It would be fair to say that in terms of raw CPU performance in the high end of the market Intel hasn’t had much to worry about in recent times. Their X79/i7 based builds have offered fantastic results for those who work in multi-threaded applications and the competition hasn’t had anything to challenge with. This has allowed Intel to focus on tweaking their mainstream parts (and those below them) to offer performance and features which they hope will sway consumers to their brand. Over time though it has become harder and harder to recommend X79 to consumers as it lacks key features, many of them storage related, which other platforms offer. Today that changes with the launch of the Intel Core i7-5960X, the accompanying X99 chipset with support for m.2 as well as SATA Express and thrown in for good measure on the new socket 2011-3 boards is DDR4 compatibility.
This is our review of the Intel Core i7-5960X and we will be running it on one of Gigabytes latest X99 boards along with some of Corsairs DDR4-2800MHz, 16GB of it to be exact.
The Intel Core i7-5960X
We mentioned above that the new boards use Socket 2011-3 and before we talk about the CPU itself, a couple of images above show you what to expect. 2011-3 looks almost identical to 2011 (X79) and the good news is that existing coolers which fit the original socket will fit this new revision, keeping in mind we need to watch TDP limits on coolers for our CPU. 2011 socket CPUs don’t fit in this revision though, they are keyed differently to stop this from happening.
Shown above is the 140w Intel Core i7-5960X and in many ways it follows a similar external design to other Intel CPUs, that said the very edge of the plate on top of the processor has had a tweak to the edges on the longer dimension. Flipping the CPU over we see the socket 2011-3 layout and in terms of the base design we have a 22nm Haswell family chip, just like the latest i7 CPUs on Z97/1155. Of course the specifications have been changed significantly on this high end/enthusiast model with the i7-5960X featuring 8cores and 16threads, thats double what we find on the fastest mainstream parts, such as the i7-4790K. Cache levels are set to 32Kb of L1 data and instruction per core, 8x256KB of L2 and 20MB of shared L3 cache. The Intel Core i7-5960X runs at 3.0GHz as standard with turbo functionality peaking at 3.5GHz.
Intel are also launching two CPUs with 6 core configurations, the i7-5930K (3.5-3.7GHz) and i7-5820K (3.3-3.6GHz), both with 15mb of L3 cache and slightly tweaked PCIe lane support to the i7-5960X’s 2×16+1×8 default configuration.
So those are the key points for the Intel Core i7-5960X, what about the X99 chipset and appropriate motherboard?
Gigabyte X99-Gaming 5
The first X99 based board we are looking at using our Intel Core i7-5960X is the Gigabyte X99-Gaming 5. Part of the Ultra Durable and G1 Gaming ranges it sits around the mid to high point of their product stack for X99. It arrives in a box with familiar packing style which offers us plenty of information on the back. Inside we find a I/O shield (LED enhanced) and added to that we get SLI brackets for 2 to 4 way SLI along with 8-Pin CPU cable, SATA cables, product documentation and a software CD which includes Norton.
The Gigabyte X99-Gaming 5, shown above with the Intel Core i7-5960X installed, is a standard ATX board and like their enthusiast focused Z97 boards it uses a black PCB with red flashes…and plenty of LEDs. What do Gigabyte offer to help the X99 Gaming 5 stand out? Well there are some nice little touches like a wider area of space around the screw holes to minimise any screwdriver accidents and support for Thunderbolt add-in cards. Then we move in to the more familiar Gigabyte area of 30u Gold Plated CPU socket, seprate PCB layers for left and right audio and noise guard/gold plated sheilding on the audio portion of the board. Speaking of that area, we get upgradable op-amp (TI Burr Brown OPA2134) Sound Core3D 7.1 processing and Nichicon High-End Audio Capacitors. Keeping with the high end components Gigabyte also install server level chokes (Cooper Bussmann), Durablack solid capacitors, Gen4 IR Digital power controller and Gen3 PowIRstage.
Looking down to the bottom left of the X99-Gaming 5 we find a PCIe slot layout which runs from PCIe 16x through 1x, 16x, 1x, 8x, 1x to a final 8x slot. Then squeezed in between the second 16x slot and the first 8x slot we find two m.2 connectors. One takes SSDs, the other Wi-Fi. The bottom left corner of the board also has a 4pin molex connector to ensure stable power delivery to PCIe slots in SLI/Crossfire configurations and the usual collection of USB and audio headers are present too.
Over on the bottom right we find the front panel connectors, USB 3.0 header and our SATA ports. We have 10 SATA 3 ports on the X99-Gaming 5 with an additional socket for SATA-Express. RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10 are supported as are individual drive setups.
Moving up the right edge of the board we find a standard 24pin power input which combines with a standard 8pin connector up on the top edge of our board. There are eight DDR4 slots on the X59 Gaming 5 and they support 8GB modules with speeds in excess of 3000Mhz. Also worthy of note is that 2011-3 socket which will allow installation of all 3 new i7 CPUs including our Intel Core i7-5960X.
Round at our back panel which allows fast charging of USB devices we find some PS/2 ports, four USB 2.0 (DAC UP enhanced for powering external sound devices with minimal noise), six USB 3.0 ports (white is BIOS Flash enabled without the need to install memory or CPU), a Killer NIC E2200 GB LAN port and optical audio. That sits beside our gold plated 3.5mm audio connectors and beside them we have a bracket for Wi-Fi antenna as well as our back panel LED power header.
We noted earlier in the review that the X99-Gaming 5 features LEDs and you can see them above, separating the audio portion of the board from the main PCB on the left and then lighting up the heatsink on the right (beneath our R9 295X2 fan). This audio and back panel lighting can be set to still, beat or pulse, even off.
As is always the case with Gigabyte the X99-Gaming 5 arrives with a massive amount of software. This can all be installed in a few button clicks, as can the drivers for our system, and all are launched from the App Centre. Key areas in here are the Creative SoundBlaster powered audio panel, Killer NIC mangaer, EasyTune (tweaking/monitoring of the system in Windows) and even apps to connect to our smartphone.
Entering the BIOS we find a familiar Gigabyte layout. The first screen which appears allows some quick tweaking and then we can move in to Classic mode or the new enhanced setup. Both are quick and easy to use, allowing us to tweak our system with ease, however the enhanced mode shows more information in one place where as the classic mode is a touch quicker to configure. Of course we can also launch Q-Flash from in here to update our dual BIOS from USB.
User Experience and Conclusion
Full Performance Figures Can Be Found After The Conclusion
Starting with our Haswell-E CPU there are two key features which impress us most. The first is the move to 8 cores and 16 threads from the older configuration. The second is the support for DDR4. It would have been easy for Intel to stick with 6 cores, especially given their lead in the market, and even easier to stick with DDR3 for this range of CPUs but they pushed ahead which is great, even if DDR4 doesn’t quite give us massive performance gains yet, just better power use with its 1.2v stock setting.
In terms of other performance areas the Intel Core i7-5960X sits in two categories. For raw MHz in applications which don’t benefit from multiple cores it can fall behind the 4GHz+ i7-4790K. Put it in a situation where the cores are used, such as music encoding or video productivity tasks and the Intel i7-5960X absolutely flies. A real creativity powerhouse which is competitive when gaming too. We have also spent some limited time with overclocking on this configuration and are nearing 5GHz, the final figure (and likely some extra game tests) will be added to the performance section after the conclusion in the near future.
Past that we get on to features which are pretty much shared with the chipset, in our case the Gigabyte X99-Gaming 5. From that we FINALLY get support for the latest storage drives on Intel’s ultra-enthusiast platform. Even early revision m.2 drives boost our SSD performance and as these devices evolve that should improve further. USB 3.0 is supported better, rather than basically being tacked on in X79 and more native SATA3 ports is always appreciated.
For Gigabyte specifically we love the look of the X99-Gaming 5, not just the black and red colour scheme but the nice use of LEDs. The PCIe configuration is spot on for a board of this level and the same would be said of the back panel connectors if they had binned the PS/2 ports. All of the features we appreciate such as enhanced audio, dual BIOS, solid capacitors and the like are present here too. Then we have some nice additions such as support for Thunderbolt cards or m.2 Wi-Fi. We should also note that the three sets of DDR4 we have worked without issue on the X99-Gaming 5 (Crucial, G.Skill and Corsair).
So overall the Gigabyte X99-Gaming 5 offers pretty much everything we would need from our first X99 build and pairs nicely with the high performance of the Intel Core i7-5960X.
Test System and Performance
Gigabyte X99-Gaming 5
Gigabyte Z97X-Gaming 5
ASRock X79 Fatal1ty Champion
ASRock 990FX Extreme
16GB Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4-2800
16GB Corsair Dominator DDR3-2666
Samsung 840 Evo 1TB
Samsung 850 Pro 512GB (SATA Testing)
OCZ RevoDrive 350 (PCIe testing)
Plextor M6e 256GB M.2 SSD
Antec Kuhler 1250
Installed on a Dimastech EasyXL Test Bench
Intel Wireless AC 7260
Razer BlackWidow Ultimate
ASUS 120Hz/3D Display
Windows 8.1 64-bit
AMD Drivers: 14.7 RC
Adobe Creative Cloud
The test system was built from scratch, a format of the hard drive was performed (NTFS) and then Windows 8.1 was installed. Following the completion of the installation, the video drivers were installed. All windows updates were then installed as were the latest builds of the benchmarking tools. Finally, the hard drives were de-fragmented (where appropriate). For each test, the video drivers were set to default quality/optimizations (unless otherwise stated).
Good Benchmarking Practice
Where possible, each benchmark was performed three times and the median result for each resolution/setting is shown in the tables that will follow. All applications had their latest patches applied and all hardware features the latest BIOS/Firmware.
Music Conversion (2CD lossless to MP3)
Video Conversion 4K to 720p
Memory Bandwidth DDR3/4 2666
SATA3 (Samsung 850 Pro)
Raid 0 (Intel 730 Series SSD)
USB 3.0 (Corsair Voyager GTX)
PCIe (Revodrive 350)
M.2 SSD (Plextor M6e)