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Intel i7-4960X Ivy Bridge-E Review


HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Feb 26, 2007


The buzz among enthusiasts about Ivy Bridge-E has been relatively muted and there’s good reason for that. The performance differences, minor as they are, between Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge microarchitectures have been well documented since their mainstream desktop versions have been available for some time now. There’s still quite a bit to be excited about since these new Extreme CPUs are yet another step in Intel’s march towards domination.

While the i7-4960X's performance metrics may be incremental in nature, it is still quite impressive. In nearly every situation it topped the charts with the exception of a few outlier instances where applications couldn’t take advantage of all twelve threads. The highly threaded nature is particularly well suited for rendering and transcoding tasks. Plus, IPC improvements have been rolled into Ivy Bridge-E that allow for better throughput, even when its clock speeds are normalized against those of Sandy Bridge Extreme.

It is great to see a $1000 processor excelling in professional-oriented applications but enthusiasts and gamers will be a bit disheartened by its performance in games. In many cases the i7-4960X plays second fiddle to the less expensive, more efficient i7-4770K simply because Intel seems unwilling or unable to break through the 4GHz barrier on their ultra high end Extreme series SKUs. While the twelve threads offered by some Ivy Bridge Extreme processors do make a difference in some titles, most games just don’t require more than four threads, meaning the 4960X’s vast resources go to waste. This is where Haswell’s broad-ranging architectural improvements, revised memory interface and identical Turbo speeds begin to tell. A slightly higher clock speed would have done wonders here.


Platform limitations are difficult to stomach as well. X79 was a highly capable foundation upon which to build an enthusiast system…..two years ago. Now, it’s beginning to show its age. Sure you get PCI-E 3.0 -which should have been added to Sandy Bridge-E from day one- but it lacks native support for Thunderbolt, USB 3.0 is MIA and the PCH only has two, yes TWO native SATA 6Gbps ports so you can forget about large RAID arrays of SATA 6Gbps SSDs without using fickle secondary controllers. Some of the “missing” capabilities can be added with third party controllers but those come at a cost and will push new X79 motherboard revisions to even higher prices.

Luckily, the slight missteps are well balanced by the architecture’s improved power consumption and surprisingly low (at least with our sample) temperatures. These lead directly towards a reasonable, but not great, amount of overclocking headroom which will surely be explored to a greater extent by people with more exotic forms of cooling that we have access to.

The real question here for enthusiasts is whether to go with Haswell or focus on Ivy Bridge Extreme. There are positives and negatives to both approaches. While IVB-E allows for native dual x16 graphics support (quad GPU compatibility is there too) and massive memory bandwidth, it represents a platform’s twilight rather than a fresh beginning. However, in their wisdom, Intel ensured that if you want the future proofing capabilities of dual x16 PCI-E 3.0 slots, it is the only way to go.

Haswell and its Z87 platform are slightly less capable on the graphics connectivity front but require a smaller monetary investment and come equipped with expanded native storage options. With that in mind, anyone with a Gulftown system and enough cash will likely want to retain the same basic capabilities so Ivy Bridge E is highly appealing even though Haswell does make a convincing argument.

The i7-4960X isn’t a processor that’s supposed to appeal to everyone, nor does it strive to hit an optimal price / performance ratio. Rather, it is a flagship product in every sense of the word. This is Intel’s fastest chip which is targeted towards X58 and X48 users who find their system growing a bit long in the tooth and in that respect, it succeeds quite well.

Unfortunately, for all its muti-tasking appeal, gamers will likely struggle to justify the 4960X’s $650 premium over an i7-4770K. Therein lies the issue: other than the number of threads it can concurrently process, Intel just hasn’t offered enough in the way of performance improvements to distinguish Ivy Bridge-E’s platform from significantly less expensive options. As a result, enthusiasts may just bypass it in favor of Haswell.
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