intel Core i7-2600K takes just over 13 hours to complete, so it’s not feasible to run the entire suite multiple times over.

More information on the suite and how we use it can be read about in this forum post.

Intel DX79SI (Siler) X79 Motherboard

SPEC CINT2006
Intel
AMD
Test
i7-3960X
i7-990X
i7-2600K
FX-8150
400.perlbench
31.7
26.8
31.1
23.0
401.bzip2
25.1
20.6
25.5
20.2
403.gcc
30.0
24.8
31.5
19.4
429.mcf
54.4
48.3
54.3
42.0
445.gobmk
24.2
22.7
24.1
20.1
456.hmmer
42.1
33.9
40.9
31.1
458.sjeng
30.1
27.0
29.8
20.9
462.libquantum
584
467
457
384
464.h264ref
38.7
32.8
38.1
29.8
471.omnetpp
29.3
27.0
29.8
20.4
473.astar
30.4
23.7
29.4
22.7
483.xalancbmk
38.4
31.8
35.7
21.8
SPEC CFP2006
Intel
AMD
Test
i7-3960X
i7-990X
i7-2600K
FX-8150
410.bwaves
138
91.8
93.3
84.2
416.gamess
26.8
22.2
26.6
18.3
433.milc
64.9
54.3
66.6
35.6
434.zeusmp
85.8
74.7
71.4
70.7
435.gromacs
28.3
24.3
27.8
23.2
436.cactusADM
180
165
121
129
437.leslie3d
112
75.7
69.5
56.9
444.namd
26.2
20.8
25.7
20.3
447.dealII
48.3
37.4
49.7
32.8
450.soplex
43.9
36.5
42.0
27.3
453.povray
46.0
31.7
45.1
26.5
454.calculix
36.2
30.5
36.5
29.1
459.GemsFDTD
69.8
54.8
50.7
42.9
465.tonto
22.5
19.6
22.7
17.1
470.lbm
200
151
120
128
481.wrf
59.0
50.2
57.6
40.2
482.sphinx3
58.6
46.4
55.7
34.7
Intel Core i7-3960X – 3.30GHz 6-core / 12-thread (Sandy Bridge-E)
Intel Core i7-990X – 3.40GHz 6-core / 12-thread (Gulftown)
Intel Core i7-2600K – 3.40GHz 4-core / 8-thread (Sandy Bridge)
AMD FX-8150 – 3.60GHz 8-core / 8-thread (Zambezi)

In the overall results, the i7-3960X exhibits huge gains over the i7-990X, although the delta is tightened when compared to the i7-2600K. Once again, we see proof of just how good of an architecture Sandy Bridge is compared to its predecessors and competitors. In both integer and floating-point operations, there’s just no contest of which is best.


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