SOME OF THE MAIN expected draws at this past IDF were Intel's 'king of the hill' CPUs for desktops, servers and workstations, the Socket 2011 Sandy Bridge E/EP series.
While there are plenty of stories about a myriad of on-going interim revisions of the X79 chipset to take care of some of the I/O feature updates prior to shipment, the uniprocessor X79 desktop Socket 2011 platform seems quite ready for the expected mid-November launch. We had a chance to take a look at several running systems on the IDF show floor, and here's our overall impression.
First of all, no one seems to mind that the initial entries on the desktop side of the new socket do not enable all the eight cores present on the Sandy Bridge E/EP die. That privilege is, at the beginning, reserved for the workstation and server entries where Intel can charge far higher initial prices. So, we have, most likely, two six-core chips and one four-core model at the entry level for the initial launch.
The expected top end model, the six-core Core i7 3960X with 15MB of L3 cache, was in most of the demo systems seen at the show. Even though its clock frequency is expected to be just a notch lower than the current top end four-core 3.4GHz Sandy Bridge Core i7 2600K, or the six-core current incumbent, the Westmere-based 3.46GHz Core i7 990X, the performance is expected to be between 20 and 40 per cent higher than the Core i7 990X in most benchmarks, or 30 to 50 per cent higher than the Core i7 2600K.
So even with two cores off, the new processor delivers enough extra oomph to give upgraders a reason to open their wallets, while at the same time keeping a safe distance from the expected AMD Bulldozer offerings performance-wise. There are two other arguments in favour of the initial core shutoff on the desktop side. One is the dearth of highly threaded desktop apps that really make use of more than six cores or 12 threads right now. And then of course, the more important one for the overclockers and speed enthusiasts - the TDP of the device, with all eight cores on, seems to be well beyond 130W in the server and workstation version. So even the six-core desktop flavour will need quite powerful cooling if overclocking is considered. Having those two cores off might actually help the rest of the cores run faster, with higher overclocking potential to boot.