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After three long years of going hungry with quad-cores, red meat is finally back on the menu for enthusiasts. And not just any gamey slab full of gristle with shared cores, either. With its new eight-core Haswell-E CPU, Intel may have served up the most mouth-watering, beautifully seared piece of red meat in a long time.
And it’s a good thing, too, because enthusiast’s stomachs have been growling. Devil’s Canyon? That puny quad-core was just an appetizer. And that dual-core highly overclockable Pentium K CPU? It’s the mint you grab on your way out of the steak house.
No, what enthusiasts have craved and wanted ever since Intel’s original clock-blocking job on the original Sandy Bridge-E was a true, overclockable enthusiast chip with eight cores. So if you’re ready for a belt loosening, belly full of enthusiast-level prime rib, pass the horse radish, get that damned salad off our table, and read on to see if Intel’s Haswell-E is everything we hoped it would be.
Meet the Haswell-E parts
Despite its name, the LGA2011-v3 socket is not same as the older LGA2011 socket. Fortunately, the cooling offsets are exactly the same, so almost all older coolers and accessories should work just fine.
Though they look the same, LGA2011’s socket has arms that are actually arranged differently than the new LGA2011-v3 that replaces it. And no, you can’t drop a newer Haswell-E into this socket and make it work.
The first consumer Intel eight-core arrives at last
Being a card-carrying member of the PC enthusiast class is not an easy path to follow. Sure, you get the most cores and priciest parts, but it also means you get to wait a hell of a long time in between CPU upgrades. And with Intel’s cadence the last few years, it also means you get the leftovers. It’s been that way ever since Intel went with its two-socket strategy with the original LGA1366/LGA1156. Those who picked the big-boy socket and stuck to their guns on Pure PC performance always got the shaft.
The original Ivy Bridge in LGA1156 socket, for example, hit the streets in April of 2012. As a reward for having the more efficient and faster CPU, Intel rewarded the small-socket crowd with its Haswell in June of 2013. It wasn’t until September of 2013 that big-boy socket users finally got Ivy Bridge-E for their LGA2011s. But with Haswell already out and tearing up the benchmarks, who the hell cared?
Well, that time has come with Haswell-E, Intel’s first replacement for the aging LGA2011 platform since 2011. This time though, Intel isn’t just shuffling new parts into its old stack. For the first since the original Pentium 4 Extreme Edition, paying the price premium actually nets you more: namely, the company’s first consumer eight-core CPU.
Meet the T-Rex of consumer CPUs: The Core i7-5960X
We were actually a little leery of Haswell when it first launched last year. It was, after all, a chip seemingly tuned for the increasingly mobile/laptoppy world we were told was our post PC-apocalyptic future. Despite this, we recognized the chip as the CPU to have for new system builders. Clock for clock, its 22nm process, tri-gate transistors put everything else to shame—even the six-core Core i7-3930K chip in many tasks. So it’s no surprise that when Intel took a quad-core Haswell, put it in the Xerox machine, and hit the copy x2 button , we’d be ecstatic. Eight cores are decidedly better than six cores or four cores when you need them.
The cores don’t come without a cost though, and we don’t mean the usual painful price Intel asks for its highest-end CPUs. It’s no secret that more cores means more heat, which means lower clock speeds. That’s one of the rationales Intel used with the original six-core Core i7-3960X. Although sold as a six-core, the original Sandy Bridge-E was built using an eight-core die on which Intel had permanently switched off two cores. Intel said it wanted to balance the needs of the many versus the needs of the few—that is, by turning off two of the cores, the part could hit higher clock speeds. Indeed, the Core i7-3960X had a base clock of 3.3GHz and Turbo Boost of 3.9GHz, and most could overclock it to 5GHz. The same chip packaged as a Xeon with all eight cores working—the Xeon E5-2687W—was locked down at 3.1GHz and mostly buzzed along at 3.4GHz.
With the new Core i7-5960X—the only eight-core of the bunch—the chip starts at a seemingly pedestrian 3GHz with a Turbo Boost of one core up to 3.5GHz. Those subsonic clock speeds won’t impress against the Core i7-4790K, which starts at 4GHz. You’ll find more on how well Haswell-E performs against Haswell in our performance section, but that’s the price to be paid, apparently, to get a chip with this many cores under the heat spreader. Regarding thermals, in fact, Intel has increased the TDP rating to 140 watts versus 130 watts of Ivy Bridge-E and Sandy Bridge-E.
If the low clocks annoy you, the good news is the part is fully unlocked, so the use of overclocking has been approved. For our test units, we had very early hardware and tight deadlines, so we didn’t get very far with our overclocking efforts. Talking with vendors, however, most seem very pleased with the clock speeds they were seeing. One vendor told us overclocks of all cores at 4.5GHz was already obtainable and newer microcode updates were expected to improve that. With even the vaunted Devil’s Canyon Core i7-4790K topping out at 4.7GHz to 4.8GHz, a 4.5GHz is actually a healthy overclock for an eight-core CPU.
When you dive down into the actual cores though, much is the same, of course. It’s based on a 22nm process. It has “3D” tri-gate transistors and integrated voltage regulation. Oh, and it’s also the first CPU to feature an integrated DDR4 memory controller.
Click the next page to read about DDR4