Intel Broadwell-E Core i7-6950X Review: The first 10-core enthusiast CPU is a beast

It crushes multi-core benchmarks with a vengeance, but do you really need it?

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How does it overclock?

I’m always a little hesitant to issue proclamations of how a new CPU overclocks based on a sample of one. Many times it’s not about the overclocking capability of the chip, it’s about the overclocking capability of the overclocker.

Intel itself, as usual, won’t say anything about what to expect. That’s understandable, as overclocking is usually a crap shoot. I can at least relate my own experiences.

First, I’d say it depends on the motherboard. The Asrock X99 Extreme 4 on which I ran most of my stock clock tests was a dismal fail. I couldn’t push the chip much beyond stock and gave up after wasting an hour trying to get minimal overclocks out of the chip.

Very late in my review though, I received an Asus X99 Deluxe II board. A newer motherboard that supports Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0.

With the Asus X99 Deluxe II board, I dialed up a 4GHz all-core, ratio-based overclock and booted into the OS. No muss, no fuss. That’s without having to mess with voltage either.

That’s really not bad, and I’ll be the first to say I am not even remotely an extreme overclocker. I didn’t do a formal stability test, but I was able to run numerous multi-threaded benchmarks without issue for several hours. I then overclocked the “best” core up to 4.5GHz and used Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Technology to bind particular applications to it.

Overall, I’m pretty happy my sample overclocked on the Asus X99 Deluxe II. Not so on the Asrock.

But what should you expect? It’s still very early in the life of this chip. After speaking to various motherboard and system vendors, it sounds like you should expect at most 4.2GHz to 4.3GHz overclocks on all 10 cores. Beyond that, I’m told, it gets difficult to manage the heat and voltage. Its predecessor, Haswell-E, generally ran out of gas at 4.5GHz in practical use, so Broadwell-E seems to be within expectations.

You may recoil at the thought of loosing a little overall overclocking head room, but the greater efficiency of Broadwell cores over Haswell cores make up for it.

broadwell e core i7 6950x cinebench r15 single threaded performance oc

Broadwell-E cores running at 4.5GHz pull even with Skylake cores running at 4.2GHz.

Conclusion

First, I’ll sum up the performance aspects of the 10-core Broadwell-E by saying, damn, it’s a freaking monster. In multi-threaded tasks it easily thrashes the 8-core Haswell-E. Combined with per-core overclocking and Turbo Boost Max 3.0, it can hang with the nimbler Core i-6700K chip in lightly threaded and single-threaded tasks, too.

That’s a win no matter how you cut it. Intel said it aimed to give you the best of both worlds for multi-threaded and lightly threaded, and it has achieved that. 

The elephant in the room is that $1,723 price tag.

Initial rumors last year indicated the 10-core chip would slot in at the same $1,000 price of the 8-core Haswell-E. A grand may seem excessive but if you got the 10-core version for the price Intel used to charge for an 8-core, it’s like getting “free” stuff.

Intel actually did just that when it replaced the $1,000 6-core Core i7-4960X with the $1,000 8-core Core i7-5960X chip. Intel isn’t giving away any freebies this time though.

At the price Intel wants, you could actually buy a 14-core Xeon. That Xeon, though, would probably be even more overkill and would not give you the single-threaded performance of the Core i7-6950X.

As it stands, the Core i7-6950X is easily Intel’s most powerful consumer chip that it’s ever made by a long shot. I just wish it were actually affordable.

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