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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.

Test Systems & Benchmarking Methodologies

At Techgage, we strive to make sure our results are as accurate as possible. Our testing is rigorous and time-consuming, but we feel the effort is worth it. In an attempt to leave no question unanswered, this page contains not only our testbed specifications, but also a detailed look at how we conduct our testing.

If there is a bit of information that we’ve omitted, or you wish to offer thoughts or suggest changes, please feel free to shoot us an e-mail or post in our forums.

Test Systems

The tables below list all of the hardware we use in our current CPU-testing machines.

Component
AMD AM3+ Test Machine
Processors AMD FX-8150 – Octal-Core, 3.6GHz (Turbo: 4.2GHz), 8MB L3
Motherboard ASUS Crosshair Formula (0903 BIOS)
Memory Kingston HyperX Genesis DDR3-2133 C9 4x2GB
Run at DDR3-1600 8-8-8-24 1.65v
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6850 (Catalyst 11.9)
Audio On-Board Audio
Storage Corsair Force F160 160GB SSD (OS)
Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD (Projects)
Power Supply Corsair HX1000W
Chassis Corsair 700D Full-Tower
Display Gateway XHD3000 30″
Run at 1680×1050
Cooling Corsair Hydra H80 Liquid Cooler
Et cetera Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Component
Intel X79 Test Machine
Processors Intel Core i7-3960X – Hexa-Core, 3.3GHz (Turbo: 3.9GHz), 15MB L3
Motherboard Intel DX79SI (0280B BIOS)
Memory Kingston HyperX Genesis DDR3-1600 C9 4x4GB
Run at DDR3-1600 9-9-9-27 1.65v
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6850 (Catalyst 11.9)
Audio On-Board Audio
Storage Corsair Force F160 160GB SSD (OS)
Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD (Projects)
Power Supply Corsair HX1000W
Chassis Corsair 700D Full-Tower
Display Gateway XHD3000 30″
Run at 1680×1050
Cooling Corsair Hydra H80 Liquid Cooler
Et cetera Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Component
Intel X58 Test Machine
Processors Intel Core i7-990X – Hexa-Core, 3.46GHz (Turbo: 3.73GHz), 12MB
Motherboard GIGABYTE G1.Sniper (F4B BIOS)
Memory Kingston HyperX Genesis DDR3-2133 C9 6x2GB
Run at DDR3-1600 8-8-8-24 1.65v
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6850 (Catalyst 11.9)
Audio On-Board Audio
Storage Corsair Force F160 160GB SSD (OS)
Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD (Projects)
Power Supply Corsair HX1000W
Chassis Corsair 700D Full-Tower
Display Gateway XHD3000 30″
Run at 1680×1050
Cooling Corsair Hydra H80 Liquid Cooler
Et cetera Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Component
Intel Z68 Test Machine
Processors Intel Core i7-2600K – Quad-Core, 3.40GHz (Turbo: 3.80GHz), 8MB
Motherboard GIGABYTE Z68XP-UD5 (F5 BIOS)
Memory Kingston HyperX Genesis DDR3-2133 C9 4x2GB
Run at DDR3-1600 8-8-8-24 1.65v
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6850 (Catalyst 11.9)
Audio On-Board Audio
Storage Corsair Force F160 160GB SSD (OS)
Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD (Projects)
Power Supply Corsair HX1000W
Chassis Corsair 700D Full-Tower
Display Gateway XHD3000 30″
Run at 1680×1050
Cooling Corsair Hydra H80 Liquid Cooler
Et cetera Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit

When preparing our testbeds for any type of performance testing, we follow these guidelines:

    General Guidelines

  • BIOS or EFI is up-to-date with latest version (could include a beta).
  • CPU power options are left default in the motherboard’s BIOS or EFI.
  • Internet is disabled.
  • No virus scanner or firewall is installed.
  • The OS is kept clean.
  • Machine has proper airflow and the room temperature is 80°F (27°C) or less.

To aide in the goal of achieving accurate and repeatable results, we stop certain services in Windows 7 from starting up at boot. This is due to the fact that these services have the tendency to start up in the background without notice, potentially causing inaccurate test results. For example, disabling “Windows Search” turns off the OS’ indexing which can at random times utilize the hard drive and memory.

The most important services we disable are:

  • Windows Defender
  • Windows Error Reporting Service
  • Windows Event Log
  • Windows Firewall
  • Windows Search
  • Windows Update

The full list of Windows services we assure are disabled is large, but for those interested in perusing it, look here. Most of the services we disable are mild, but we go to such an extent to have the PC as highly optimized as possible.

To ease the tedium of setting up an OS for a round of benchmarking, we rely on Acronis True Image Home 2012 to restore an install that we previously setup. These images include most of our benchmarks, a minimal number of drivers (LAN, graphics), an up-to-date OS and all of our above-mentioned tweaks. Due to their complicated activation schemes, we do not include Autodesk products in these images, but instead install them after our OS is restored and all other testing is completed. We create a total of two OS images; one for AMD, and one for Intel.

Real-World & Synthetic Benchmarks

To help us deliver a well-rounded set of test results for each processor we evaluate, we use a variety of real-world applications and synthetic benchmarks.

Our current test suite consists of:

    Real-World

  • 7-zip
  • Autodesk 3ds Max 2011
  • Autodesk 3ds Max 2011 (SPECapc 3ds Max 2011)
  • Autodesk Maya 2010 (SPECapc Maya 2009)
  • Adobe Lightroom 3.5
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5
  • dBpoweramp R14
  • HandBrake 0.9.5
  • SPEC CPU2006
    Synthetic

  • 7-Zip (Built-in benchmark)
  • Cinebench R11.5
  • Futuremark PCMark 7
  • Futuremark 3DMark 11
  • POV-Ray 3.70
  • Sandra 2011 SP5
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization V
Techgage Processor Test Suite Desktop
Wallpaper Credit: Jason Benjamin (Perfect Hue)

Most tests are run twice over with the results averaged. If there is an unnatural variance between the first two runs, then we continue to run the test until we receive a result we believe to be accurate.


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