Intel’s newly minted Core i7-6950X features a groundbreaking 10 cores. In celebration of this personal-computing milestone, here are 10 things you need to know about this 10-core chip.
1. It has 10 cores, silly
Intel’s new Broadwell-E family is defined by its top dog: the 10-core Core i7-6950X. It uses the same basic “5th-gen” cores found in laptops of 2015 and is built on a 14nm process. But yeah, 10-cores, man—10-cores. With its Hyper-Threading, that means an insane 20 threads of compute power at your sweaty fingertips.
For those who like to track records, this is the first consumer x86 chip with 10 cores. Before you bark that you’ve been able to get Xeons with 10 cores and more already, that’s true, but Xeons aren’t normally for consumer consumption.
2. There are actually four new models
If you can tear your brain away from the idea of a 10-core chip, I’ll fill you in on all four models. Besides the 10-core Core i7-6950X at the top, Intel is also introducing the 8-core Core i7-6900K, the 6-core Core i7-6850K, and a “budget” 6-core Core i7-6800K. That last chip’s main difference is that its PCIe performance has been cut to 28 lanes versus the 40 lanes in the other three chips.
3. The family is drop-in compatible
All four chips are intended to be drop-in compatible with existing and new X99-based motherboards using the LGA2011-V3 socket. To run one, you’ll just need to update your BIOS (some boards allow this even if a CPU is not installed) and drop in your shiny new Broadwell-E.
One caveat: Although Intel said it doesn’t foresee any issues with older boards and Broadwell-E, we experienced one snag with a budget X99 Asrock board that didn't support Intel’s Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 feature.
4. It has Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0
Intel’s Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0 is exclusive to the new Broadwell-E family. First, Intel identifies at the factory which of the cores is the best of the litter. Then, a driver installed in the OS (with support for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10) lets the OS bind applications to that fastest core when only one computing thread is used.
In practical use, without Turbo Boost Max 3.0, the Core i7-6950X would run one single core up to 3.5GHz. With Turbo Boost Max 3.0 enabled, that core can hit 4GHz.
This is just the beginning. Turbo Boost Max 3.0 paves the way for a day when the OS can more intelligently throw workloads to particular CPU cores.
5. It has per-core overclocking
Besides Turbo Boost Max 3.0, Broadwell-E will also allow you to overclock particular cores. With Haswell-E, you could overclock cores based on thread load. For example, with two cores in use, you could tell the CPU to overclock to, say, 4.5GHz. The OS and Haswell-E though, would just throw the overclock at any cores. With Broadwell-E, you can specify that it overclock Core 1 and Core 5, which, you’ve determined through testing, overclock the best.
6. We had a decent overclocking experience
We’re loath to pass judgement on an entire series of CPUs based on our one early press sample, but our experience overclocking was mostly satisfactory. We easily pushed our 10-core Core i7-6950X to 4GHz across all cores without even resorting to “scary” things like voltage tweaks. We then pushed the core that Intel identified at the factory as being the best to 4.5GHz on single-threaded loads. While we didn’t do exhaustive stress tests, we had no issues during several hours of use or while running benchmarks. One caveat: We could do this only with a higher-end Asus X99 Deluxe II board. Our budget Asrock X99 Extreme 4 gave us bupkis.
7. Redstone will support it, too
Motherboard vendors tell us this ability to throw loads at particular cores will soon be added natively to Windows 10 in the upcoming Redstone update.
8. It’s crazy-fast
Yes, it’s crazy-fast. Intel’s aim with the Broadwell-E was to make it competitive with quad-core CPUs, which typically run at higher clock speeds, while also giving it a huge advantage in tasks that can use the six, eight, or 10 cores at hand. Our testing proves that to be mostly true. The 10-Core i7-6950X, for example, doesn’t give much quarter to a quad-core Core i7-6700K. And when the workloads turned to multithreading, the Broadwell-E crushed that puny quad-core across the board.
9. Not everyone can use that performance
This excessive performance, however, will apply only to select use cases. The 10-core Broadwell-E has so many compute threads it’s difficult to task them all at the same time. For example, we found we had to push multiple, multithreaded workloads to get the most out or our chip. So if your typical workday consists of running Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud and a browser simultaneously, this is too much chip. If, however, you’re in the habit of running Premiere Pro Creative Cloud along with 3D rendering, and maybe Adobe AfterEffects and a browser, this chip will do it.
10. It’s crazy-expensive
We’ll leave the most important detail for last, and that’s the price of the top-end 10-core part. First, sit down and swallow your mouthful of Diet Coke, lest you do a spit take. The price is $1,723. Yes, we’ll repeat that lest you assume it’s a typo: $1,723, for one chip.
Ouch. Even the lesser models get a price hike over older equivalents, with the 8-core Core i7-6900K at $1,089 and the 6-core Core i7-6850K at $617. The “budget” 6-core Core i7-6800K will set you back $434.