Since the initial reviews were published, Intel’s Ivy Bridge-E has received its fair share of negative press. To many the price was simply too high and the platform lacked convincing features that would differentiate it from what Intel is offering with Haswell. Many of those conclusions were based on reviews of the 4960X and we’ll be the first to say that the i7-4820K and i7-4930K have softened our opinion somewhat.
That 4960X may be targeted at a very specific market which few can afford to buy into but the i7-4930K makes it look particularly overpriced. Intel’s $550, 12-core processor offers literally 96% of its sibling’s performance at a fraction of the cost and can overclock to potentially higher levels. If you are looking to throw a ton of processing power at a multi-threaded application, this is an excellent companion, though still quite expensive.
The i7-4820K provides an interesting counterpoint to the two costly 12-core models and it is actually the CPU we would recommend for someone upgrading from a four core, eight thread i7-900 series processor. It provides excellent out of box performance, particularly in gaming where its high clock speeds allow for framerates on par with the 4930K. It does however struggle to differentiate itself from the i7-3820 and fails to compete on a level footing with the i7-4770K in many instances.
Ever since Ivy Bridge-E’s day one reviews, everyone has been talking about the i7-4820K versus i7-4770K battle. Which one should someone buy? That really depends on how you approach the perspective of value in higher end CPUs. On one hand the 4820K can (at least in our tests) theoretically overclock to a higher level, costs $10 less, is granted huge memory bandwidth from its quad channel layout and uses a platform that includes two full speed x16 PCI-E 3.0 slots. However, the i7-4770K has its own set of strengths like lower power consumption, IPC enhancements that provide a significantly better out-of-box experience and motherboards that feature native support for the latest connectivity technologies rather than using a mish-mash of third party controllers.
With Ivy Bridge-E, it feels like Intel has very much adhered to their old hope that multi-thread processing would become a reality, thereby overcoming the need to boost clock speeds. Unfortunately, that way of thinking is a thing of the past. The multicore revolution didn’t happen nor will it happen anytime soon. Rather, in many respects, highly threaded applications just moved to more capable GPUs, essentially leaving Intel’s Extreme Editions looking flat footed and outclassed by Haswell CPUs that cost less and use a more capable platform. From DirectCompute to OpenCL to CUDA to QuickSync, leveraging a GPU’s resources is simply more efficient than throwing information to and from the x86 cores. Intel has realized this which is why they are pouring resources into their integrated graphics unit. There will always be a market for CPUs with the capability to process 12 threads or more but gamers and other enthusiasts would be much better served with slightly less cores alongside higher clock speeds.
This situation leaves us with a simple question: are the i7-4930K and i7-4820K really worth buying right now? We’d like to think so. The i7-4930K is an excellent all-round processor that won’t cause buyer’s remorse like the 4960X likely will. Plus, there’s always going to be something intrinsically compelling about having one of the best processors money can buy without spending a thousand bucks.
The i7-4820K on the other hand is the star of Intel’s Ivy Bridge lineup for budget-focused users. Most examples should be able to overclock extremely well and it can easily keep up with the i7-4930K in games. So, while it may be tied at the hip to a slightly inferior platform from a connectivity standpoint and looses to an i7-4770K in a bone stock comparison, we’d recommend the i7-4820K for gamers who want to build a new system around a solid, adaptable and overclockable core. The only problem here is making the jump to this relatively inexpensive IVB-E chip means participating in a game of Russian roulette: if you don’t get a decent overclocker, the i7-4770K will ultimately be a much better value. The question is whether or not you're willing to bet $310 on a that outcome.