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Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Intel i7 5960X vs Intel i7 4970K: Review and Comparison

Advances in cutting-edge processing technology have been minimal in recent years. AMD has concentrated resources on its APU chips, combining CPU and GPU in one, while Intel's primary focus has been on efficiency rather than increased performance. The exception that proves the rule was the release of the six-core Sandy Bridge-E processors back in 2011. Three years on, we finally have another substantial leap in CPU power: the Core i7 5960X, star of the show in the latest enthusiast line, packs eight full cores - with hyper-threading - onto one chip. Performance-wise, it is a colossus.

Haswell-E debuts on a fresh platform, based on the new Intel X99 chipset. This brings a range of modern features to the enthusiast line, including full support for PCI Express-based SSDs and the debut of next-gen DDR4 RAM. This new memory standard effectively picks up where the top-end DDR3 modules left off - speeds start at 2133MHz, with the spec ramping up to 4000MHz. For more information on DDR4 memory click here.
There's no backwards compatibility though - DDR3 modules won't fit into DDR4 slots - so those looking to upgrade won't be able to carry over the existing RAM, meaning additional expense.

All this is creating a lot of confusion in the market especially between the Gamers, as the already established and most potent four core Intel 4790K aka The Devil's Canyon is facing a new threat by its own manufacturer. So is this extra money on the chip plus the X99 motherboard and DDR4 RAM all worth it or is it just another flash in the pan, at-least for the mainstream enthusiast users? Today I'll put these two to the test and help you guys get a clear picture of the battlefield.

Whats On Paper

As you can see the table puts the two chips head to head in terms of stats, I've also included the Intel i7 5820K in the line up along with the 5960X and the 4970K due to its price and similar stats to the Devil's Canyon.
The Intel i7 5960X is clocked fairly lower both in its base clock and its Max Turbo speed to the i7 4970K which means that this processor is not significantly powerful for applications that don't need more than four cores and will work just fine on a quad core processor. Infact the latest and most demanding games don't need more than four cores to run also DDR4 memory is only of use to graphic editors and alike not to the gamers, making the 5960X not a wise choice strictly for the gaming purpose. But yes if you are into 3D rendering or Video editing soon to be on the 4K resoultion then the 5960X will definitely beat the Devil's Canyon hands down.
The higher Cache along with more cores and DDR4 memory support makes the Intel 5960X a monstrous chip with some very serious processing power.
Over-clocking the Intel i7 5960X is fairly easy than the Intel i7 4970K simply because its X99 motherboard comes with some premium features like the inclusion of a 'ReTry' switch for easy access to the BIOS in the event of a failed overclock (without wiping your settings) but as the processor is already at 140W TDP tests have shown that it will easily go upto an alarming 240W at 65 degrees even on a liquid cooled setup! This is not the case with the Intel i7 4970K which can be over-clocked to a higher frequency at a fairly low power consumption and temperature readings. So for the over-clockers its a big no.

The Tests

Single-thread performance at stock clock-speeds - as rated by CineBench - is pegged with the stock clocked i7 4970K due to lower clock speeds. Certain benchmarks also see an overclocked 4970K draw rather close to the stock 5960X. However, tests that aggressively target multiple cores see impressive boosts. Intel isn't making any specific claims about gaming performance - instead it is asking us to consider the 5960X as the ultimate workstation chip on a consumer-level platform. The more extreme the workload - the firm cites working with 4K video as a key example - the faster the result overall. You can see why in the x264 test above. Even at stock speeds, the processor runs away from the competition. At the 4.4GHz overclock, we are effectively matching the quad-core Devil's Canyon point-for-point but with twice as many cores, resulting in an 87 per cent improvement in performance. At stock speeds, that advantage diminishes to just 52 per cent - not a million miles away from what we could reasonably expect an overclocked four-core Haswell chip to achieve.

The Games


What's clear is that if you are looking to run one of the new Haswell-E processors with a single GPU, you're almost certainly wasting your time. Our existing CPU tests proved wholly inadequate for testing what this processor was truly capable of. Our typical approach is to run key titles at max settings at 720p, without utilising multi-sampling anti-aliasing. The idea is to make the CPU carry out all the work required in preparing an ultra-level scene, but reduce the GPU burden and attempt to remove it as a bottleneck. 

Our testing with the 5960X demonstrates that even the fastest single-chip GPU - the GTX 780 Ti - is still the bottleneck here. Results on an overclocked 5960X are very, very similar to the stock Devil's Canyon 4790K. More pertinent than the meaningless frames-per-second results we got were our observations on CPU utilisation, found below. The 5960X laughs in the face of every gaming workload we could throw at it, tweaking the nose of habitual CPU-manglers like Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4.
So are the Haswell-E chips really of limited use for gamers? The utilisation stats suggest that cutting-edge titles push Devil's Canyon close to its limits, and that a six-core upgrade could yield dividends in future, certainly if you're running two (or more) high-end graphics cards in parallel - though the DirectX 12 era could see a diminishing need for ultra high-end horsepower. Regardless, the enthusiast line has already found favour with gamers looking to live-stream while they play. Dedicated Twitch streamers love the way that tools like Open Broadcaster Software in conjunction with a capture card allow them to get much better results in terms of picture quality using CPU-powered encoding with x264, compared to hardware-based encoders.

The Verdict

The Core i7 5960X requires users to migrate onto a new platform, but delivers well over two-thirds of the performance at 40 per cent of the cost. That's not to say that the new Extreme Edition is cheap - this is a thousand dollar CPU - but based on the kind of scaling we're seeing compared to Devil's Canyon, Intel is clearly delivering the kind of performance we would expect from an eight-core processor.
By extension, the Haswell-E six-core processors especially the 5820K should be a great performer too, there's potentially excellent value there. The only downside is the X99 chipset's DDR4 support - of course, it's great to introduce cutting-edge RAM, but it's currently very, very expensive compared to DDR3, and that eliminates much of the saving the 5820K represents.
There will always be people out there who want that additional level of performance and perhaps those enthusiasts were underwhelmed by the iterative improvements found since the arrival of the six-core Sandy Bridge-E back in 2011 or the AMD FX 8350 octa core processors. The introduction of a native eight-core part clearly addresses that while at the same time returning a level of prestige to the Extreme Edition brand. Intel's first eight-core processor may well be beyond the finances of most gamers, but the moves made across the Haswell-E are generally welcome, and once DDR4 prices stabilise, we suspect that the six-core 5820K could well provide the price-to-performance ratio that makes sense.


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