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Intel Broadwell-E: performance and technology explained

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Intel broadwell e

Intel has launched its most ambitious enthusiast processors ever, refreshing its line of high-end Core i7 processors with new six-core, eight-core and ten-core processors.

You read that right: that’s ten cores on a desktop CPU. Why on Earth would you want such a thing?

Related: All the latest news from Computex

Intel Broadwell-E – Technology explained

Intel’s latest Broadwell -E desktop chips are for what the company calls ‘megatasking’. Don’t be fooled; this is just a marketing term but it does at least accurately (and with a cool name) represent the way in which computing tasks have evolved over the last few years. Multimedia creation (think game streaming, video production, games design and 3D modelling) is happening more and more frequently on a single PC, where before these tasks would have happened on multiple systems, meaning the typical four-core processor is under a fair amount of pressure to keep things going.

Cores for celebration

Intel already had six- and eight-core chips, but the addition of the ten-core i7-6950X is new ground for an Intel desktop CPU.

What do you get for your $1,569 (£1,286 inc VAT)? You get ten cores and twenty threads, thanks to Hyper-Threading technology (we explain Hyper-Threading in this article) running at a base clock speed of 3GHz. This is actually a lower clock speed than the eight-core 6900K (3.2GHz) and six-core 6850K (3.6GHz), but the reasons for this drop make sense: each chip is exactly the same size, fitting into the LGA2011-v3 socket. With more cores in the same amount of space, there’s more heat, so for balanced performance, a lower clock speed is needed to keep things cool.

Intel Broadwell-E map

A diagram of the Intel Core i7-6950X with ten cores

Fear not, though, with your twenty threads you’ll get some pretty scintillating performance in big computing tasks. Not only does the processor come with a huge 25MB of ultra high-speed cache memory (2.5MB per core), the chip has an impressive TDP (thermal design power) of 140W, so the cooling demands from the 6950X won’t be completely ridiculous. By comparison, the top-end consumer Core i7-6700K has a TDP of 91W.

The other new processors include an eight-core i7-6900K costing $999 and two six-core chips, the 6850K and 6800K priced at $587 and $412 respectively. You can see their specifications in the table below.

Intel Broadwell E specs

Turbo Boost Max 3.0

This is a pretty significant development. Turbo Boost allows cores to boost to a higher clock speed when thermal conditions allow, making for better performance in quickfire tasks. Turbo Boost Max 3.0 takes this further, assigning programs running on your PC to the best available core. This means if your video render needs a bit of a boost, Intel’s processor will auto-magically assign it to the core that’s running the coolest and therefore with the best performance.

Each core can be individually overclocked for ultra-fine tuning of performance.

Performance

The headline performance figures are as follows: the i7-6950X will be 25% faster in Adobe Premier, 20% faster when encoding video in Handbrake and 20% faster in Blender 3D modelling software than the previous-generation, eight-core Haswell-E i7-5960X.

Compatibility

Broadwell-E replaces Haswell-E but still uses the same processor socket, so if you feel the need to replace your Haswell-E processor, a Broadwell-E one should slot right in. You should wait for a motherboard BIOS update, before you do so.

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