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Intel Sandy Bridge Extreme Core i7 3960X Review



Testing the Intel Core i7 3960X Sandy Bridge Extreme will involve running it and its comparison products through OCC's test suite of benchmarks, which include both synthetic benchmarks and real-world applications, to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also consist of both synthetic benchmarks and actual game play, in which we can see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition, in addition to the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 6970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages and latencies – unless otherwise stated. Turbo Boost is disabled on all processors to make a fair comparison without skewing the results.


Testing Setup: Intel Core i7 Socket 2011


Testing Setup: AMD AM3+


Testing Setup: Intel Core i5/i7 Socket 1155


Testing Setup: Intel Core i7 Socket 1366



Comparison CPUs:



Overclocked settings:

  • Processor:  Intel Core i7 3960X 4728MHz, 127.8 x 37


If you have had the chance to overclock any of Intel's Sandy Bridge processors, then you know what to expect with the i7 3960X, to a point. There is one more wrinkle to work out that the 2600K and 2500K do not have — the ability to move up to a 125x+ or 166x+ bclock using what Intel is calling gear ratios. This new gear ratio allows the bclock and performance to scale up much higher than possible by adjusting the bclock alone. By changing the "strap", you can take advantage of the higher memory bandwidth and clock speed. The 125MHz bclock strap should be achievable by the majority of processors, while finding one that runs the 166MHz strap is a rare find from what I have been told. This processor does the 125MHz gear ratio and then some with close to a 3MHz upside over and above the strap. If you stick with the tried and true method for overclocking a Sandy Bridge architecture processor, then you can up the multiplier and voltages as needed to reach the core clock speed you are looking for. Tweaking the straps opens up some different memory speeds as long as the memory controller can handle it. Memory speeds above 2200MHz were easy with this CPU and should be a hallmark of this architecture. 16GB at 2218MHz with the default 1.65v on the DIMMs with a boost in vccsa voltage to 1.05v was all it took. Memory speeds will be dependent on the margins built into the modules and the strength of the memory controller. Any which way I cut it, 4.73GHz was about the best I could pull from the DX79SI using all the tools in the BIOS. 4.8GHz using the default 100MHz bclock was possible, but ended up not being stable enough with the vcore required to run the number. An easy way to overclock on Intel's DX79SI is the Overclocking Assistant in the BIOS. This tool lets you choose a specific clock speed and then apply and reboot the system for an almost no-fuss overclock.



If overclocking is not in your future, Intel's Turbo Boost 2 technology is used to boost the speed of the processor under differing load conditions. Low load situations with one or two cores active will see a boost of up to 600MHz over the base clock speeds of 3300MHz, or a total of 3900MHz. With all cores active you can expect a boost of up to 300MHz for a total of 3600MHz when fully loaded. Each of these scenarios offers a nice boost in clock speed with really no effort, as the default settings in the BIOS are enabled allowing the end user the ability to overclock without really overclocking. Intel does it for you.


Intel Extreme Tuning Utility:

Just about every motherboard manufacturer (CPU and motherboard manufacturer in this case) has its own overclocking utility, all with varying levels of functionality and usability. Intel offers its own Extreme Tuning Utility (XTU) as a way to monitor and tweak your system. There are several functional areas in the utility. The manual tuning and stress test functions are most likely to be used by the enthusiast. Under Profiles you can save a profile much like you can in the BIOS for an easy way to change the performance characteristics of the combo within the operating system.





Maximum Core Clock Speed:

Each CPU has been tested for stability at the overclocked speeds listed. These clock speeds will represent the overclocked scores in the testing.




  • Scientific & Data:
  1. Apophysis
  2. WinRAR
  3. Geekbench 2.1
  4. Office 2007 Excel Number Crunch
  5. POV-Ray 3.7
  6. Bibble 5
  7. Sandra 2011
  8. AIDA64 1.85
  9. ProShow Gold
  10. HandBrake .9.5
  11. ScienceMark 2.02
  12. Cinebench 10 & 11.5
  13. HD Tune 4.60
  • Video:
  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Civilization V
  3. Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  4. 3DMark 11

  1. Introduction & Closer Look
  2. Closer Look: DX79SI
  3. Closer Look: Intel RTS2011LC Liquid Cooling solution
  4. Specifications & Features
  5. Testing: Setup & Overclocking
  6. Testing: Apophysis, WinRar, GeekBench, Bibble 5
  7. Testing: Office 2007, POV-Ray, ProShow Gold, HandBrake
  8. Testing: SiSoft Sandra 2011, AIDA 64
  9. Testing: Sciencemark, Cinebench, HD Tune, PCMark 7
  10. Testing: Aliens vs. Predator
  11. Testing: Civilization V
  12. Testing: Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  13. Testing: 3DMark 11
  14. Upcoming Reviews
  15. Conclusion
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