Intel Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition Processor Review (Part 1)

3/21/2013 4:31:23 PM

Intel Core i7-3960X used to be the most responsive microprocessor for high-performance desktop systems in 2011. But it’s time for it to step back: Intel released Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition. Though the new product had no difference with its predessesor, we decided to bring it to the feature-detailed and performance benchmarks in our lab.

Computer enthusiasts, who prefer traditional desktop systems to the new fancy utilities and mobile computers, may have felt pretty forgotten lately. Desktop microprocessors are gradually stepping back into secondary positions for AMD and Intel, while the companies’ preferential efforts are targeted towards application of the existing solutions for all pocket systems, such as micro-servers, nettops, ultrathin notebooks, tablets and smartphones. High performance isn’t the final goal for the new generations of microarchitectures until now, with low power consumption and functional integrated graphics becoming the major determinative factors.

Intel Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition Processor

Intel Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition Processor

In this situation, new desktop microprocessors started to pop out less frequently, and their performance development slowed down remarkably. Moreover, there are some rumors that Intel wants to make a bold move against the untouchable feature - the possibility to upgrade by replacing the CPU in the mainboard. Does this mean the low dead of desktops? I don’t think so: high-performance computers will always be necessary, especially because many users are eager to pay for such kind of high performance. We can imagine that Intel want to introduce fully integrated, non-upgradable platforms in the lower price segment, but the potential enthusiast systems will still stay in their current form for a very long time.

Take the leading desktop LGA 2011 platform as an example. It has no competitors; AMD has left this niche for interest for a long time. Still, Intel continues to zelously support the existing infrastructure and not only for the reasons of company’s reputation. There are also likely some efficient financial reasons here. On one side, the development of desktop LGA 2011 systems doesn’t require big investments: this desktop platform has the same united design as server and workstation solutions. On the other hand, all of these devices are considered high-end products with high revenue margins.

Intel is clearly interested in continuing with LGA 2011. This platform doesn’t just exist but develops fast. For instance, they continuously launch new microprocessors for it and not only when the new microarchitecture pops out. Even mothermoard systems cannot renew the programs frequently in a self-conceited way like these days, LGA 2011 has everything. They purposefully maintain the same traditional system of values, requiring the manufacturer to show love for their users from time to time.

One of the innovations like that is the reason for this review. Intel decided to honor their enthusiastic fans of the high-performance systems and launched a new LGA 2011 micromicroprocessor - Core i7-3970X Extreme Edition that replaces the previous top CPU - Core i7-3960X, which stayed in this leading place throughout a year. However, the new Core i7-3970X was launched by a very old-fashioned manner, because in fact it is nothing different than a legally overclocked previous CPU model. This “new” CPU has not only the same core microarchitecture and manufacturing process, but also the same microprocessor modified vision of the semiconductor die. In fact, there is no way to really increase the frequency capability of this microprocessor that is why higher clock speed leads to higher heat dissipation and higher TDP. However, the major target group for this type of products, which typically use high-tech cooling solutions, will hardly be upset about it. They will be much more excited about a different aspect: how big a performance enhancement will be and how much better the new microprocessor will overclock. So, we will try to answer these questions to the extent of our ability in this review.

Approach Core i7-3970X

Because the new Core i7-3970X microprocessor is built on the same semiconductor die as the previous top LGA 2011 six-core CPU, it is fairly easy to describe the new microprocessor in just a few short paragraphs. In fact, we are working with a legally overclocked Core i7-3960X, which clock frequency on-behalf has increased from 3.3 GHz to 3.5 GHz, and the frequency in Turbo mode - from 3.9 GHz to 4.0 GHz. Besides the frequencies, the heat dissipation features have also changed: the thermal cover of the new Core i7-3970X is set at 150 W, while the predecessor product had a TDP of only 130 W. There’s only 1 difference between the old and the new top LGA 2011 microprocessors. As before, the CPU is based on a 32 nm Sandy Bridge-E microprocessor die with six computing cores, a giant 15 MB L3 cache and quad-channel memory controller. Besides, it also supports Hyper-Threading that lets Core i7-3970X process up to 12 streams at the same time.

The table below summarizes everything for your convenience:

Core i7-3960X’s and Core i7-3970X’s technical specs

Core i7-3960X’s and Core i7-3970X’s technical specs

Although there are very few differences in the technical specs of Core i7-3960X and Core i7-3970X, Intel could make a few lower-level changes, but they chose not to do that. Just like the predecessor product, the new Core i7-3970X uses C2 microprocessor springboard with eight computing cores, both of which are disabled. You can easily see that from the predicted utilities reports:

The new Core i7-3970X uses uses C2 processor springboard with eight cores.

The new Core i7-3970X uses uses C2 microprocessor springboard with eight cores.

I would like to remind you that the signature feature of C2 microprocessor springboard is the operational CT-d technology, which was disabled in the first LGA 2011 microprocessors because of some implementation errors. This is exactly why they then renewed the core design a. So far, there has been no other core springboard for Sandy Bridge-E microprocessors, so we can’t really expect any expectation from the Core i7-3970X.

The increase of heat dissipation is nothing to be surprised.

The increase of heat dissipation is nothing to be surprised.

Even the increase in the heat dissipation is nothing to surprise. Intel has already used this card in their symmetrical Xeon E5 lines, so they chose the time-tested route for the inovation of their desktop microprocessor program. In the server CPU lines Intel increass the TDP index of the top eight-core Xeon E5-2687W microprocessor. However, they believe that the desktop Core i7 don’t deserve to have 8 cores. Therefore, in our case, it is simply the increases clock frequency.

The increase in the max TDP limits hardly changes anything for the top desktop LGA 2011 systems. The mainboards voltage regulator circuitries and LGA 2011 cooling systems have been designed for overclocking purposes from the start. Therefore, Core i7-3970X is fully compatible even with the first-generation devices, with only one exception, which is Intel’s own RTS2011AC air cooler, which was highly recommended with LGA 2011 microprocessors. In other words, the new Intel microprocessor should have no compatibility issues.

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