Review: Intel Core i7-3970X

It's been over a year-and-a-half since Intel launched the behemoth Core i7-3960X six-core HyperThreaded CPU. In the intervening time, it has only produced one barely-upgraded successor: the Core i7-3970X, that we've tested here.

NameCPU: Intel Core i7-3970X
At a glance:Six-core, Socket LGA2011 CPU,3.5GHz base speed, 4.0GHz Turbo,Quad-channel memory architecture,Maximum enthusiast cred for owning one
Summary:An extremely expensive CPU that doesn’t justify its price tag, but nevertheless is the best processor money can currently buy.
Rating:4/5
RRP:None set (retails for $1,400-$1,500)
Contact:intel.co.nz

If you’re a bona fide hardware enthusiast then you’ve no doubt felt a tad unloved in the CPU department lately. It’s been over a year-and-a-half since Intel launched its behemoth Core i7-3960X six-core HyperThreaded CPU. In the intervening time, it’s only produced one barely-upgraded successor: the Core i7-3970X, that we tested this month.

Before we take a look at this new chip, it’s worth pointing out that as an enthusiast-level desktop processor it has no competition. None whatsoever. AMD has more or less left the building when it comes to high-end chips – its flagship consumer CPU (the FX-8350) currently retails in New Zealand at a laughably affordable $299. For those who remember the performance – and price tag – that the ‘FX’ branding used to stand for, it is a sorry state of affairs indeed.

Regardless, the Intel Core i7-3970X has been here for a few months now and is the most money you can spend without diving into the Enterprise segment with server-grade processors and so forth.

As I mentioned earlier, the i7-3970X is barely an upgrade to its predecessor: the i7-3960X. The six cores and 15MB of L3 cache are still present, while the core speed has received a minimal speed boost up to 3.5GHz stock/4.0GHz turbo (compared to 3.3GHz/3.9GHz).

It also runs on the same LGA2011 platform, which utilises quad-channel memory. This has double the maximum memory bandwidth of socket LGA1155, which is the platform supporting the mainstream range of Core i3, i5 and i7 chips.

Pricing is unchanged: at time of writing there were about a dozen stores selling the i7-3970X for between $1,400 and $1,500, which is about what the older chip was selling for before stock levels started to dry up.

If you’ve been waiting to throw some money at the absolute best CPU available, then you have been rewarded with roughly 5% more performance than what was available 18 months ago.

To test the i7-3970X, we put it up against the most powerful chip we had on-hand at the time: the Core i5-3570K. This little LGA1155 puppy sells for rougly $320 – less than a quarter the price of the i7-3970X – and runs four non-HyperThreaded cores at 3.4GHz to 3.8GHz.

To summarise the tests: half are gaming-focused and the other half are CPU-focused. Of the CPU-focused tests, half are mostly single-threaded tests and the other half are mostly multi-threaded.

Averaged out over all of the tests, the i7-3970X scored just over 15% higher than the i5-3570K. In the CPU tests, it scored about 26% higher, whilst in the highly-threaded subset of tests it pumped out roughly 55% more performance (our 7-Zip and Cinebench tests in particular benefited from the extra cores and memory bandwidth).

For the average user, there is no way to justify buying the i7-3970X. It costs four times as much as a chip that does about three-quarters of the job (depending on the task).

This CPU is not for average users, however. It is for ‘enthusiasts’. If your enthusiasm extends to having the highest specs, costs be damned, then this is the chip for you.

TestDetails*/Units
i5-3570K**
i7-3970X**
3DMark (2013)720p - Cloudgate (points)
15096
22292
1080p - Fire Strike (points)
5105
5322
Unigine Valley720p - Basic (FPS)
103.3
102.8
1080p - Extreme HD (FPS)
33.9
33.6
TrackMania Nations Forever720p - Medium 0xAA (FPS)
342
350
1080p - Very high 8xAA (FPS)
110
105
DiRT: Showdown.720p - Medium 0xAA (FPS)
95.8
98.1
1080p - Ultra 4xAA (FPS)
82.1
74.6
7-ZipCompression - single thread (MB/s)
4.1
4.0
Compression - multi thread (MB/s)
14.4
26.9
Cinebench R11.5Rendering - single thread (points)
1.61
1.61
Rendering - multi thread (points)
6.4
10.5
x264Transcoding - pass 1 (FPS)
179
177
Transcoding - pass 2 (FPS)
35.6
53.6
PCMark7Score - Total (points)
5391
5176
Score - Computation (points)
4892
5643
Power DrawIdle - Desktop (Watts)
72
71
Load - Prime 95 (Watts)
137
288
PriceAverage, NZD incl GST
$320
$1,449

* All settings default unless specified

** Higher results are better

Test System: Intel DX79SR motherboard (i7-3970X), Gigabyte Z77X-UP5TH motherboard (i5-3570K), G.Skill Ripjaws Z 4x4GB DDR3-1866 RAM, Corsair Neutron GTX 256GB SSD, Gigabyte GTX 660 Ti 3GB GPU, Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit Service Pack 1

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Paul Urquhart

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