Intel Having Issues with High-End Chips as Well

While in the recent past there have been a lot of rumors regarding AMD’s upcoming high-end CPU based on the Bulldozer architecture, the rumor mill has been suspiciously quiet about Intel’s high-end platform, which is slated to launch towards the end of the year. Now, a few sites report about possible delays and the first details about specific have been leaked from inofficial roadmaps as well.

First up, the good stuff. It was already known that for the new enthusiast platform, Intel plans to use a new LGA2011 socket and new silicon dubbed Sandy Bridge-E. While the server version of Sandy Bridge-E will feature up to eight physical cores which, thanks to Hyper-Threading, will report as 16 threads to the OS – on the desktop Intel will settle with six cores and 12 threads. This will allow them to operate the chip at higher clock speeds and thus not cripple single-threaded performance which is still important for some workloads.

Model Clock (Turbo) L3 Cache Cores/Threads
Core i7-3960X 3.3 (3.9) GHz 15 MB 6/12
Core i7-3930K 3.2 (3.8) GHz 12 MB 6/12
Core i7-3820 3.6 (3.9) GHz 10 MB 4/8

Courtesy of the Turkish website Donamimhaber, the product details have been leaked. At the top, Intel plans to offer the Core i7-3960X, a six core model with a stock clock of 3.3GHz, which can go up to 3.9GHz in turbo mode. The X moniker denotes it as an Extreme Edition product which is meant for enthusiasts and will likely carry the usual price tag of at least $999. Some may say that this could be considered a rip-off. The chip features a massive 15MB of L3 cache, which should give it an edge in performance.

Next up is a model dubbed i7-3930K. Unlike the X-model it is clocked 100MHz slower (both in normal and turbo mode) and features only 12MB of L3 cache. Since the model number includes a K, it should mean it comes with an unclocked multiplier. This could make this model the sweet spot for overclockers with a tighter budget. Apart from the L3 cache and the clock speed, no differences between the models are known at this point. We can only assume, Intel might add further differentiations like, for example, memory channels.

According to the rumors Intel plans to add another model to the series called Core i7-3820. It will only feature four cores, the rest of which will be fused off. The multiplier will be locked, but it will come at a higher base clock of 3.6GHz. However, the turbo again tops out at 3.9GHz. The only way to overclock this one will be via BCLK. While on the current Sandy Bridge platform, this is very limited, due to the absence of the IGP unit it is possible that this method will get renewed fame.

Now enter the bad stuff. Apparently just like AMD, Intel is facing some delays with their enthusiast platform. While in the case of AMD the CPU is the showstopper – remember the platform is already on sale for quite some time, in Intels case the platform is the trouble kid. According to a report by VR-Zone there are no less than four different variants of the Patsburgh chipset. There are two basic variants with a 4-port SCU (SCSI Controller Unit), with the entry version stripped of the SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) capability. Then there is a SKU called Performance which adds 4 additional ports to the SCU as well as a PCIe 3.0 uplink to the CPU to improve storage performance. On the top end there is a Premium RAID SKU that adds RAID5 support to the SCU. All the other SKUs support RAID5 only on the AHCI controller providing 6 SATA ports, two of which have 6Gb/s speeds.

The featureset of the X79 chipset we reported about a few months ago corresponds to the Performance variant.  Intel would probably have incorporated some consumer oriented tweaks which are not desired in a server product. Now it seems, Intel has to cut down the feature set a notch and only take the Basic variant for the consumer oriented products due to unspecified problems. That means 4 SATA/SAS ports less and no dedicated PCIe 3.0 storage uplink. Those boards with 14 SATA ports on them will now become a pipe dream, unless mainboard manufacturers invest in companion chips.

VR-Zone goes on to mention that Intel is still working on getting the full featureset to users, but considers activation of those features via a simple BIOS update unlikely. Similarly, Intel originally planned to integrate a PCIe 3.0 interface into the Sandy Bridge-E CPU, but due to absence of PCIe 3.0 addon cards couldn’t test it extensively and thus decided to put it on the back burner.

The CPUs themselves were meant to be shipped to partners for qualification testing in the C0 stepping, but apparently Intel now awaits a C1 revision. This shouldn’t concern anybody though, as there are still many months until the whole thing is meant to be launched.

In other news, there are rumors that AMD will push back the launch of the consumer variant of Bulldozer to October. This info should be considered as a rumor at this point, though, the official guidance from AMD was 60-90 days from June 1st, which basically means anytime in August. During their earnings call on Thursday they might reveal some new bits of information.