Intel Sandy Bridge Extreme and X79 Chipset Launch – Core i7-3960X Processor Review
Along with the new Core i7-3960X CPU, and other members of the Sandy Bridge-E family, comes a new PCH from Intel, now known as X79. This of course replaces the X58 found on Socket 1366 systems and the key specifications are of course quad channel memory support along with PCIe configurations of 2×16+1×8 or 1×16+3×8 or 1×16 + 2×8 and 2×4. 14 USB 2.0 ports are supported as are HD audio, GBLAN and Rapid Storage Technology. Intel has also expanded their overclocking support as we shall see shortly.
Looking specifically at Intel’s "reference" X79 board we see that they have gone for a similar skull logo to past products and the box flips open to reveal some product information. Our review sample arrived with the essential SLI bridges and IO shield (as well as the retail bundled mouse pad) but consumers can expect the full selection of extras including driver CDs, uv reactive drive cables, bluetooth module and the manuals.
The DX79SI is as standard ATX board using a black PCB and blue/black components. Probably the first item we should look at however is the new CPU socket which has a new closure mechanism. This time round we place the CPU in the socket, and then an arm swings down on each side of the clamp, locking the processor very firmly in place. (The arms must be closed/opened in the order Intel specify on the socket diagram.)
Down at the bottom left of this board we find the add-in card slots and this time round Intel have gone for a PCIe 16x, PCIe 1x, PCIe 16x, PCI, PCIe 8x, PCIe 1x configuration. The debug LED is also in this location as is a USB 3.0 front panel header and accompanying Renesas controller.
Over at the right we have our SATA ports which on this board are split into 2x SATA 3.0 and 4x SATA 2.0.
Surrounding the CPU we find the two sets of four memory slots which are split into a quad channel architecture and Intel state that we can install up to 64GB of memory here with speeds in excess of 2000MHz also supported. (Memory installed in the blue slots first). For CPU compatibility the DX79SI will accept any of the 2011 chips released today, including the fastest i7-3960X. Also worth noting is that the DX79SI uses the standard 24/8-pin power sockets so will work with existing PSUs without issue.
Round at the back panel we have two USB 3.0 ports (Renesas), six USB 2.0, Firewire, Dual Intel GB LAN and our 3.5mm and optical audio connectors which are 7.1 capable and are based on Realtek technology. A switch to send us into a BIOS safe mode is also present.
BIOS and Software
Intel has decided against a GUI based BIOS for the DX79SI and instead sticks with a traditional version which looks very similar to their other boards. This means that we get a nice, clear, easy to navigate BIOS and the key feature for this board is Overclocking Assistant. Found in the performance section it allows us to quickly and simply choose processor speed (up to 4.6GHz) and memory speed, in excess of 2000MHz. Further adding to the ease of use which Intel products give us is their BIOS update process. We can start off an update from Windows and let the tool update or enter the flash process from the POST screen, selecting our file on a USB drive for another quick and simple update method.
For those who don’t want to tweak and overclock within the BIOS Intel provide the Extreme Tuning Utility which allows us to configure the system to our performance needs. The main configuration screen is shown below.
On our test bench today is the Biostar Hi-Fi Z97WE which looks to deliver many of the features of the competition such as enhanced audio and M.2. support but at a more aggressive price point.
Last month Intel launched their Z97 chipset, essentially an evolution of Z87, which in many cases brought new features such as SATA Express and M.2 compatibility to the mainstream desktop market. There was of course no new CPU at that time with the existing socket 1150 processors working without issue in the new boards. Since then though Intel launched (along with some lower spec models) the Core i7-4790K, a model which sits at the top of their mainstream platform. Today we see how it compares to various other models when installed on Gigabytes Z97X Gaming 5 and paired with PowerColors new dual core 290X Devil 13.
Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming G1 WiFi-BK vs. MSI Z97 Gaming 5 vs Asus Maximus VII Hero It is probably fair to say that Intel don't stealth launch their products... sure they have NDAs but by the time those expire we know pretty much everything about a new product. Part of this is of their own...