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High-end enthusiasts finally get the chipset they want, sort of
Intel overcompensated in SATA on X99 but oddly left SATA Express on the cutting-room floor.
You know what we won’t miss? The X79 chipset. No offense to X79 owners, while the Core i7-4960X can stick around for a few more months, X79 can take its under-spec’ed butt out of our establishment. Think we’re being too harsh? We don’t.
X79 has no native USB 3.0 support. And its SATA 6Gb/s ports? Only two. It almost reads like a feature set from the last decade to us. Fortunately, in a move we wholly endorse, Intel has gone hog wild in over-compensating for the weaknesses of X79.
X99 has eight USB 2.0 ports and six USB 3.0 ports baked into the peripheral controller hub in it. For SATA 6Gb/s, Intel adds 10 ports to X99. Yes, 10 ports of SATA 6Gb/s. That gazongo number of SATA ports, however, is balanced out by two glaring omission in X99: no official SATA Express or M.2 support that came with Z97. Intel didn’t say why it left off SATA Express or M.2 in the chipset, but it did say motherboard vendors were free to implement it using techniques they gleaned from doing it on Z97 motherboards. If we had to hazard a guess, we’d say Intel’s conservative nature led it to leave the feature off the chipset, as the company is a stickler for testing new interfaces before adding official support. At this point, SATA Express has been a no-show. After all, motherboards with SATA Express became available in May with Z97, yet we still have not seen any native SATA Express drives. We expect most motherboard vendors to simply add it through discrete controllers; even our early board sample had a SATA Express port.
One potential weakness of X99 is Intel’s use of the DMI 2.0. That offers roughly 2.5GB/s of transfer speed between the CPU and the south bridge or PCH, but with the board hanging 10 SATA devices, USB 3.0, Gigabit Ethernet, and 8 PCIe Gen 2.0 lanes off that link, there is the potential for massive congestion—but only in a worst-case scenario. You’d really have to a boat load of hardware lit up and sending and receiving data at once to cause the DMI 2.0 to bottleneck. Besides, Intel says, you can just hang the device off the plentiful PCIe Gen 3.0 from the CPU.
That does bring up our last point on X99: the PCIe lanes. As we mentioned earlier, there will be some confusion over the PCIe lane configuration on systems with Core i7-5820K parts. With only 28 lanes of PCIe lanes available from that one chip, there’s concern that whole slots on the motherboard will be turned off. That won’t happen, Intel says. Instead, if you go with the low-rent ride, you simply lose bandwidth. Take an X99 mobo and plug in the Core i7-5930K and you get two slots at x16 PCIe, and one x8 slot. Remove that CPU and install the Core i7-5820K, and the slots will now be configured as one x16, one x8 and one x4. It’s still more bandwidth than you can get from a normal LGA1150-based Core i7-4770K but it will be confusing nonetheless. We expect motherboard vendors to sort it out for their customers, though.
Haswell-E does bring one more interesting PCIe configuration though: the ability to run five graphics cards in the PCIe slots at x8 speeds. Intel didn’t comment on the reasons for the option but there only a few apparent reasons. The first is mining configurations where miners are already running six GPUs. Mining, however, doesn’t seem to need the bandwidth a x8 slot would provide. The other possibility is a five-way graphics card configuration being planned by Nvidia or AMD. At this point it’s just conjecture, but one thing we know is that X99 is a welcome upgrade. Good riddance X79.
How many cores do you really need?
It is indeed a glorious thing to see a task manager with this many threads, but not everyone needs them.
Like the great technology philosopher Sir Mix-A-Lot said, we like big cores and we cannot lie. We want as many cores as legally available. But we recognize that not everyone rolls as hard as we do with a posse of threads. With Intel’s first eight-core CPU, consumers can now pick from two cores all the way to eight on the Intel side of the aisle—and then there’s Hyper-Threading to confuse you even more. So, how many cores do you need? We’ll give you the quick-and-dirty lowdown.
Normally, we’d completely skip dual-cores without Hyper-Threading because the parts tend to be the very bottom end of the pool Celerons. Our asterisk is the new Intel Pentium G3258 Anniversary Edition, or “Pentium K,” which is a real hoot of a chip. It easily overclocks and is dead cheap. It’s not the fastest in content creation by a long shot, but if we were building an ultra-budget gaming rig and needed to steal from the CPU budget for a faster GPU, we’d recommend this one. Otherwise, we see dual-cores as purely ultra-budget parts today.
Two cores with Hyper-Threading
For your parents who need a reliable, solid PC without overclocking (you really don’t want to explain how to back down the core voltage in the BIOS to grandma, do you?), the dual-core Core i3 parts fulfill the needs of most people who only do content creation on occasion. Hyper-Threading adds value in multi-threaded and multi-tasking tasks. You can almost think of these chips with Hyper-Threading as three-core CPUs.
For anyone who does content creation such as video editing, encoding, or even photo editing with newer applications, a quad-core is usually our recommended part. Newer game consoles are also expected to push min specs for newer games to quad-cores or more as well, so for most people who carry an Enthusiast badge, a quad-core part is the place to start.
Four cores with Hyper-Threading
Hyper-Threading got a bad name early on from the Pentium 4 and existing software that actually saw it reduce performance when turned on. Those days are long behind us though, and Hyper-Threading offers a nice performance boost with its virtual cores. How much? A 3.5GHz Core i7 quad-core with Hyper-Threading generally offers the same performance on multi-threaded tasks as a Core i5 running at 4.5GHz. The Hyper-Threading helps with content creation and we’d say, if content creation is 30 percent or less of your time, this is the place to be and really the best fit for 90 percent of enthusiasts.
Six cores with Hyper-Threading
Once you pass the quad-core mark, you are moving pixels professionally in video editing, 3D modeling, or other tasks that necessitate the costs of a six-core chip or more. We still think that for 90 percent of folks, a four-core CPU is plenty, but if losing time rendering a video costs you money (or you’re just ADD), pay for a six-core or more CPU. How do you decide if you need six or eight cores? Read on.
Eight cores with Hyper-Threading
We recognize that not everyone needs an eight-core processor. In fact, one way to save cash is to buy the midrange six-core chip instead, but if time is money, an eight-core chip will pay for itself. For example, the eight-core Haswell-E is about 45 percent faster than the four-core Core i7-4790K chip. If your render job is three hours, that’s more time working on other paying projects. The gap gets smaller between the six-core and the eight-core of course, so it’s very much about how much your time is worth or how short your attention span is. But just to give you an idea, the 3.3GHz Core i7-5960X is about 20 percent faster than the Core i7-4960X running at 4GHz.
Click the next page to see how Haswell-E stacks up against Intel's other top CPUs.