It has taken just about two years' time, but today the moment has come for Intel to update its high-end consumer platform. The Sandy Bridge-E models Core i7 3960X, 3930K and 3820 will be retired, to be replaced by Ivy Bridge-E, as represented by the new Core i7 4960X, 4930K and the 4820K. Even as the high-end platform's socket and the required motherboards with X79 chipsets remain the same, its processors will be faster and most of all, consume less power. The reason in large part is a transition to the 22nm processes, which Intel made earlier for its mainstream Ivy Bridge 3rd generation Core processors and which its more recently introduced Haswell generation (the fourth, if you're keeping track) also uses. Hardware.Info tested all three new models so along with a look at what changed and what stayed the same, read on to see how the new king of the hill holds up to the old one - and the competition.
Until a few years ago, Intel customarily introduced new processor generations starting in the high-end segment, with the new technology trickling down to the rest of the market. That time is well and truly gone: the mid-range is where the market is, with its demand for processors that deliver plenty of power, but also offer good value and power efficiency. The majority of the PC market consists of laptops which by their nature are unsuited for power hungry, top of the line six-core processors, something that applies even more to the increasingly popular thin and light segment, most commonly recognised by the Ultrabook concept.
This development is the reason that Intel's mainstream processors were the first to transition in a 'tick' from Sandy Bridge's 32nm process to Ivy Bridge's 22nm - and also for the relatively early "tock" to the new Haswell architecture, even as the high-end Socket 2011 platform was still using the by now venerable 32nm Sandy Bridge architecture. Now Socket 2011 catches up at least somewhat, with the introduction of Ivy Bridge to the high-end platform: what happened in April 2012 for Socket 1155, now occurs for Socket 2011.
According to older roadmaps, Ivy Bridge-E as the new high-end line has been codenamed, originally should have appeared a lot earlier. One possible explanation for the delay is the fact that the Socket 2011 Core i7's basically are Xeon server processors, with disabled support for use in dual-socket configurations, as well as for some other server related functions. However, the server market is not particularly keen on rapidly successive generations, as server validation testing is demanding, time consuming and expensive. Meanwhile Intel is as dominant in the server space as it is on the consumer side of things, so it has little reason to speed up server processor development.
Even so, the time has come. Ivy Bridge-E signifies an entirely new range of processors for the server market as well, with new processors featuring as many as 10 cores. Those hoping to see a similar offering for the desktop will be disappointed: as with Sandy Bridge-E, the fastest desktop model 'only' has six cores, even if it has been improved in numerous other respects.
Thanks to the good people at Tones.be were were able to get to grips with all three of the Ivy Bridge-E models that Intel is introducing today: the Core i7 4960X, 4930K and the 4820K - so thank you, Tones.be!