Intel Core i7 3930K £498
2nd Dec 2011 | 11:10
If you've got a BIG budget this is the processor we'd recommend.
The Intel Core i7 3930K is the cheaper alternative to the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor. But then many second hand cars are cheaper than the top-end Sandy Bridge E processor.
At nearly £500 it's still an expensive CPU, but currently it's the only LGA 2011 processor worth a look.
The Intel Core i7 3960X, that top-end Sandy Bridge E, is a positively preposterous processor. For in excess of £800, you get a chip that's not substantially quicker than Intel's own Core i7 980X of two years ago.
Not at stock clocks, at least. Admittedly, the Core i7 3960X does overclock very nicely indeed and in doing so opens up a gap from ye olde 980X.
But we've reviewed the 3960X elsewhere and deemed it disappointing, moderately sinister (it's prima facie evidence of Intel carpet bagging in response to AMD's failure to bring out a really quick chip) and largely irrelevant to human existence.
This then is the Intel Core i7 3930K and it's not the same chip. Not precisely, anyway.
You can see below just how small a gap, in performance terms, there is between the i7 3960X and the i7 3930K.
It's also interesting just how close the latest traditional Sandy Bridge chip, the Intel Core i7 2700K, is in general performance terms too, especially in gaming and single-threaded speeds.
3D rendering performance
Video encoding performance
CPU gaming performance
Yes, this Core i7 3930K is based on the same, quite colossal 2.27 billion transistor chip, known as Sandy Bridge E. So, it shares most of the same specifications as the Core i7 3960X. That starts with six cores in Intel's latest Sandy Bridge-generation idiom.
Next up we have a new memory controller no fewer than four (yes four, count 'em) channels.
Intel's previous high end processors sported a triple channel memory controller. Even that looked like overkill for a desktop processor. Four channels is getting silly and merely serves to underline the real reason the new Core i7 exists.
It's a thinly disguised server chip.
Whatever the merits of the quad channel controller, it forces the use of a new socket, the monumental LGA 2011. If nothing else, you are getting a satisfyingly massive chip for your money.
What's more, thanks to the 'K' on the end of Intel Core i7 3930K, this lower priced alternative to the Intel Core i7 3960X gets the full unlocked treatment and also benefits from the newly introduced CPU strap, the better to make overclocking a bit more flexible.
At this stage, you may be wondering what on earth the difference actually is.
The answer is twofold. Firstly it's clocked infinitesimally lower – 3.2GHz instead of 3.6GHz, along with a commensurate climb down in the maximum Turbo speed to 3.8GHz. The other bit is less L3 cache memory to the tune of 3MB. The 3930K makes do with 12MB.
Frankly, both of these compromises in the name of cost savings fall into the 'who cares?' category.
In terms of desktop computing, neither is going to make a blind bit of difference to experience your PC delivers. That's reflected in benchmarks that are barely any slower. Even better, the 3930K overclocks very nearly as well as the 3960X. Again the gap is just 100MHz, 4.8GHz on airs plays 4.9GHz.
So, here's the best bit. The 3930K costs over £300 less.
OK, £500 is still a big ask. But the difference in price alone is enough to buy a half decent desktop PC or a cheap laptop.
The point, then, is that this cheaper Sandy Bridge E gives you everything the top chip delivers for a lot less money.
There's absolutely no reason to spend. We're not completely convinced even this truly means the Intel Core i7 3930K is good value for money, but it's still a very fast processor and the chip we'd buy if we had a big budget.
The fact that you're getting almost the same sort of performance out of this £500 Sandy Bridge E as the £850 Core i7 3960X makes it a more intriguing prospect.
The other boon of the Core i7 3930K is that it's got the same huge amount of overclocking headroom sitting in that CPU package. You can reach extraordinary speeds out of this architecture.
As it's still based on the same architecture as the Core i7 3960X it's also got the same flaws, namely that it's actually an eight-core CPU with a couple of cores turned off.
And despite the fact it's over £300 cheaper than the top end chip, the Core i7 3930K is still an incredibly pricey processor.
Much better value than the 3960X. The obvious choice if you're thinking of the LGA 2011 platform.