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Intel Haswell-E i7 5960X Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Gaming Benchmarks

Gaming Benchmarks


In the past we looked at gaming benchmarks through slightly rose colored glasses by utilizing two basic resolutions: 720P and 1080P. Due to Haswell-E’s targeting of enthusiasts who want to push their systems to extreme lengths, we upped the ante this time around and moved on to 1440P. With the advent of 4K into more affordable price points, many are predicting 1440P monitors will soon become as popular as their 1080P counterparts. Whether or not that comes to pass remains to be seen.

At 1440P with every single possible detail setting at its highest value, the GPU will likely take precedence over the processor unless a game truly supports multi threaded performance optimizations. However, with these things being said, we feel this will give you an accurate idea of how the i7-5960X stacks up against the competition in a critical metric. We are using a GTX 780 Ti for these comparisons.

Another addition here is Futuremark’s newest iteration of 3DMark.

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We may as well discuss 3DMark right away. This program once again puts the onus on the GPU but it also gives higher marks to higher core count processors which is slightly erroneous. As can be seen by the actual in-game results, clock speeds have more to do with in-game performance than core count.

Speaking of clock speeds, they are what ultimately leaves the i7-5960X flat footed. Intel’s latest CPU just can’t compete with their own Haswell chips and Z97 motherboards when using a single GPU and this will likely carry over into multi GPU domains as well. The current crop of games doesn’t take advantage of more than six concurrent threads so most of the i7-5960X’s potential goes to waste.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
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Gaming Benchmarks (pg.2)

Gaming Benchmarks (pg.2)


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Here we see more of the same with the I7-5960X not being able to break into the upper half of the charts. This is disappointing but wholly expected given the clock speeds its running at.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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Joined
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Messages
12,841
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Gaming Benchmarks (pg.3)

Gaming Benchmarks (pg.3)


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Many of you will likely be looking at these results and shaking your head in disbelief and we can’t blame you. When it comes to gaming the i7-5960X trails many other lower-priced alternatives and nearly matches the performance of AMD’s FX-9590. The reason for this is simple: most games still use between two and four threads with some titles like Thief accessing up to seven concurrent threads but in no way does this benefit the 16-thread i7-5960X against higher end Ivy Bridge-E CPUs, let alone Haswell and Devil’s Canyon. While a CPU like the i7-4790K is able to consistently hit between 4.2GHz and 4.3GHz in these situations, the Haswell-E part finds itself puttering along at 3.2GHz with infrequent boosts to 3.4GHz. That 1GHz gap is impossible to overcome.

Even against IVB-E processors, Intel’s new $1000 CPU lags behind since its architectural improvements just can’t compensate for lower clock speeds. Performance looks better than the drubbing it takes at the hands of Haswell / Devil’s Canyon but we just can’t consider this a gaming performance upgrade over the previous generation. Not yet at least.

With all of that being said, the perceptual difference in framerates is virtually nonexistent between these processors since much of the bottleneck comes from the graphics card. Overclocking will change this situation drastically but the i7-5960X isn’t the only CPU in these charts that has headroom built into its architecture. If anything, when overclocking is factored into this equation Devil’s Canyon could pull even further ahead.

Not all is lost though. The X99 platform is still immature so there’s certainly room to grow for video driver compatibility and via BIOS updates. Also, we can’t forget that Microsoft has promised better multi thread utilization for DX12 and beyond. While that won’t mean immediate benefits for the i7-5960X and there’s no way of knowing just how deep those API optimizations will run, there’s still some hope its position will change at some point.

Another important factor that needs to be taken into account is multi GPU performance. Currently the i7-5960X and i7-5930K are the only Haswell processors that will allow for full speed x16 / x16 Crossfire and SLI while the Z97 platform is relegated to x8 / x8. Luckily, there isn’t a single card on the market right now that can completely saturate eight PCI-E 3.0 lanes but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future. If that situation ever comes to pass, Haswell-E will be the only solution on the market for ultra high end multi GPU systems.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
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System Power Consumption / Temperature Results

System Power Consumption


Our power consumption numbers are broken down into two categories: one which simply stresses all of the CPU cores with WPrime and another which puts a high amount of load on both the CPU cores and the IGP. The latter will only be included if a given processor includes a dedicated internal graphics sub-processor.

For the CPU power consumption test, we use the standard testing system (with an NVIDIA GTX 670 installed) and wait until the system and discrete GPU are at idle speeds in order to log the idle power consumption. After this, WPrime 1024M is looped for 15 minutes while the power consumption is logged with a calibrated power meter to determine the peak watts.

Please note that after extensive testing, we have found that simply plugging in a power meter to a wall outlet or UPS will NOT give you accurate power consumption numbers due to slight changes in the input voltage. Thus we use a Tripp-Lite 1800W line conditioner between the 120V outlet and the power meter.


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The i7-5960X is the most power hungry Intel processor of this generation but despite an additional two cores, our sample didn't require all that much more power than an i7-4960X. Some of this efficiency has been inherited from the 22nm Haswell architecture while the rest is derived through much lower clock speeds. However, we can also see the effect of moving from a four core layout to eight cores; power requirements increase by around 60% under full CPU load.


Temperature Results


Using a scripted loop of WPrime we let the processor run at maximum load for 15 minutes to achieve a peak temperature result. Note that for cooling we used a Notcua NH-U14S alongside two NF-A15 fans running at 1200RPM.

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Temperatures have always been a concern with Intel’s 22nm processors simply because so many transistors are stacked together in a confined space. The i7-5960X hit 75°C which is a slight increase over the 71°C achieved with Intel’s 4960X in the exact same situation. Although we are still waiting for word from Intel, we are under the impression that - like Devil’s Canyon - Haswell-E uses the advanced Next Generation Polymer Thermal Interface Material and lower clock speeds which is likely why the results are comparable despite the extra cores and cache. Editor's Note: We just got confirmation from Intel that Haswell-E uses a soldered TIM, which is even better than the NGPTMI found on Devil's Canyon. This is great news.
 
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SKYMTL

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Overclocking Results

Overclocking Results


And now the part you've all been waiting for. You might want to go grab a cold drink and maybe crank up the air conditioning, because you are going to need all the cooling help you can get with Haswell-E. If you have any experience overclocking a Haswell LGA1150 processor you know that those can get exceedingly hot when you starting increasing the voltage to the level (1.25-1.30V) needed to get a very respectable overclock. One of the problems is that it's very hard to cool the tiny Haswell die, there is just not enough surface area to disperse all that heat.

These new enthusiast Haswell-E processors have a die that is more than twice the size of the mainstream parts, but don't expect any miracles...or improvements at all. With twice the number of cores, two and a half times the amount of L3 cache, and a 140W TDP - which is about 60% higher than a Core i7-4790K and the highest TDP that we have ever seen from Intel - these are like little fireballs when overvolted. As you will see below, if you plan to overclock you will need to be mindful when selecting your cooling solution for Haswell-E.


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Now the above screenshot serves two purposes. One is demonstrate just how hot our i7-5690X ran at 1.30V when running Prime 95. We were cooling it (or trying anyways...) with a Corsair Hydro H80, which is a capable CPU cooler by any measure and is even better than Intel's recommended TS13X liquid cooler. Clearly, at this voltage level - and with this type of load - you are going to need either a much larger all-in-one liquid cooler like the Hydro H110 Extreme, a real water cooling setup with at least a 280mm radiator, or a high-end air cooler with two high RPM fans.

The obvious suggestion would be to just lower the voltage, but we couldn't while retaining any stability in Prime 95 or similar stress tests at this frequency. When we cut back on the voltage to 1.20V, the highest stable frequency was about 4.1Ghz. So this overclock was actually voltage limited, not temperature limited - though obviously we weren't too keen on continuously running our new chip in the 90°C range.

As a result, we decided to push Prime 95 to the wayside and stress test using benchmarks that put a more realistic load on the processor. Those who need iron-clad stability can still seek it out, but for everyone else who runs regular programs and the latest games, why not extract as much performance as possible while avoiding the thermal runaway that we are seeing above. You can see the results of that below.


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As you can see, by using less intensive stress tests we were able to extract another 200Mhz from the processor. However, the real bonus is that temperatures never even reached the 70°C mark. Furthermore, as long as we weren't running Prime 95, LinX, or IntelBurnTest, stability was never an issue. None of this excuses the fact that the i7-5960X is potentially a hot as hell processor, but at least you can look forward to a decent overclock without burning a whole through your case.

Those of you who are interested in this platform - but don't want to spend $999 on the Extreme model - will be glad to know that the K parts are easier to overclock due having two less cores. They natively put out less heat, so you can use higher voltages in order to hit even higher frequencies. We don't have any of these K parts on hand, but a reliable third-party less us know that you can expect an easy 100-200MHz bump over the flagship octo-core model.


Click on image to enlarge


At least as exciting as the first true eight-core consumer processor is the arrival of DDR4. Whereas Haswell-E will come and go, DDR4 memory kits will be with us for years to come. Although Haswell-E has default memory clocks of DDR4-2133, we know that Intel is always exceedingly conservative when it comes to the capabilities on their memory controllers and they always stick to JEDEC specifications. Thankfully, memory manufacturers don't have to. To see what this new memory standard was capable of, we swapped out the solid 32GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2666 15-17-17-35 memory kit for an even more impressive 16GB G.Skill RipJaws 4 DDR4-3000 15-15-15-35 kit. We enabled the XMP Profile and the system booted up without issue. Clearly, DDR4-3000 is a piece of cake on this platform, assuming you have capable memory modules. Higher speeds will absolutely be possible, we will be demonstrating that in futures reviews since we only had the memory voltage set to 1.20V, and it's considered safe to go up to 1.35V on this platform.

As you might have noticed, we also overclocked the Uncore/Cache frequency from its stock 3000MHz all the way up to 4375Mhz. Reports are that 4600Mhz is very attainable as well, but you ideally want your Uncore frequency to match your CPU core frequency, so we weren't quite able to test that out with our particular sample.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
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Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Conclusion

Conclusion


Intel’s Haswell-E i7 5960X is a massively powerful processor and a fitting successor to the i7 4960X. It is fast, capable of tearing through multi-threaded workloads and doesn’t consume copious amounts of power. This is the Haswell architecture at its finest and alongside an X99 motherboard, enthusiasts and power users finally have a platform that can equal the capabilities of Z97.

From a raw performance standpoint the i7-5960X will serve up wildly differing results depending on how it is being used. Since it has more cores but lower frequencies than its predecessor, we see Haswell-E jump out to a massive lead in multi-threaded benchmarks but it gets trounced by other Haswell CPUs when its 16 threads aren’t fully engaged. Thankfully the Haswell architecture’s IPC uplift does allow this $999 processor to compete quite well against the 4960X despite its frequency delinquency but certainly not in every situation. With that being said, the i7 5960X simply thrives in multi-task environments and will allow power users to accomplish quite a bit more in parallel workflows. We were able to play Battlefield 4 without any slowdowns while using another 8 threads for video rendering in Premier Pro, which goes to highlight this platform’s defining strength.

As with all new platforms there are a few teething pains here as well. Graphics card drivers aren’t quite optimized yet which causes sub-par performance in both games and synthetic gaming benchmarks. Naturally, some of the comparisons against Intel’s own i7 4960X won’t be favorable for the i7 5960X anyways since the current crop of DX11 games just can’t take advantage of its massively multi-threaded strengths. According to Microsoft DX12 could change that equation quite dramatically but only time will tell if developers have a willingness to look beyond what’s offered by consoles.

Speaking of games, unless you absolutely need the incredible 16 threads being offered here or want to run three or more graphics cards at full x16 speeds, Z97 should be the platform of choice. Sure, those 40 native PCI-E lanes may come in handy for anyone running multiple PCI-E SSDs and quadruple ultra-high end next generation GPUs but even after optimizations the i7 5960X’s framerates will get manhandled by the i7-4790K due to a nearly 1GHz frequency shortfall.

And where is AMD in all of this? They’re usually not even in the same ballpark but the FX-9590 did keep relatively close when the onus was put upon the GPU rather than pure x86 performance. However, the industry is in a sad state when our charts are absolutely dominated by three generations of Intel offerings.

One thing folks certainly won’t be happy about is the i7 5820K’s 28-lane PCI-E configuration. This was obviously done to protect the 4770K and 4790K but on a supposedly enthusiast-oriented platform, not being able to run two GPUs at x16 / x16 on a $400 processor just feels like a slap in the face.

The Haswell-E HEDT (High End Desktop) platform itself is a lesson in excess, with a feature list that finally offers the items enthusiasts were hoping for in X79. The X99 PCH includes native support for SATA 6Gbps, SATA Express and USB 3.0, all of which were possible on X79 but only though third party controllers. Intel’s onboard RAID solution has also been updated which is great news for everyone who complained of poor support on previous chipsets. However, other than the quantity being offered, nothing is particularly unique here since all of these features are already available on Z97. Ironically, we also see why some of these interface improvements weren’t rolled into X79; there would have been very little reason for enthusiasts to make the switch to X99.

Overclocking the i7 5960K follows along the same lines as other Intel 22nm processors; provided its sharply focused temperatures can be tamed, hitting 4.4GHz shouldn’t be a problem at reasonable voltages while points above that can be achieved on high end water cooling. That’s quite an impressive amount of overhead considering this CPU runs at 3.0GHz by default but it also reflects what most people were able to achieve on IVB-E, if not slightly lower.

Theoretically memory bandwidth on Haswell-E will be leaps and bounds better than Ivy Bridge-E but due to the relative immaturity of DDR4 modules, latency will be a hurdle for the time being. In addition, the premium associated with DDR4 modules (16GB of 2133MHz memory should go for around $275) will ultimately drive up Haswell-E’s upgrade cost since you older memory isn’t compatible. Forward progress sometimes has sacrifices and in this case, DDR3 was collateral damage.

With the move to 22nm 3D transistors Intel may have caused overall higher temperatures due to elevated transistor density but the Haswell architecture has been able to achieve some impressive power consumption numbers. Haswell-E is no different in this regard. The i7 5960X may have two more cores but its real-world power consumption is nearly equal to Intel’s i7 4960X.

Evaluating whether or not a thousand dollar processor like the i7 5960X is right for you really boils down to perspective. For photo / video editors who need a robust CPU or anyone who wants to run multiple highly demanding tasks in parallel, this is a perfect platform without the associated costs of Intel’s upcoming Haswell-EP. As with most new architectures, it will take a while before drivers, BIOSes and other key elements mature but those are hurdles many early adopters are willing to contend with if it means getting the highest performance around.

Unfortunately the i7 5960X doesn’t demolish lower end alternatives in every conceivable test quite yet, but it isn’t meant to be something for everyone. Intel should be applauded for bringing this to market during a time when so many others are forsaking the enthusiast segment. Plus, there are two other perfectly capable, less expensive processors in this lineup that are literally begging for attention. Within a few months Haswell-E will likely become the de facto processor of choice for both enthusiasts and professionals alike, though right now most gamers may want to look at Devil’s Canyon.


 
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