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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.

Mathematics: Sandra 2011 Arithmetic, Multi-Media & Cryptography

SiSoftware’s Sandra is a piece of software that needs no introduction. It’s been around as long as the Internet, and has long provided both diagnostic and benchmarking features to its users. The folks who develop Sandra take things very seriously, and are often the first ones to add support to the program long before consumers can even get their hands on the product.

As a synthetic tool, Sandra can give us the best possible look at the top-end performance from the hardware it can benchmark, which is the reason we use it to test much of our PC’s hardware. The fact that a free version exists so that you can also benchmark against our results is something we greatly appreciate.

The more threads a CPU has coupled with its frequency and architecture refinements, the faster it should be able to calculate complex math. We’re not talking about simple math that can be done on a calculator, but rather advanced calculation that is often used behind the scenes. Sandra’s Arithmetic test stresses the popular Dhrystone integer and Whetstone floating-point algorithms that have acted as a base for a countless number of benchmarks dating back as far back as the 70s.

SiSoftware Sandra 2011 SP5

Intel DX79SI (Siler) X79 Motherboard

The results seen here are about as expected as can be, with the i7-3960X once again proving to be about 50% faster compared to the i7-2600K. Compared to the i7-990X, the differences are still stark, despite having the same number of cores.

Sandra Multi-Media

One of the best reasons for upgrading or building a new PC is to increase the performance for multi-media work, whether it be editing or encoding. As we saw earlier in our results, faster CPUs can save minutes or even hours of time. To test such capabilities here, Sandra renders the famous Mandelbrot set in a total of 255 iterations and in 32 colors.

This is a test that’s been around for close to forever, but it still scales extremely well with thread counts and can benefit from new media-centric instruction sets, including AVX. As such, we benchmark both with AVX enabled and then disabled, as not all of the CPUs we test with are equipped with it.

Intel DX79SI (Siler) X79 Motherboard

Intel DX79SI (Siler) X79 Motherboard

AVX in its current iteration primarily enhances floating-point performance, and that could not be made more clear here with the i7-3960X proving 83% faster when using AVX. Similar advantages can be seen for double-precision performance. All-in-all, expected scaling all-around, with a kick-to-the-face realization that AVX can in fact drastically improve performance in some cases.

Sandra Cryptography

You might not be aware of it, but cryptography plays a major role in computing. With some algorithms proving more complex than the others, having a faster processor can dramatically improve performance – especially important on the server front. In Sandra’s benchmark, the mega-popular AES and SHA algorithms are computed, both with 256-bit key sizes.

Intel DX79SI (Siler) X79 Motherboard

Both of these algorithms scale extremely well with frequency and thread count, so it’s of little surprise to see the i7-3960X safely top our graph. At the same time, it’s also evident that AMD’s performance with both algorithms leaves a lot to be desired.


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