Ivy Bridge CPU Review
At the beginning of last year Intel launched their acclaimed Sandy Bridge range of processors which saw huge strides in performance over their already leading designs. In March of last year they also announced to the world their revolutionary 3D transistor technology which was to be used in their Ivy Bridge range. Today Ivy Bridge is here and we will review the Intel i7-3770K processor.
On the surface, little has changed from the previous Core i7 range with only the bend in the centre graphic distinguishing between a 2nd and 3rd generation i7 part. This is a tick in their tick-tock cycle and that means a whole new process but on the same architecture. It may seem easier than the other way round but in fact the best performance gains in the past have been from tocks (Sandy Bridge, Nehalem etc.) as the Intel designers can really get the best out of a mature process. In the case of Ivy Bridge the emphasis has been on saving power and we'll see what that means for performance and overclocking later.
The architecture will be familiar to those acquainted with Sandy Bridge as it is very similar.
Other specs include:
The cores look very similar to Sandy Bridge because they are! The graphics component has been updated considerably with HD4000 and it now supports DX11 allowing us to run our full range of tests. We chose, however, not to repeat all our tests with the HD4000. We can confirm that performance of the HD 4000 is about twice that of HD3000 and falls somewhere between AMDs Radeon HD6450 and HD6550D so basically a bit short of the integrated graphics in AMDs Fusion. Realistically, anyone purchasing the i7-3770K will not be using the HD4000 but will instead opt for a discrete graphics card.
At the heart of the new process is the 22nm Tri-Gate Transistor. The technical details are beyond the scope of this article even though Intel went to great lengths at their press briefing last month to have their top transistor expert explain to us in a 30-minute presentation just how it works, It is a testament to the commitment of the journalists assembled that none bled from their ears!
Joking aside, this new technology holds great promise for future generations of Intel processor and we're looking forward to the next "tock" with great anticipation. No mention was made of how many units fit onto a wafer or the yield rate but the shrink to 22nm will no doubt save Intel a great deal in costs.
So on to the processor itself.
Thankfully we are sticking with socket-1155 but those looking to upgrade from Sandy Bridge should check with their board manufacturer if compatbility can be obtained by just flashing their BIOS or if they need a new motherboard. All Ivy Bridge motherboards will be Sandy Bridge compatible.
So how do these new offerings compare to what is already available?
At the top end we still have the extreme edition 6-core processors with hefty price tags. These are not intended to be replaced by Ivy Bridge as today's range is aimed at the mainstream. Perhaps in a few months we will see Ivy Bridge processors with 6-cores and a TDP in the 100W range but for now, those needing 6 cores will have to make do with Sandy Bridge.
It can be seen that the new 3rd generation core i7 processors are priced the same as exisitng Sandy Bridge ones which means that when stocks of Gen2 processors run out they will be gone for good. The aggressive pricing also makes it harder to find any real bargains on the outgoing Sandy Bridge CPUs but retailers will no doubt discount to move inventories.
What may surprise some is the lack of any real increase in frequencies from the new range and this bears out Intel's focus on reducing TDP rather than pushing new heights of performance. To be honest, todays high end processors are more than capable of running the latest software with ease and bottlenecks are usually at the GPU end. Combined with the complete lack of competition from AMD, Intel has little pressure on it to improve performance.
The Intel DZ77GA-70K Motherboard
To facilitate our review Intel were kind enough to include their latest motherboard, the DZ77GA-70K and it is worth mentioning a few facts about it.
This is an enthusiast board which we could devote a review to in its own right and has a Win BIOS which is quite impressive in use. It also has a host of overclocking features designed with ease of use in mind. Twin PCI-E 3.0 connectors, ample fan headers and full SATA-3 support as well as a Marvel SATA-3 controller along with USB 3.0 straight from the chipset (something many have waited for longingly). Headers for 2 USB 3.0 as well as a high current USB 2.0 (for iPod/iPhone type devices) are ideal for any modern enclosure front ports.
On the back we have 4 USB 3.0, 4 USB 2.0 (2 of them high current yellow ones) and twin Ethernet which is great if one stops working (as with our Sandy Bridge board from last January forcing us to use wireless). Only HDMI output is offered for the HD4000 graphics which will force those needing it and requiring DVI or DP to use an adapter. A push button also allows for BIOS recovery without opening up the PC enclosure.
Sandy Bridge proved to be tricky to overclock despite high expectations of Intel's 32nm process and we had high expectations for Ivy Bridge but in reality the headroom is roughly the same as for Sandy Bridge. Things will no doubt improve as the process matures. We were unable to get sufficiently good overclocks in the time available so the following CPU-Z screen shots detail the default i7-3770K configuration.
We tested with our trusty Radeon HD 5850 to maintain comparability with previous processor reviews.
On paper the potential for overclocking by huge margins is certainly present and compatibility for memory up to 2667MHz is there (if you can find such memory). While we do not normally advocate the benefits of high speed memory, it is rather instrumental in the performance of onboard graphics which use system memory instead of any dedicated video RAM.
All games are tested at the maximum available settings and initially at 1024x768 so we can be sure of hitting CPU limitations before bandwidth or fill rate ones related to the GPU. We selected Far Cry 2 (first person shooter), HAWX (air combat) and Resident Evil 5 (horror) for our tests as they are reliable titles that are suited to benchmarking and run well on modest systems. DX11 titles include Stalker: Call of Pripyat, Lost Planet 2, Mafia 2, and Street Fighter 4.
We start with synthetic benchmarks. While they don't represent real-world performance, they are vital to understand what the potential capabilities of processors are and identify any bottlenecks.
Intel has a clear lead here and the 3770K beats the 2600K by a reasonable margin.
Here the FX-8150 wins in Integer performance and only loses marginally to the i7-3770K in the FP score. Given the sharing of floating point resources between pairs of cores on Bulldozer, one cannot help but wonder if this is part of the reason for the red bar not being longer.
Another increase in memory performance due to gradual improvements in the controller. The mind boggles as to what can be expected from the quad channel Ivy Bridge-E when it arrives.
Everest is a very comprehensive benchmark suite that is set to take the synthetic crown from SiSoft Sandra. We limited our testing to the CPU and FPU benchmarks provided.
CPU Queen is a simple integer benchmark which focuses on the branch prediction capabilities and the misprediction penalties of the CPU. It finds the solutions for the classic "Queens problem" on a 10 by 10 sized chessboard. CPU Photoworx is an integer benchmark that performs different common tasks used during digital photo processing. CPU Zlib is an integer benchmark that measures combined CPU and memory subsystem performance through the public ZLib compression library. CPU ZLib test uses only the basic x86 instructions, and it is HyperThreading, multi-processor (SMP) and multi-core (CMP) aware. CPU AES is an integer benchmark that measures CPU performance using AES (a.k.a. Rijndael) data encryption. It utilizes Vincent Rijmen, Antoon Bosselaers and Paulo Barreto's public domain C code in ECB mode.
Only the FX-8150 can come close to Intel's dominance and the i7-3770K has a clear lead.
The FPU Julia benchmark measures the single precision (also known as 32-bit) floating-point performance through the computation of several frames of the popular "Julia" fractal. The code behind this benchmark method is written in Assembly, and it is extremely optimized for every popular AMD and Intel processor core variants by utilizing the appropriate x87, 3DNow!, 3DNow!+ or SSE instruction set extension.
The FPU Mandel benchmark measures the double precision (also known as 64-bit) floating-point performance through the computation of several frames of the popular "Mandelbrot" fractal. The code behind this benchmark method is written in Assembly, and it is extremely optimized for every popular AMD and Intel processor core variants by utilizing the appropriate x87 or SSE2 instruction set extension.
The FPU SinJulia benchmark measures the extended precision (also known as 80-bit) floating-point performance through the computation of a single frame of a modified "Julia" fractal. The code behind this benchmark method is written in Assembly, and it is extremely optimized for every popular AMD and Intel processor core variants by utilizing trigonometric and exponential x87 instructions.
Here the race is much closer and the 6-core Thubans manage to win over the FX-8150. This may seem puzzling at first but when we remember that a single floating point unit (FPU) is shared between two Bulldozer cores, the FP results are much easier to interprate. The i7-3770K dominates everything else.
Of much more interest to gamers is 3D Mark Vantage and this is the de facto standard for synthetic 3D graphics benchmarks for a wide variety of gaming types.
In terms of everyday use, the only significant advantage brought by the new generation of processors is in the Communications suite. The range of applications here is extensive and readers will probably be more interested in their favoured activities (gaming, Skype, Itunes etc.)
Comparing the scores from 3d Mark 11 shows no difference in performance although the i7-2600K has more headroom. The reason for the FX Platform becomes clear as the top end Fusion GPU cannot compete in this demanding test. High end graphics are required to go with a capable CPU to achieve good results. The i7-2600K actually comes out ahead of its newer brother in some of the tests.
3DMark is a computer benchmarking tool created and developed by Futuremark Corporation (formerly MadOnion.com) to determine the performance of a computer's 3D graphic rendering and CPU workload processing capabilities. Running 3DMark produces a 3DMark score with higher numbers indicating better performance. The 3DMark measurement unit is intended to give a normalized mean for comparing different PC hardware configurations (mostly graphics processing units and central processing units), which proponents such as gamers and overclocking enthusiasts assert is indicative of end-user performance capabilities.
As expected there is little difference except for the all important CPU score which shows how much better Ivy Bridge is.
This game is very playable on any CPU over the last few years but the 3770K in particular manages to give the best performance at high resolutions (1080p) where it counts.
HAWX is a title that favours AMD processors and the FX-8150 leads the pack here. The use of extra cores benefits the user and hopefully we will see developers find ever more ingenious ways to use extra cores.
As DX9 horror games go, Resident Evil 5 is very playable on any processor and the i7-3770K leads here.
Now we look at a host of newer titles that support DX11. As usual we try to have the settings maxed out and see who falls by the wayside.
This is a very demanding title and both Intel's and AMD's top contendors manage to barely pass the 30fps mark. The A8-3850 is there for comparison and shows the futility of expecting an entry level solution to compete in a recent DX11 game. GPU limitations at even 1024x768 seem to be a factor here.
A good game that runs at above 60fps on both high end processors and is actually playable on the Llano at low resolutions.
A good beat-em up with great visual effects and quite playable on any DX11 platform.
Stalker:COP takes place soon after the events of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. After Strelok disables the Brain Scorcher, many Stalkers rush to the center of the Zone, hoping to find artifacts and treasure. The military decides this is the perfect time to take control of the Zone, and launch "Operation Fairway," a large scale helicopter recon mission intended to scout the area by air. Unfortunately, the mission goes horribly wrong, and all five STINGRAY helicopters crash. The player, Alexander Degtyarev, is sent into the Zone to investigate the crash sites on behalf of the army.
The Sun Shafts test is very demanding but the game is otherwise playable with either the FX Platform or the Intel equivelant.
Once we engage Hardware Tessellation and Contact Hardening Shadows, there is a slight performance drop but this is more than offset by the greatly improved visuals. We seem to be hitting GPU limitations and this lends credence to the Intel aim of not going down the road of higher frequency but more efficiency.
Very little to distinguish between the four processors.
Well, we have another release cycle from Intel. How much faster is Ivy Bridge than Sandy Bridge? About 3.7% on average. Not enough to justify an upgrade from Sandy Bridge but more than enough to lure away customers from AMD.
Power consumption when idle is the same as the i7-2600K but the real savings come under load saving almost 30W in our tests.
The biggest jump is in GPU performance which has more than doubled in some cases but remains below that of AMDs Fusion GPU offering. Realistically, most people will be budgeting for a discrete GPU but the HD4000 may be of interest to those on a budget purchasing one of the i5 range or perhaps looking to purchase a discrete GPU at a later dete.
The i7-3770K is the best CPU on the market today and will definitely appeal to anyone who missed out on upgrading to Sandy Bridge last year.
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