While mainstream PCs have been able to take advantage of Intel's new Haswell processors for a couple of months now, enthusiasts have been anxiously awaiting the previous generation's technology to be available in higher-performing systems. Finally, the company has delivered on the long-promised Ivy Bridge-E CPUs, with three new models for speed demons with deep pockets.
Intel's new flagship desktop chip is the Core i7-4960X Extreme Edition, which like its recent predecessors, is a six-core monster that will cost $999. For that hefty sum, you get a 3.6GHz base clock speed that can be boosted to 4GHz in Turbo mode, 15MB of L3 cache, 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes, and, of course, an unlocked multiplier for easier overclocking. You won't get the benefits of Haswell's performance and power-saving gains, however.
That will be even more of a concern with the other two new Ivy Bridge-E chips, which are more likely to go head-to-head with the highest performing Haswell processor, the Core i7-4770K. The six-core Core i7-4930K will sell for $555, while the quad-core Core i7-4820K will retail for $310, or a shade less than the i7-4770K. You do get the advantage of the unlocked multiplier, unlike with the Haswell CPU.
Reviews of the i7-4960X (such as from AnandTech, Hot Hardware, and PC Magazine) point out that it barely can outperform the i7-4770K in many tasks, though it does provide superior performance if you can make use of all six cores. It appears to be at least an improvement on the Sandy Bridge Core i7-3970X, the previous flagship Extreme Edition, though possibly not enough that you'd feel compelled to upgrade.
Of course, tweakers may want the latest and greatest for overclocking feats, and Intel is providing a new cooling solution to help coax more performance out of the Ivy Bridge-E processors. The TS13X is a liquid-cooling solution that runs roughly $100, and since the new chips don't come with stock cooling, you may want to consider it if you don't have your own cooling setup in place.
Desktop vendors have started announcing systems that will make use of the new CPUs, including Maingear, Origin PC, and Velocity Micro. Or you can wait until next year, when an eight-core Haswell-E Core i7 is expected to appear.