A Monster Processor
Let’s be clear on this, not many people are going to own this CPU. It’s Intel’s latest top-of-the-line consumer retail model, it is basically the Ferrari of CPUs; many will covet, but few will own it. Having said that, let’s get this review underway.
The i7-5960X is part of the Intel flagship CPUs going out this year. This CPU, all by itself, costs just a little over $1000 in the box (just under, if you get it in the “tray” with shorter warranty), which puts it out of the price range of probably 95% of most desktop PC users. It’s designed to be housed in a high end tower, treated to liquid cooling systems, and is built to run on DDR 4 RAM, the newest, fastest—and, unsurprisingly most expensive—RAM on the market today. The CPU is known as the Haswell-E, that E standing for “extreme.” It is the CPU that high end PC hobbyists will buy, no questions asked, as it gives the best performance on consumer machines, assuming you didn’t do a spit-take with your coffee after finding out the price.
The i7-5960X is a beastly CPU that is currently more than up to the task for normal computational needs. As to be expected from a modern CPU, it’s got eight cores, but, unlike most CPUs, this thing has been built laugh at modern computer demands. The big star here is the impressive transfer rate for data, a feat achieved by making the move to the newer DDR4 RAM compared to the more traditional DDR3 that the modern devices still use. There’s a lot of number crunching going on, but it basically translates to the i7-5960X capable of running 68GB per second of data through its bandwidth. This particular model of the i7 series has been built to accommodate up to 64 GB of DDR 4 RAM, so it’s obvious that this new CPU is designed with—by current standards—excessive performance in mind.
This is compounded by the fact that the i7-5960X comes with 40 lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity, which translates into being able to connect up to four graphics cards to the CPU for some serious graphical processing overkill. Well, that’s overkill by today’s standards, anyway. There is no game on the current market that is going to benefit from 64 GB of DDR 4 RAM and four graphics cards all working together to render out the graphics, even at 4K resolution. A year or three from now however, may be a different story, and that’s who the i7-5960X is targeting. This is a CPU designed for people that want to run tomorrow’s games today, even if tomorrow’s games aren’t available yet, and, by the time they are, the cost of equivalent processors will be lower. The i7-5960X is all about the security (or maybe bragging rights) of knowing that your PC will be able to handle ANYTHING that is coming out in the next few years, at nothing less than ultra settings. That’s assuming you’re also spending the money to give this processor the RAM, cooling system and graphics cards it needs to operate at peak power.
The only other incoming technology that would really benefit from this kind of horse power is, of course, virtual reality, and again, perhaps the i7-5960X has been built for that. If Facebook manages to make an impression with Oculus Rift, VR is going to be all the rage as quickly as next year. With VR requiring computers process two images separately but simultaneously, there’s a real danger that many rigs will simply not be able to handle the more demanding performance requirements, without taking a hit to graphics in order to keep frame rates up, something vital to VR in order to prevent nausea. The Haswell-E chip can obviously do this, so perhaps this is what Intel has in mind; they see a future in which VR is going to force everyone to upgrade at significant cost. The i7-5960X allows people to get ready for that much more demanding future.
In the meantime, however, it is a beast that the average PC gamer is simply not going to be able to overwhelm with today’s games. Short of trying to choke it on some strenuous video/image editing or scientific calculations requiring multiple cores, it’s hard to imagine any every day or gaming related task that will make the i7-5960X sweat. Right now it’s more of an “aspirational” component for most PC users. Few will ever be able to splurge to own this CPU, but everyone strives towards the day when they can own it.