Today is the opening day of Computex 2016, and to mark the occasion Intel has a brand new processor family. Designed for the hardest of hardcore enthusiasts, Intel's new 14-nanometre Broadwell-E chips, the Core i7-69XX and i7-68XX, are its most powerful ever. Forget your garden-variety quad-cores and dual-cores; the Intel Core i7-6950X is an entirely unlocked, overclocking-friendly 10-core monster with support for quad-channel RAM and four graphics cards. If you can't afford the circa-$2200 price tag for the newest top-end silicon, though, new 8- and 6-core CPUs are also on the way.
The new i7 Extreme Edition CPUs follow a long tradition — a decade, in fact — of top-of-the-line, bleeding-edge chips from Intel. The Extreme Edition line started in 2003 with a single-core Pentium 4 Extreme Edition (newly with Hyper-Threading) and since then, every couple of years the number of cores has jumped. The first i7 EE was the i7-3930K with six cores and a 3.2GHz base frequency, but the new i7-6950X takes things to an entirely different level.
In terms of pure numbers-on-paper performance, the i7-6950X and its lesser i7-6900K, i7-6850K and i7-6800K compatriots are performance monsters. With a 3.0GHz base clock the top i7-6950X is actually slower in raw Hertz than its lesser variants, but wins out with more shared cache and a larger number of physical cores and virtual threads supported simultaneously. If you're looking to upgrade, though, that $US1569 price point might be a little unrealistic — it's almost $2200 in direct Australian currency after conversion, before shipping and Australia Tax — and the $US587 ($817) and $US412 ($574) 6850K and 6800K look a lot more reasonable.
Intel is saying the new chips can fulfill the same task that Twitch streamers and Let's Play YouTubers have previously been using two PCs for. Instead of using one PC for gaming and another to transcode and upload the digitally captured footage from that machine, a 10-core i7-6950X CPU can handle all of that simultaneously while operating at peak performance and not dropping frames during gameplay. And the new chips support up to 4 discrete graphics cards, as well as Intel's fast I/O with Thunderbolt 3.
Here's a table with the new Broadwell-E processor family's core specs, and a comparison to Intel's Extreme Edition chips of old, as well as the chipsets that the EE processors have been running on since 2013. The motherboard side of things hasn't evolved hugely since the X79 chipset for Ivy Bridge-E, apart from support for faster 2400MHz DDR4, but the processors' shared cache, the number of physical cores available and Turbo Boost Max 3.0 processor clock adjustment is where the new CPUs set themselves apart.
Turbo Boost Max 3.0 is an evolution of Turbo Boost 2.0 in the same way that Nvidia's GPU Boost 3.0 evolved on its ancestor. Turbo Boost Max 3.0 improves the new Extreme Edition CPUs' single-threaded performance by benchmarking and marking the fastest possible core on the entire die, then assigning critical single-threaded workloads to that most capable core through Intel's drivers. Intel's technical team was at pains to tell us that "this is not overclocking, this is a sustained thing," designed to make the EE chips competitive with faster-clocking quad- or dual-core Skylake i7s or i5 despite lower frequency speeds per individual core.
Intel claims 35 per cent faster multi-threaded performance versus the previous generation's top chips. In its presentation, Intel's tech team talked about "megatasking" — a new buzzword they've come up with that refers to more complex workloads than multi-tasking. When you multi-task, Intel says, you might have half a dozen different Chrome windows and Word documents open, unrelated tasks. When you megatask, you'll be mixing and matching similar processor workloads and disciplines. Here's an example they described: "On these platforms we ran Rocket League in 4K, we made sure that while it was running it maintained 60 frames per second — a 4K game at 60fps. While that was happening we streamed it on Twitch at 1080p. With those two things happening in parallel, we captured the gameplay for around 9 minutes and transcoded it from 4K to 1080p, then we went to upload it to YouTube.
"This is what gamers typically do. And the transcoding piece ran 25% faster on Broadwell-E compared to Haswell-E: you can do this 'mega-tasking' scenario and see better performance versus the previous CPU." When you have applications that work together, like video editing plus animation rendering and post-processing effects or roto-scoping, Intel is confident its new chips will outperform old ones and any competitor's product. The new i7 Extreme Editions' on-chip specs — 40 PCI-Express lanes, up to 25MB of cache, may only be a small upgrade from the previous generation, but it's the behind-the-scenes stuff that matters most.
The new chips support overclocking and are fully unlocked, and all have the same heft 140 Watt TDP running on the existing LGA-2011v3 socket. Overclockers will be happy to hear about new single-core overclocking features, with independent clockspeeds possible on a single chip: "We now allow individual ratios on a per-core basis, so you can set individual frequencies per core." Tried and tested combinations of motherboard, RAM and CPU will also be certified for certain levels of stock and overclocked performance: "There's an effort where memory vendors and motherboard vendors will work together to test overclocked motherboard/BIOS/memory setups to confirm their ability — and we will post that on our XMP overclocking website."
We don't have confirmed release dates for Intel's new Broadwell-E chips, nor confirmed Australian pricing, but we'll let you know as soon as we get it. Don't expect them to be cheap!