Upgrading from Sandybridge to Broadwell-E

An informal review of upgrading to X99 and Broadwell-E 

Last month I treated myself to a new computer build. My Sandybridge 2600k CPU has been by my side since 2012, but I find I’m pushing it to its limits and need more power. I’ve re-purposed the build into a second gaming PC, so it is still humming along at my house. I’m just not its primary user anymore.

Old Specs:

CPU: 2600k Sandybridge overclocked to 4.3ghz
Heatsink: Coolermaster Hyper 212 EVO
RAM: 4x8GB 1866 DDR3 (9-10-9-28-2N)
Motherboard: Asus P8Z68-V Pro/Gen 3
Graphics: Powercolor R9 290 PCS+

New Specs:

CPU: 6850k Broadwell-E Overclocked to 4.2ghz
Heatsink: Noctua NH-D15
RAM: 4x16GB 3200mhz DDR4 (15-15-15-35-2N)
Motherboard: Asus X99 Strix
Graphics: Powercolor R9 290 PCS+ (overclocked to 1125mhz core/1525mhz mem)
Case: Fractal Design Define S (Ordered this after I had the system and reviewed temperatures)

No case? No problem! Time to test my upgrade!

No case? No problem! Time to test my upgrade!

My main reasons for upgrading was twofold:

  1. I regularly hit the 32GB limit of memory that my CPU and motherboard supports when running virtual machines and other tasks on my computer.
  2. I notice a performance hit when playing games when multitasking, for example when I’m watching Twitch streams.

There’s been a lot of talk on forums and Reddit when it comes to upgrading from Sandybridge. For most, overclocking their 2500k or 2600k should be more than enough to let them stick with what they have. However, as I read through posts and looked at how I use my computer, I concluded that these statements and opinions don’t necessarily apply to my own usage scenarios. (Or maybe I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about with X99.)

When the initial reviews for Broadwell-E were released I was disappointed. A lot of high expectations were killed in their tracks, such as high overclocks, but I saw some gains in the new architecture. For one, the memory controller supports faster memory. This is important for me, since I’m buying some fast DDR4 to go with my purchase. Why? DDR4 is relatively inexpensive at the moment, and there are some reviews out there that show higher speed ram helps improve minimum frame rates.

Exhibit A – Convincing yourself it’s time for an upgrade:

Skylake vs. Sandy Bridge: Discrete GPU Showdown

This review shows how even though Sandybridge fairs well with average frame rates, it tends to have more difficulty maintaining consistent frame output. This is turn results in stuttering or slight hangs in more demanding scenes.

Exhibit B – Upgrades are too expensive, upgrading memory is the answer:

Is it finally time to upgrade your Core i5 2500K?

Intel Core i3 6100 Skylake Review – The Best Budget Gaming CPU?

Both of these reviews show that the old age arguments of “1600Mhz DDR3 is more than enough” or “fast memory is overrated” might not be looking at the whole picture. It’s not necessarily max frame rates, but I’d rather keep frame time consistent or minimum frame rates high as I feel this translates into a better gaming experience. Unfortunately, this opinion has yet to gain popularity in favour of “OMG! Max framerate only went up by 2%!”.

How does the new system feel?

I’ve had a chance to play Battlefield 4, CS:GO, and World of Tanks with the new setup. All I can say is that each game feels “buttery smooth” in comparison. It honestly feels like a much better experience and I kind of wish I hadn’t waited so long to upgrade. Oh, and Twitch/VM’s and gaming is a thing now, and I’m able to multitask without any noticeable performance hit.

If I didn’t have a need for a second gaming PC I would have stayed with my Sandybridge system a while longer. However, this need is what convinced me it was time to upgrade and I’m honestly glad I did.

Broadwell-E overclocked on air!? How!?

This came up on the Overclock.net forums. The initial reviews show really poor overclocks for the 6800k in particular, which is one of the reasons I opted for the 6850k. I figured I’d just have a better chance at keeping the temperatures down since the review samples of the 6850k handled higher overclocks on lower voltage.

I was shooting for a 4.3ghz overclock but I’m still not fully stable at 1.28v. My 64GB of DDR4 is probably a factor here, but I backed off to 4.2ghz for now until I can take another look. I’ve been fully stable at 4.2 for a couple of weeks now.

Overclocking the upgrade!

Testing 4.3ghz

With my current overclock I top out at around 77-78C when stress testing with avx instructions, but the CPU stays between 60 – 70C for other heavy loads (with an ambient temperature of around 25C). It’s a bit warm as I’m still using air cooling, but I’ve yet to run into any overheating issues with my setup.

Fully stable at 4.2 but here's an attempt at 4.3.

Fully stable at 4.2 but here’s an attempt at 4.3.

Benchmarking the upgrade!

Cinebench R15 at 4.3ghz

Conclusions

I’m very happy with my upgrade and look forward to have a new system that will serve me well in the future. It’s been one of the easier builds I’ve worked on so it was fun to get this system up and running to see what it had to offer.

Maybe you’re reading this and trying to decide on what to do. If so, I hope you’ve found this review to be helpful and offers some insights you might not have found elsewhere. I don’t think jumping to X99 is for everyone. Keeping your existing build is more than okay too! Everyone’s situation is different.

If you insist on a new build my advice would be to try to wait and see what AMD’s Zen line has to offer this fall. Competition should help benefit you as a consumer and might help push down Intel’s prices.

Alternatively,  you might just want a small upgrade while you wait for something new to release. If so, consider grabbing an SSD (if you don’t already have one) or take a look at your graphics card or memory. You can always carry some parts to your new system or sell them after you upgrade.