Sunday, September 7, 2014

Haswell-E is here

Haswell_E

Haswell-E finally hit the market on August 29 and the whole review sites went crazy. It was about time Intel refreshed its enthusiast platform, as it was catering the enthusiast community with technology from 3-4 years ago.

Intel made a few changes to the product line this time, compared to the previous two. Some are for the better, some are for the worse.

Goods and bads of Haswell-E


The merits of Haswell-E are the following.
  1. Release of the first consumer grade 8-core CPU from Intel
  2. The baseline model being a 6-core CPU instead of 4-core, but costing only a fraction above the 4790K CPU
  3. 10 native SATA 6Gbps ports
  4. Quad Channel DDR4 support
  5. Lots of native USB 3.0 ports
  6. 10Gbps M.2 support
On the other hand, we have the following deal-breakers.
  1. You have to shed $1000 to get those 8-cores
  2. The baseline model lacks full PCI-E support (28-lanes vs. 40-lanes in the other two SKUs)
  3. DDR4 is pretty expensive at the moment
  4. The boards are fairly more expensive and the Micro ATX board options are limited. (You can confidently claim that Mini-ITX won't be a reality this time either)
  5. Needs a cooler that can handle a lot of TDP, such a dual tower air cooler or an AI 240mm rad. Custom water cooling is recommended for people who are willing to shed a grand on the Octa-core model and overclock
  6. Large variation in overclockability just like the mainstream Haswell variants

A word about the reviews

It's funny seeing all the reviewers praising the performance improvement of the 8-core flagship over the 4960x, it's predecessor. Obviously it is going to be faster with its two extra cores. It is unnecessary to read reviews to get educated about it. In fact, the two things people were looking forward to obtain from these reviews were overclocking potential and temperatures reached as a result.

Overclocking: the only thing enthusiasts are really interested in


As the architecture is identical to mainstream Haswell, you could always interpolate the results of the 4790K for instance and get an idea about the performance of each SKU in the Haswell-E series of CPUs. Overclocking potential was interesting because Haswell architecture has a lot of issues and doubling the number of cores would only complicate things. But according to some reviews, the reviewers were able to get the clocks to around the same clocks as the mainstream model which is quite satisfying.

It could not be expected these chips to be binned as Devil's Canyon in terms of clock speeds because of the lower base clocks, hence the clock speed variation of the original Haswell chip possibly still exists. Some say the 6-core chips would overclock higher due to being less complex but it could be a coincidence because otherwise we should be seeing the easy 5GHz overclocks on the mainstream models. So far it has been a far cry, even on the binned Devil's Canyon chips.

Is delidding required or not?


One other thing that pops up when talking about overclocking is delidding. Do you have to delid these chips to make them run cooler? It seems that they come with the die soldered to the IHS. as a previous post on OCDrift.com revealed.

5960X-delidded-ocdrift

Photo courtesy of OCDrift.com

But there are confusion as to why MSI would bundle a "Delid Die Guard" with their motherboards if these couldn't be delidded. You cannot delid them if solder is used as it would rip the die off. I hope that it is a case of the reviewer models being soldered and the retail models being not. That would make many people furious.

MSI Die Guard

A pic of the Delid Die Guard that comes bundled with MSI X99S XPOWER AC board.

Does DDR4 matter?

DDR4

There is no way to know whether going from DDR3 to DDR4 yields in any tangible performance improvement, as there isn’t a single platform that supports both memory types. We'll probably have to wait till Skylake platform until such comparison can be performed, though it is still not confirmed that Skylake would support both types of DIMMs.

X99 platform adopted DDR4 probably for the sake of supporting higher density memory modules as 16GB DIMMs are arriving soon. (At the time of writing this article, the highest density available is 8GB per module.) Despite the fact that DDR4 memory uses less power as a result of using lower operational voltage, it is hard to believe that lower power consumption is an item in any potential buyer’s checklist.

However, the current DDR4 prices - especially for the ones reaching 3GHz mark - are quite steep. 16GB DDR4-2133 kits are sold for around $250-300 on Newegg, whereas the faster units can reach up to $500. Since it is common place to find 32GB or even 64GB of RAM employed in these workstation systems, be prepared to set aside a substantial amount of the budget just for RAM.

My recommendation

So, where do I stand?

If I were to get a Haswell-E chip today, I would go with the baseline model, the 5820K. This is for three reasons.

Firstly, the most number of graphics cards I would employ in my rig is two and 28 PCI-E lanes is ample for two of current and a couple of generations of graphics cards to arrive in the future. Having 40 PCI-E lanes would be a waste of resources in my situation.

Secondly, I don't have $1000 to dump in to the CPU. It is ridiculous when you think you would be spending almost three times the price for just 33% increase in core count. I probably wouldn't do that even if I could. I can think of better ways to spend that $600. For instance, couple of 512GB SSDs in RAID-0 along with a couple of 4TB drives.

Thirdly, I do not think I can house a 8-core CPU overclocked to around 4.4GHz in my small case, especially with the Noctua NH-U12S single tower air cooler. I should be fine with the 6-core models.

It is funny how some people say that the 5930k is the best bang for the buck CPU. That used to be the case with SB-E and IB-E but not with Haswell. Heck, the 5820K is the best bang for the buck chip even when you consider both the enthusiast and the mainstream platforms together. I have no hesitation recommending that chip.

I said, “chip” and not the platform. The 4790K + Z97 is still the best setup unless you are into content creation. The Z97 platform is solid and way affordable. An X99 board would ask for $100 to 150 price premium over a Z97 board equipped with similar features. Further, DDR4 is asking for an excess of $100-200 over DDR3 as well. Basically, to get that extra 2 cores, which you might hardly utilize, you would have to spend at least $250. It would be must worse elsewhere though. For example, there is about a  $500 difference between a 4790K setup and a 5820K setup.

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