Mark Walton

Whether or not the Core i9-7960X was at all times a part of Intel’s plans for the high-end desktop (HEDT), or whether or not it was haphazardly rushed to market to fight AMD’s bullish Threadripper platform, one factor is evident: Intel as soon as once more has the quickest slice of silicon in the marketplace. With 16 cores and 32 threads, matching AMD’s flagship Threadripper 1950X, the i9-7960X is an unashamedly over-the-top processor that breaks benchmarking information and powers by heavy manufacturing duties.

However a processor is greater than its uncooked quantity crunching prowess. Threadripper raised the bar for HEDT with the wealthy, consumer-friendly X399 platform, which presents a full set of options with out spurious lockouts. Extra importantly, AMD does not cost by the nostril for it. The Threadripper 1950X options 16C/32T and prices £950/$1,000. Intel’s Core i9-7900X presents simply 10C/20T for a similar value. Aside from gaming, the 1950X is a way more highly effective processor.

Sadly, regardless of the robust competitors, Intel is not but prepared to compete on value. The i9-7960X prices a whopping $1,700/£1,700—and whereas it is likely to be sooner, it actually is not £700 sooner. That is to not point out that Intel continues to use a weak thermal materials to mount its CPU warmth spreaders, as a substitute of the superior solder that AMD makes use of. It makes the i9-7960X a bear of a chip to overclock and noisy at inventory with out struggling severe thermal points.

In the end, the i9-7960X raises the identical query because the i9-7900X: Are you prepared to pay for the most effective performing silicon in the marketplace? Or is Threadripper, which presents a lot of the efficiency at a fraction of the value, adequate?

Skylake-X Redux

Intel’s X299 platform, to which the i9-7960X belongs, launched with extra of a whimper than a bang. The CPU vary, which begins with the questionably helpful £240, quad-core i5-7640X and is topped by the $2000, 18C/36T i9-7980XE, is a confused mess of various CPU architectures and platform options.

The most affordable quad-core i5-7640X and i7-7740X chips (the latter of which does at the very least embody hyper-threading), solely characteristic 16 PCIe lanes and dual-channel reminiscence, because of being primarily based on the the identical mainstream Kaby Lake structure because the 7700Okay and 7600Okay. Much more costly eight-core chips just like the i7-7820X solely characteristic 28 PCIe lanes.

Specs at a look
Intel Core i9-7980XE
Intel Core i9-7960X
Intel Core i9-7940X
Intel Core i9-7920X
Intel Core i9-7900X
Intel Core i7-7820X
Intel Core i7-7800X
Intel Core i7-7740X
Intel Core i5-7640X
Structure
Skylake-X
Skylake-X
Skylake-X
Skylake-X
Skylake-X
Skylake-X
Skylake-X
Kaby Lake-X
Kaby Lake-X
Cores/Threads
18/36
16/32
14/28
12/24
10/20
eight/16
6/12
four/eight
four/four
Base Clock
2.6GHz
2.8GHz
three.1GHz
2.9GHz
three.3GHz
three.6GHz
three.5GHz
four.3GHz
four.0GHz
Turbo Increase 2.zero
four.2GHz
four.2GHz
four.3GHz
four.3GHz
four.3GHz
four.3GHz
four.0GHz
four.5GHz
four.2GHz
Turbo Increase three.zero
four.4GHz
four.4GHz
four.4GHz
four.4GHz
four.5GHz
four.5GHz
N/A
N/A
N/A
All Core Clock Pace
three.4GHz
three.6GHz
three.8GHz
three.8GHz
four.0GHz
four.0GHz
four.0GHz
four.5GHz
four.0GHz
L3 Cache
24.75MB
22MB
19.25MB
16.5MB
13.75MB
11MB
eight.25MB
8MB
6MB
PCIe Lanes
44
44
44
44
44
28
28
16
16
Reminiscence Help
Quad Channel DDR4-2666
Quad Channel DDR4-2666
Quad Channel DDR4-2666
Quad Channel DDR4-2666
Quad Channel DDR4-2666
Quad Channel DDR4-2666
Quad Channel DDR4-2666
Twin Channel DDR4-2666
Twin Channel DDR4-2666
TDP
165W
165W
165W
140W
140W
140W
140W
112W
112W
US Worth
$2000
$1700
$1400
$1200
$1000
$599
$389
$339
$242
UK Worth
~£1950
~£1650
~£1350
£1078
£900
£550
£360
£315
£240

This is not an issue for the i9-7960X, which options the total complement of 44 PCIe lanes (and may thus make the most of the X299 platform’s multitude of reminiscence slots, PCIe slots, and I/O). However even that may’t match the 60 provided by AMD’s Threadripper, which permits for some severe three- and four-way graphics card setups with room to spare for PCIe NVMe storage. You even get the total complement of 60 PCIe lanes on the £500/$550 8C/16T 1900X.

Nonetheless, 44 PCIe lanes stays a considerable uplift over the paltry 16 provided by Kaby Lake. There’s additionally official help for quad-channel DDR4-2666 reminiscence (with most motherboards providing help for larger speeds as much as 4000MHz), and naturally each X299 CPU is unlocked for overclocking. Not like Threadripper, nonetheless, ECC help stays a Xeon-only characteristic.

The place the i9-7960X differs from Intel’s cheaper X299 chips is with its hefty 165W TDP, and decrease clock speeds. That further 20W over the 10C/20T i9-7900X won’t sound like a lot, however it makes a considerable distinction to energy consumption and warmth, notably when overclocking.

Enlarge / Left to proper: Broadwell-E, Skylake-X, Kaby Lake-X, Skylake.

Mark Walton

In the meantime, i9-7960X’s base clock of two.8GHz is decrease than different X299 chips (bar the i9-7980XE), as is the all-core increase, which reaches simply three.6GHz. AMD’s Threadripper struggles to get a lot previous that when all 16 cores are underneath load, too, however it’s notable that Intel does not have a clock pace benefit over AMD, at the very least with out overclocking.

Intel Turbo Increase Max three.zero returns to assist choose up the tempo when fewer cores are wanted. Turbo Increase Max three.zero picks out two favoured cores—these deemed to have the most effective thermal and voltage traits—and makes use of them to hurry up single-threaded workloads by round 100MHz to 200MHz (the same strategy is taken by AMD’s XFR increase). Not like with Broadwell-E, help for Intel Turbo Increase Max three.zero is baked into Home windows 10, negating the necessity to manually obtain drivers.

Enlarge / Intel fees for sure VROC options.

Mark Walton

It is also price noting that Intel’s Digital Raid On CPU (VROC) characteristic—which lets you hyperlink a number of M.2 NVMe SSDs in a bootable digital RAID both by way of on-board M.2 slots, or by way of an enlargement card—stays locked to RAID zero out of the field. These eager to run different forms of RAID have to purcahse a small VROC dongle for round £100/$100, which sits in its personal slot on the motherboard.

Whereas the marketplace for such a setup is small, that you must pay additional for it on an already costly platform is value gouging of the best order. Threadripper did not help bootable NVMe RAID at launch, however an replace that allows RAID zero, 1, and 10 for as much as 10 drives is now availiable. Better of all, it is free.

MCM or monolithic?

Just like the i9-7900X earlier than it, the i9-7960X relies on the identical 14nm FinFET Skylake-SP structure of Intel’s Xeon server and workstation chips, which characteristic a brand new AVX-512 instruction set (up from 256-bit-wide AVX) and a brand new cache hierarchy. Intel has additionally dramatically redesigned the way in which every core exchanges knowledge with one other, introducing a mesh topology.

I will not get into all the small print of the tech right here (try the i9-7900X evaluation for a deeper dive), however in contrast with the outdated ring bus methodology of exchanging knowledge between every CPU core, the mesh topology guarantees to be rather more environment friendly. The facet impact is that some multithreaded software program optimised for a hoop bus could carry out barely slower on Skylake-X, however these functions are few and much between.

Enlarge / Threadripper’s MCM design leads to an enormous CPU.

Mark Walton

What’s extra attention-grabbing is how Intel has used this mesh topology to assemble its multicore CPUs in comparison with AMD. Intel makes use of its mesh topology to create a single, monolithic die that incorporates all 16 cores. Theoretically, since all of the cores are on the identical die—and since Intel can run the mesh at a stable clock pace, no matter reminiscence timings—knowledge exchanged between every core is fast and constant.

The downside is scalability. The extra cores Intel crams right into a single die, the bigger it turns into, the extra pricey it’s to supply, and the warmer it will get. Against this, AMD has opted for a multichip module (MCM) design for Threadripper. Theadripper is actually two eight-core Ryzen dies (which are literally simply two four-core dies) thrust collectively onto the identical CPU bundle, and linked collectively by way of AMD’s Infinity Cloth tech.

Whereas Infinity Cloth does depend on quick DDR4 reminiscence clocks to operate at its greatest, the advantage of the MCM design is that it’s miles simpler to scale to extra cores (Epyc, the server CPU Threadripper relies on, options 32 cores) whereas sustaining affordable thermals and clock speeds. Threadripper does not run cool by any means. However the i7-7820X takes warmth, and energy consumption, to worrying new heights.

Itemizing picture by Mark Walton

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