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Intel's new Core i7 Extreme Edition series: Gaming power for those who can afford it

Mark Hachman | Sept. 4, 2013
Surprise! Intel's most powerful CPU isn't based on its new Haswell architecture. Meet the Ivy Bridge-E series.

The X79 chipset that the LGA 2011 infrastructure supports includes 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes—enough to support several high-end graphics cards (using Nvidia's SLI or AMD's CrossFire X technology). That capability combined with a high-end CPU and lots of fast memory can make for one ferocious system.

DIYers will be able to buy Intel's new chip through retail channels, and a number of boutique PC builders—including CyberPower, Digital Storm, Falcon Northwest, and Origin—will offer custom rigs based on the new chips.

Speeds and feeds
Intel has launched three Ivy Bridge-E chips: The four-core/eight thread, 3.7GHz Core i7-4820K is priced at $310. The six-core/twelve-thread, 3.4GHz Core i7-4930K will cost $555. And the six-core/twelve-thread, 3.6GHz Core i7-4960X will go for $990.

Each of Intel's Extreme Edition chips is an "unlocked" processor, so there are no hardware limitations for overclocking your chip (that is, making its clock run at a higher rate than stock in order to gain higher performance). In fact, these chips are designed to be overclocked. Sites such as publicize the accomplishments of enthusiasts who have pushed their CPUs to 5GHz and beyond, often relying on exotic cooling systems to avoid overheating. But before you consider joining their ranks, be aware that overclocking can put your entire computer at risk, and damage from overclocking is usually not covered by manufacturers' warranties. I'll go into more depth on overclocking shortly.

As you can see from the chart above, the new Extreme Edition processors have much higher thermal design power (TDP) than chips in the Haswell family, even though they don't have integrated GPUs as Haswell processors do. Also, unlike Haswell processors sold in retail packaging, Ivy Bridge-E chips will lack a stock cooling system. To that end, Intel is introducing its own Liquid Cooling TS13X kit—a water block, radiator, and 120mm fan—to be sold separately for between $85 and $100. Third-party air- and liquid-cooling systems from vendors such as Antec, Corsair, and Thermaltake will also be available.

The existing X79 chipset that the Core i7-4960X relies on supports up to four channels of DDR3/1866MHz memory. In addition to the forty PCIe 3.0 lanes plumbed directly to the CPU, the X79 chipset provides eight PCIe 2.0 lanes, plus input/output architecture that includes fourteen USB 2.0 ports, six SATA ports (two of which are 6-gbps SATA ("SATA 6 Gbit/s"), eSATA, gigabit ethernet, Intel's first-generation AVX instructions, and AES encryption acceleration.

As noted earlier, Intel's own comparisons between the new Core i7-4960X and the older i7-4770K show that the new CPU delivers a 36 percent boost in graphics, and a 37 percent boost in 3D modeling. Intel says that "everyday computing" tasks will run about 18 percent slower on the Core i7-4960X than on the Core i7-4770K (the unlocked Haswell CPU) because the newer chip lacks integrated graphics. But no one buying an Extreme Edition processor is likely to be concerned about that deficiency.


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