Product on Review: Core i7-6900K & Core i7-6950X
6900K - £834 GBP / $999
6950X - £1310 GBP / $1569
Intel’s High End Desktop (HEDT) platform has long been the last bastion of the enthusiast in Intel’s lineup. Dominating performance, flexible overclocking, and more cores than you can shake a stick at have drawn a stark contrast between it and mainstream or performance-class platform, a status quo which came into effect in 2011 when Sandybridge vastly simplified overclocking on a mainstream CPU. Haswell-E’s launch in 2014 solidified that stranglehold on the enthusiast as the first generation to support DDR4 and as many as eight physical CPU cores and sixteen threads. Broadwell-E, launched today at Computex2016, takes new steps to feature yet more cores, and sees the debut of a new price bracket for the flagship Extreme Edition CPU.
Broadwell-E is the follow-up to Haswell-E, and forms the basis of the latest generation of HEDT systems. Developmentally classed as a ‘tick’ in Intel’s nomenclature, the CPU makes use of the 14nm process node rather than 22nm seen on Haswell-E and Ivybridge-E. In common with other ‘tick’ developments Broadwell-E has key architectural similarities to Haswell-E, rather than amounting to a substantial change in underlying CPU design. Expectations therefore are tempered by realism, although it’s hoped that the die shrink will be enough to offer something new to consumers.
The headline for Broadwell-E’s release is certainly the introduction of Core i7-6950X Extreme Edition, the first CPU outside of Intel’s Xeon Enterprise-class products to incorporate ten physical cores and 20 threads. That’s a substantial evolution over 2014’s Core i7-5960X, itself a halo product with eight cores as opposed to the usual six for the HEDT platform. Compared to its predecessor it boasts a theoretical performance advantage of 25%, and continues to be a fully unlocked overclockable design in both memory and multiplier.
It’s a testament to the impact of Intel’s 14nm process that, despite the 25% increase in number of cores and very similar Base and Turbo clocks, the Core i7-6950X remains within the same 140W TDP envelope as the Haswell-E parts. The demands of an overclocked system may be higher – that remains to be seen of course – but out the box no additional cooling requirements are evident over the already established platform Haswell-E/X99.
As with Ivybridge-E before it, Broadwell-E re-uses the same motherboard platform as its previous generation. The X99-Express chipset is a well-explored design now, with dozens of different models available from a host of motherboard partners. Coinciding with the Broadwell-E launch however is a range of refreshed X99 motherboards, offering new features (functional as well as aesthetic) as well as building on lessons learned through the previous 18 months of manufacturing and user feedback. Whilst compatible, older X99 motherboards will require a UEFI BIOS update to support the new CPUs.
Intel’s Core i7-6950X isn’t the only CPU to launch today. Also released are the 8-core Core i7-6900K, 6-core i7-6850K and 6-core i7-6800K. Each broadly replaces an equivalent Haswell-E SKU and, whilst not the sort of major performance leap seen in the transition from Ivybridge-E to Haswell-E, a slight up-tic in multiplier and out-the-box support for DDR4-2400 should see not-inconsequential improvements in demanding tasks.
So, with three CPUs debuting to replace the current Haswell-E lineup, where does that leave pricing for the new Extreme Edition flagship? This time around Intel are debuting a new pricing bracket for their Extreme Edition design, which previously topped out at an MSRP of $999. At launch Core i7-6950X will retail for $1569 in the US, alongside a commensurate ~£1300 MSRP in the UK, which will be a bitter pill to swallow for enthusiasts looking to upgrade to the cream of the crop.
In this review we're putting Intel's flagship Core i7-6950X Extreme edition through its paces alongside the next best Broadwell-E model, the Core i7-6900K. Although not 'Extreme' in name, the i7-6900K also features an unlocked multiplier and BCLK for the enthusiast to get their teeth into.