This article describes some of the pro's and con's of the new Haswell-E CPU, the X99 platform and DDR4 memory.

It has finally happened. The new Haswell-E i7-59xx CPU's and new motherboards with the X99 chipset are getting available, as is DDR4 memory. That raises the question, are they ready for prime time?

First of all, start reading Tom's Hardware Review of the i7-5960X Haswell-E and AnandTech | The Intel Haswell-E CPU Review: Core i7-5960X, i7-5930K and i7-5820K Tested to see all the huge benefits of this new generation. At least on paper. But it comes at a price, so the basic question is, are they worth the upgrade?

Well, it depends on where you are coming from.

  • You need a new machine anyway (the old one may have died or is so old and antique, that there is no alternative). In that case the answer is a clear yes.
  • You consider upgrading from a quad core mainstream machine (i7-47xx or even less). In that case the answer is a clear yes.
  • You have an old hexa core (i7-980). In that case the answer is a likely yes.
  • You have a SB-E or IB-E hexa core (i7-39xx or i7-49xx). In that case the answer is probably not.

The cost of upgrading is sizeable:

  • Count on around € 385 for an ASUS Rampage V Extreme motherboard with the 2011-v3 socket and X99 chipset.
  • Count on around € 455 for the i7-5930K hexa core or even € 810 for the i7-5960X octa core.
  • Count on at least € 315 for 32 GB of DDR4-2133 memory or € 630 for 64 GB. DDR4-2666 is way more expensive. Think around € 520 per 32 GB.

Even the most basic upgrade, assuming you continue using your chassis, CPU cooler, PSU, video card, disks, etc. you are still facing an expenditure of at least € 1,155. If you go for a serious upgrade (octa core and 64 GB), you are looking at an upgrade cost of € 1,825. (European prices in September 2014).

But it does not end there. In order to profit from these new Haswell-E / X99 machines, you may also need a new CPU cooler, a new PSU and a new video card. You will need to improve the disk setup to benefit from all those PCIe lanes.

Why these reservations about Haswell-E?

The Haswell-E CPU is produced on a 22 nm scale, just like the mainstream quad core Haswell, but that production process is still in its infancy. Effectively that causes wide variances between individual CPU's, depending on the production batch. Some are easily overclocked, others show far less tolerance for overclocking. The problem is that you never know whether you buy a CPU from a 'good' batch, or from a 'bad' batch. You may end up with a CPU that is easy to overclock to 4.5 GHz, but equally possible is that the CPU can only be overclocked to around 4.0 GHz and becomes highly unstable at higher frequencies.

Just as the Haswell, the Haswell-E can be easily overclocked to around 4.0 Ghz with only small increases in vCore, but over 4.0 GHz the vCore needs to be much higher for stable operation, with inherent power supply and temperature problems. Thus it may require a new PSU, especially if the current one is several years old, due to capacitor aging. And the very high temperatures of an overclocked Haswell-E may require a complete redesign of the cooling in the chassis and a better CPU cooler. These factors increase the upgrade price.

Given the extremely high temperatures of an overclocked Haswell-E under load, one may consider a 'real' water-cooling solution (not a simple Corsair H system) with at least a 360 or better 480 mm radiator. The downside, apart from the price and installation hassle, is of course the increased fan noise and the extra draw on the PSU from the water pump.

One may wonder about Intel's decision to lower the clock-speed for the octa core, just to keep energy consumption at a decent 140W level, but that also gives us a new problem. Do we choose the i7-5930K hexa core with 15 MB of L3 cache @ 3.5 GHz as the best 'Bang-for-the-Buck' CPU, or is it the i7-5960X octa core with 20 MB of L3 cache @ 3.0 GHz, despite the significantly higher price? We know more cores and bigger L3 cache is very beneficial with exporting and editing 4K material, but is the around 15% performance difference at stock speed worth the price difference? Keep in mind that if you use plug-ins that are not very good at multi-threading, like RedGiant or Neat, the nod goes to the higher clocked hexa core i7-5930K, but if everything is perfectly multi-threaded, the nod may well go to the octa core i7-5960X.

Time will tell ...

DDR4 memory

The situation now is no different than with the initial introduction of the X79 platform. There are few DDR4 kits available and one needs at least 4 x 8GB = 32 GB for the hexa core CPU and better 8 x 8GB = 64 GB for the octa core CPU. Of course they are at least 2133, but preferably faster. However, initial testing by Eric Bowen has shown the rather finicky nature of the memory controller in the Haswell-E. To make matters worse, some faster DDR4 modules operate on 1.35V instead of the standard 1.2V. We all remember the problems with fully populated X79 boards and the DDR3 memory modules that operated at 1.65V. It looks that the Haswell-E has the same problems, but now with DDR4. One can only hope that the market will continue to rapidly increase offerings of stable and reliable DDR4 modules.

G.Skill has announced the following memory modules:

So it appears that up to 2800 MHz there should not be any problem with the memory controller, using 1.2V

Initial prices are expected to be around $ 550 for DDR4-2666 in a quad 4 x 8GB kit for 32 GB.

 

What else?

If you go for a Haswell-E system, better go all out and profit from all those PCIe lanes. Two very obvious things come to mind:

  • One or even two new video cards, like the new nVidia GTX 970 or 980, based on the Maxwell architecture.
  • The new Areca ARC-1883X 12G SAS raid controller with 8 GB DDR3-1866 cache memory and two SFF-8644 cables.

Since 12G SAS SSD's are still prohibitively expensive enterprise models and 12G backplanes are in extremely short supply, you may need to revert to 12G SAS expanders, like this one:

It doesn't come cheap, but with 24 1TB Samsung 850 Pro SSD's you will not quickly run out of space or speed. And the specs look good:

Of course this all adds up, hence the recommendation to wait a bit if you are not in a bind now. Maybe even some details will leak out about the coming Broadwell-E successor of the Haswell-E, that makes waiting a bit more sensible.

A new Haswell-E build

If you are contemplating to build a new Haswell-E system in the coming months, here are two build suggestions depending on the budget available:

Haswell-E mainstream system

CPU: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/intel-cpu-bx80648i75930k] Intel Core i7-5930K 3.5GHz 6-Core Processor  ($549.95 @ SuperBiiz)
CPU Cooler: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/noctua-cpu-cooler-nhd15] Noctua NH-D15 82.5 CFM CPU Cooler  ($99.99 @ Newegg)
Motherboard: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/asus-motherboard-x99ews] Asus X99-E WS SSI CEB LGA2011-3 Motherboard  ($483.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Memory: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/gskill-memory-f42800c15q32grbb] G.Skill Ripjaws 4 series 32GB (4 x 8GB) DDR4-2800 Memory  ($575.98 @ Newegg)
OS & Programs: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/samsung-internal-hard-drive-mzhpu256hcgl00000] Samsung XP941 Series 256GB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive  ($249.99 @ Newegg)
Storage: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/samsung-internal-hard-drive-mz7ke512bw] 4 x Samsung 850 Pro Series 512GB 2.5" Solid State Drive  ($342.99 @ Amazon each)
Video Card:http://pcpartpicker.com/part/evga-video-card-04gp42978kr] EVGA GeForce GTX 970 4GB FTW ACX 2.0 Video Card  ($378.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Power Supply: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/corsair-power-supply-cp9020074] Corsair 1000W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply  ($219.99 @ Newegg)

Total: $3930.84 per January 10, 2015

Haswell-E warrior system

CPU: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/intel-cpu-bx80648i75960x] Intel Core i7-5960X 3.0GHz 8-Core Processor  ($1004.99 @ NCIX US)
CPU Cooler: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/noctua-cpu-cooler-nhd15] Noctua NH-D15 82.5 CFM CPU Cooler  ($99.99 @ Newegg)
Motherboard: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/asus-motherboard-x99ews] Asus X99-E WS SSI CEB LGA2011-3 Motherboard  ($483.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Memory: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/gskill-memory-f42800c15q264grk] G.Skill Ripjaws 4 series 64GB (8 x 8GB) DDR4-2800 Memory  ($1405.38 @ Newegg) *
OS & Programs: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/samsung-internal-hard-drive-mzhpu256hcgl00000] Samsung XP941 Series 256GB M.2-2280 Solid State Drive  ($249.99 @ Newegg)
Storage: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/samsung-internal-hard-drive-mz7ke512bw] 8 x Samsung 850 Pro Series 512GB 2.5" Solid State Drive  ($342.99 @ Amazon each)
Video Card: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/evga-video-card-04gp43988kr] EVGA GeForce GTX 980 4GB Classified ACX 2.0 Video Card  ($699.99 @ Amazon)
Power Supply: http://pcpartpicker.com/part/corsair-power-supply-cp9020074] Corsair 1000W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply  ($219.99 @ Newegg)
Other: http://newegg.com Areca ARC 1883iX-16-8G PICe 3.0 x8 SAS Raid Controller] Areca ARC-1883iX-16-8G PCIe 3.0 x8 SAS Raid Controller ($1219.99 @ Newegg)

Total: $8128.23 per January 10, 2015

* $ 253,42 can be saved by buying two 4 x 8GB DDR4 sets, instead of one octo 8 x 8GB set and this should be feasible, since the two memory banks are electrically separate. No guarantees, however.

The essential differences between the Main Stream and the Warrior versions are CPU (6 or 8 cores), memory (32 or 64 GB), storage (4 x or 8 x Samsung 850 Pro) and the extra raid controller.

If you think you may need two video cards, the first step is to upgrade the PSU to 1200W and consider adding a GTX970 for the displays. SLI is not advised. Note that adding an extra video card will generally not help to reduce export times, since that is a CPU matter.