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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.

Multi-Media: Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 & HandBrake 0.9.5

With our 3D modeling and rendering tests out of the way, let’s dive right into another popular use for high-end machines: video editing and encoding. Scenarios here could include encoding a large movie into a mobile format, ripping a Blu-ray to your PC and encoding it for HTPC use, or encoding a family video you painstakingly edited.

Adobe’s Premiere Pro likely needs no introduction. It’s a tool used by the amateur and professional video content creator alike due to the extreme control it provides along with all of the important codecs, presets, filters and tweaking options. Premiere Pro can be used for any sort of video, be it real-life, animated, 3D or even game footage.

For our benchmarking, we encode two different projects with the program. The first consists of 35GB worth of game footage from Payday: The Heist, which we encode to MPEG2 Blu-ray 1080p/30. The resulting video can be seen at YouTube. The second project sees the first 30 minutes of the Blu-ray version of Shaun of the Dead encoded to MPEG2 DVD.

To ensure an encode delivers the best possible video quality, we enable the “Maximum Quality Render” on both projects, which results in nearly 100% CPU utilization on up to 12 threads (we have not tested on CPUs that have more than 12 threads up to this point).

Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5

Intel DX79SI (Siler) X79 Motherboard

The Core i7-3960X shows a fair improvement over the i7-990X here across both tests, while it proves much faster than the quad-core i7-2600K. It’s also apparent that AMD’s latest microarchitecture does not bode entirely well with the MPEG2 codec.

HandBrake 0.9.5

Premiere Pro is meant to be used as a professional tool for editing and encoding, while HandBrake acts strictly as an encoder, able to take one video format and encode it to another according to your specifications. While there are many presets available from the get-go, you’re able to customize whatever’s available, or create your own. It’s a simple tool with complex capabilities.

Here, we once again have two different projects, but both use the same source; a Blu-ray rip of Pixies: Live at the Paradise in Boston. For the first project, we encode the first 10 minutes of the concert to an archival-quality 720p MKV, while for the second, we encode the first 30 minutes using the iPhone 4 preset. The archival-quality encode is the more time-consuming of the two, but both can take full advantage of a 12 threaded processor.

HandBrake 0.9.5

Intel DX79SI (Siler) X79 Motherboard

Although Sandy Bridge-E has a much-improved architecture, the i7-990X’s beefier clock speed managed to keep it on par with the i7-3960X in our mobile test, although things begin to change when we run the more intensive 720p encode test. Compared to the i7-2600K, the i7-3960X charges far, far ahead – namely with the second encode. We can also see that while AMD’s Bulldozer chip struggled greatly with MPEG2 in our Premiere Pro testing, things are fine with H.264.


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