Core i7 6950X / 6900K / 6850K & 6800K Processor Review

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Final Words & Conclusion

Every time a new processor is released I get chills, they are multiplying and I am losing control (who's old enough to recognize the lyrics?). And as expensive as the enthusiast space for PC components is, I just LOVE it. Today we tested the most advanced consumer grade 10-core processor the market now has to offer. Sure, money wise it'll be hard to defend, as the sub 1,600 USD price tag even makes my eyes pop out. But that doesn't sway away from the fact that pretty much any one of you guys would love this processor in their ultimate gaming or content creation rig. Especially with the new X99 model motherboards the sky is the limit, but yeah, your wallet will be empty after your upgrade. Luckily you get to choose from three other models as well.

A Performance Experience

Compared to the previous edition six and eight core processors the performance "per core" has risen, albeit it's a tiny bit. The icing on top of the Core i7 6950X processor is to be found in the two extra cores, adding up-to a nice ten cores. Depending on how you look at it, this alone doesn't make it the fastest processor though. Intel was able to give the Core i7 6950X processor a base clock of 3.0 GHz and a boost allowance of 3.5 GHz (identical to the 5960X with eight cores). As you can imagine, for gaming, a Core i7 4790X at 4.4 GHz boost frequencies in many scenarios will be faster as most applications really are not using or utilizing more than four cores. So in that specific given situation a faster clocked 4-core CPU will offer better performance and obviously better value for money.

It's the same for all other models released today, as the Core i7 6950X & Core i7 6900K / 6850K and 6800K processors all have different clock frequencies. Realistically, if you don't want to tweak and do not really have a need for 10 cores, pick a six-core fast clocked model. I do think the Intel Core i7-6850K will be mighty fine with 40 PCIe lanes as well and a high 3.6 GHz / 3.8 GHz (base clock / turbo clock). But hey, pick a processor that suits your needs the best I'd say. I want to keep this conclusion more in line with the 6950X as the ten cores is what it's all about. So when you shift your point of view to content creation like ray-tracing or video transcoding, that's where this 10-core beast will annihilate everything and anything in its path. You'll however reach equilibrium once you get a processor with lots of cores that can be tweaked over 4 GHz, and that's where the beastly processor becomes something dark and evil :) We also have to touch the topic of the platform differential as it isn't 'just' about the processor, is it? The relevance of this release really is the launch of the entire platform, X99 just brings in a bucket-load of modern options like the many USB 3.0/3.1 ports, Thunderbolt inclusion, the many of SATA3 ports, inclusion of the M.2 PCI Express interface and SATA Express (albeit I do not foresee a big future for SATA Express). Combined with 40 PCIe gen 3.0 lanes you just have to admit that this is THE platform for the enthusiast user. 



So yeah, Intel's new six, eight and ten core Broadwell-E processors are impressive, especially impressive when you tweak them a little. We'll talk tweaking in a minute, but 10 cores at 4 GHz is very realistic to achieve. And at that frequency you'll have the best of all worlds, the most cores with properly clocked frequencies.

Overall Performance

The overall per-core performance remains really nice and seems a notch faster opposed to Haswell-E, it's all relative though. The new Turbo Boost revision 3.0 kicks in nicely up-to 3.5 GHz per-core for the Core i7 6950X. The new turbo will try and run the fastest core as much as it can on applications that need it. Very nice. For the professional user who uses heavily threaded software like for content creation, that's where Broadwell-E will make substantial difference. Obviously we love the quad-channel DDR4 memory as it will offer insane bandwidth, but that bandwidth is a luxurious thing as real-world performance wise things will not change that much. Aside from the lowest cost SKU, the 6800K the rest of the processors all have plenty of PCIe Gen 3.0 lanes, 40 of them. The motherboard manufacturers will all offer newly updated SKUs based on X99 to make them even more versatile and luxurious. For gamers the Core i7 6950X processor remains a trivial purchase as a faster clocked 4-core processor like the 6700 (Skylake) or 4970 (Haswell) will be equally as fast or can offer even better perf thanks to the higher clocks. Intel will hate me for bringing it up, but even the AMD FX 8370 we listed in the game benchmarks makes heaps of sense (sub 200 USD). But, as Einstein said, everything is relative, if you tweak the Core i7 6950X cores to say 4 GHz each then all of a sudden you'll have 10 blazing fast cores offering equally fast per-core performance. Yep, that's relativity for you. Value for money wise it would be better to pick one of the six-core Broadwell-E SKUs. If you stick to one graphics card, then let's be honest here, that 6800K will be the better deal at 412 USD. It's still a K model so the six cores can be overclocked into that 4 Ghz realm as well, and due to the restricted number of cores... likely even a notch higher. Yes, the truth is that if you are a gamer you do not really require a CPU with 10 or 8 cores. However, another fact is that if you are going to build a 10 or 8 core platform then it'll last you for years. I still know some people running a six-core Gulftown (Intel Core i7 980X) and aside from the platform infrastructure (PCIe generations / SATA/ etc), these processors still are very worthy in terms of performance and what they offer as an experience as a whole.

Overclocking & Tweaking

Due to the release date close to Computex and two graphics card manufacturers grabbing each other by the throat and a number of media-events we had very little time left to properly overclock the Core i7 6950X. Honestly I wanted to at least spend a day more time on that. It's simple though, add more cores and things get more difficult to tweak. The results however did not disappoint albeit I do feel that we have received a bad overclocker. The one thing you do need to realize is that Broadwell-E seems to overheat fast once you pass 1.30 Volts. Proper liquid cooling, as such, is mandatory.

At 1.20~1.25 Volts you will reach 4 GHz on all cores (which is the OC we recommend) and at 1.35~1.75 Volts you should be able to get the Core i7 6950X towards roughly 4400 MHz on most, if not all cores, however we reached 100 Degrees C!! So yes, that requires enthusiast class liquid cooling. Once you pass the 4.0 GHz marker the performance becomes seriously impressive. With upcoming X99 motherboard reviews and this processor we'll dive a little deeper into overclocking though as we have not yet defined our maximum overclock and the best way to make it happen either. Regardless, overclocking wise, you will have some headroom to fiddle around with. It really is a fun processor to tweak and you can OC each separate CPU core if you want to do so!

Power Consumption

With ten cores I was expecting this 140 Watt TDP processor to be a power hog, but Intel's focus for the past three years has been making smaller fab processes with, in the end, more energy efficient products. With this processor now fabbed at 14 nm the TDP sticks at 140W and with the system at idle I was a little shocked, with a GeForce GTX 1080 installed / 32 GB memory / SSD and the X99 motherboard I hovered at only 62 Watts. That's just great and that is testimony to the 14 nm fabrication as smaller packages can do with less voltage. When we stressed the processor with a Prime 1024M run we reach roughly 160~170 Watts, that's lower compared to the previous gen 8-core 5960X flagship (clocked 100% at similar clock frequencies), and remember the 6950X has 10 cores. So yes, this is impressive to see! When we game we hover at 280~300 Watts with the GeForce GTX 1080, but obviously that factor is dependant on the type of graphics card you use of course. So yeah, these are really good values with a 10-core product. 

DDR4 Memory

Ever since Haswell-E was released along came DDR4 memory. With Broadwell-E DDR4 may be clocked a notch faster at 2,400 MHz. Honestly, just pick up some nice 2,133 MHz DIMMs, at quad-channel it'll offer more than plentiful bandwidth. The 3,200 MHz kit we used is expensive, it does offer better bandwidth but the performance increases in real-world usage will be hard to find. Unless you transcode videos over the processor a lot. DDR4 mostly was released for lower voltages and higher frequencies. 2,133 MHz CL 14 or CL 15 memory in combo with quad-channel will get you to 50~60 GB/sec. It is impressive to observe. For gaming you will not notice huge performance improvements with that high memory bandwidth, but with content creation and video transcoding this kind of bandwidth certainly does make a difference. As always, my advice would be to go with lower clocked DDR4 memory with decent timings, but get more of it. Don't go for 8 GB, get four DIMMs and in total a minimum of 16 GB.



Final Words

You cannot beat the multi-core performance the Core i7 6950X processor offers, if only all software would benefit from 10-cores. That I'm afraid is not the case, and when you combine that with the new near 1,600 USD price tag, this release might be hard to swallow. Obviously you'll get three other choices as well, the 8 and two 6 core processors (which are priced much better). Remember, if you want to tweak then you can and the Core i7 6900K / 6850K and 6800K just make more sense there. The six-core 6850K and 6800K are probably the most interesting models if you are not the transcoding / raytracing / workstation type of user. Today, however, is all about that 10-core product, the Core i7 6950X. The processor is simply attractive from every way that you look at it aside from the price level. The 10 cores unleash a massive amount of performance with fairly fast per-core performance up-to a Turbo frequency of 3.5 GHz per core. Obviously there is room left to tweak. Reaching 4 GHz on the majority of cores would be ideal, up-to 4.5 GHz will be far more challenging, and will require tremendous cooling and sheer luck with a properly binned 'golden' processor. Bear in mind that you can use the Core i7 6950X processor in your current X99 motherboard if you already own one, however make sure you update your system BIOS to the latest revision prior to installing the processor. The Core i7 6950X needs a microcode update in the BIOS, if not present your system will not boot. With the top three SKUs offering 40 PCI Express Gen 3.0 lanes the hardcore multi-GPU discrete savvy users will be pleased. DDR4 memory up-to 128 GB can be installed. From A to Z it has been fun yet challenging benchmarking and tweaking the Core i7 6950X processor and X99 motherboard combo. What if you are already on Haswell-E? Well, there's little reason to upgrade really. In fact I'll even go a step further, if you have a fast quad-core Haswell like the Core i7 4790 or Skylake 6700K, even there from a gamers point of view moving to a 10 core system remains hard to explain. But yeah, this is the enthusiast level hardware we all like so very much. Products like these do not need explanation or justification. They're just there for the ones that want it. And I am one of these guys, I really do want one of these processors.

Last words then, the Core i7 6950X processor with its 10-cores is obviously expensive, not just as a processor, you will need to move to the X99 platform. But I already made that Gulftown remark, I still have such a 6-core system running. Massive core systems seem to last a long time. Likely if you go with something like tested today, it'll last you a good 5 years. We again grant Intel our best hardware award, we just love it...

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.”

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