Intel Core i7-3960X - Sandy Bridge E Processor Review

Intel debuts its $1000+ Extreme Edition 3960X processor parroting how great it is for the gamer and enthusiast. With 6 cores and 12 threads, a new motherboard and chipset platform, and quad channel DDR3, Intel has done the impossible, given us everything we don't want, and nothing we do want.


Intel's K series of Sandy Bridge microarchitecture has grown near and dear to many of our hearts. Certainly the 2500K and 2600K processors that so many of us are using now have shown us just how great an Intel processor based system can be. This Sandy Bridge success has gotten many of us primed for today's "Sandy Bridge E" entrance into the market. On the other hand, many of us who waited patiently for AMD to bring Bulldozer to market were sadly disappointed. It has been a while since we referred to an AMD product as an "abortion," but we all know that Bulldozer is certainly fitting of that title. So with that, we have a lot of past AMD fans and current Intel fans today looking for the next great thing, and hopefully that is Intel's new Core i7-3960X processor. I hate to tell you, while it is impressive, it is hardly a product many desktop users will be positioned to purchase. And honestly, it just left me kind of meh.

Intel Inside

So what makes this new part so impressive? Probably nothing you have not already heard leaked over and over by now.

Article Image Article Image Article Image

Article Image

6 cores, 12 threads, of 32nm Sandy Bridge with a base clock of 3.3GHz and a top end Turbo speed of 3.9GHz with a healthy 15MB of shared cache. We are finally seeing a specified 1600MHz memory clock which us overclockers have been using as a base for a long time, and also back are "Pentium 4-ish" TDP ratings....of 130 watts. This $1000+ (street) processor will cost you a pretty penny also demanding along with it a new motherboard. Now most of us could care less about Intel's "Extreme Edition" processors because we all know these are extremely overpriced. Intel has been kind enough to dedicate us the K series processors which are unlocked so as not to decimate the enthusiast / DIY computer industry, and as with Sandy Bridge, Sandy Bridge E will also offer a K series processor.

The K Series

One of the most craptacular things about this review, is that Intel did NOT sample us its K series Sandy Bridge E processor. You know, the only one we give a damn about? Yeah, we know that is stupid and you might as well leave now. At least hit The Bottom Line before you leave, but I don't expect many of you to be going on a Sandy Bridge E buying spree any time soon.

Article Image

The Intel Core i7-3930K will be unlocked as expected, clocked at a 3.2GHz base clock with a 3.8GHz Turbo clock, sporting the same 6 cores and 12 threads of its bigger brother, but will carry a neutered 12MB of cache as opposed to the 15MB of the Extremely Expensive edition. Along with is huge 130 watt TDP, the 3930K will carry an Extremely Expensive price as well, with an estimated street price of $575.

Now you will notice the Core i7-3820 (4C/8T) listed above as "Partially Unlocked," but I would not sit around waiting on this processor as non-K SKUs have been fairly unexciting for the enthusiast considering how base clock speeds are nothing like the front side bus speeds of the good old days.

Also worth noting is that these processors, at least on the top end, will NOT come with any type of cooling devices in the box. Intel has sent along its own branded water cooler that is of the contained variety made famous by the likes of Corsair and Antec.

Article Image

The X79 block diagram is nothing less than impressive showing off its four channels of DDR3 memory all sporting "12.8GB/s" each. The expanded PCIe lanes are surely a benefit for those of us that know how to use those, but beyond that there is not much to get excited about.

LGA 2011 Footprint

The motherboards that support these Sandy Bridge E Processors will have an LGA 2011 socket. One thing that Intel has smartly done for a change is NOT change the footprint from the previous LGA 1366 design. The "holes" in the board for mounting, are not holes, but rather female threaded studs.

Article Image

Now this is a bit different and likely will not work with your current setup, but it is workable to a certain extent given how many LGA 1366 compatible coolers are on the market. The picture above shows you a couple of things on our ASUS Rampage IV Extreme motherboard we did the testing on. First, you can see we have attached a LGA 1366/1155/1156 water block to it. Since we do not have holes through the PCB of the motherboard, and this could always change depending on the design of the LGA 2011 socket, we took the board down to Home Depot and raided the hardware row till will found the right machine screws that would fit the female threaded studs.

You can find plenty of this hardware on Amazon and while we could not find anything longer than 25mm locally, Amazon does have some screws up to 40mm in nylon and 30mm in stainless. It would be nice to have a little screw left to put a spring on to ensure proper surface mating between the CPU and the cold plate.


There is so little to say about this new CPU that even the great and mighty Intel can only come up with 3 bullet points.

Article Image

  1. It's fast

  2. This is why it's fast

  3. And it will not work with anything you currently own