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Meet Intel’s Second-Gen Core CPUs

Intel’s Second-Gen Core CPUs: The Sandy Bridge Review
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New Names, Of Course

There are a total of 14 new desktop CPUs launching today (an additional 15 are being made available in the mobile space). The Core i3, i5, and i7 brands persist, roughly denoting entry-level, mainstream, and enthusiast parts. However, the modifiers are changing. Also, Intel is making more rampant use of suffixes at the end of the model names.


i7-2600K
i7-2600
i5-2500K
i5-2500
i5-2400
i5-2300
i3-2120
i3-2100
Price
$317
$294
$216
$205
$184
$177
$138
$117
TDP
95 W
95 W95 W95 W95 W95 W
65 W
65 W
Cores / Threads
4/8
4/8
4/4
4/4
4/4
4/4
2/4
2/4
Base Clock
3.4 GHz
3.4 GHz
3.3 GHz
3.3 Ghz
3.1 GHz
2.8 GHz
3.3 GHz
3.1 GHz
Max. Turbo Clock
3.8 GHz
3.8 GHz
3.7 GHz
3.7 GHz
3.4 GHz
3.1 GHz
N/A
N/A
Memory (MT/s)
1333
1333133313331333133313331333
L3 Cache
8 MB
8 MB
6 MB
6 MB
6 MB
6 MB
3 MB
3 MB
HD Graphics
3000
2000
3000
20002000200020002000
Max. Graphics Clock
1350 MHz
1350 MHz1100 MHz
1100 MHz
1100 MHz
1100 MHz1100 MHz1100 MHz
Hyper-Threading
Yes
Yes
No
No
No
No
Yes
Yes
AVX Support
Yes
YesYesYesYesYesYesYes
Quick Sync Support
Yes
YesYesYesYesYesYesYes
AES-NI Support
Yes
YesYesYesYesYesNo
No
Interface
LGA 1155
LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1155


Consistent across the new models is the ‘2’ leading each model designator. Of course, this represents Intel’s second-generation Core processors, and is almost-humorously the only component of Intel’s naming scheme that actually means something. The three numbers that follow are arbitrary performance indicators—exactly what you grew accustomed to from the Nehalem-era CPUs. Intel uses clock rate, L3 cache, Hyper-Threading, and Turbo Boost to differentiate one model from another. It’s a safe guess, though, that -2600 is faster than -2500 and so on.

Some of the model numbers end with four digits. Others are succeeded by a K, S, or T. We already know from the Core i7-875K and Core i5-655K that the K denotes an unlocked clock multiplier. Intel is offering two K-series SKUs—the Core i7-2600K and Core i5-2500K—both hit with a premium over the non-K versions. If you’re an enthusiast planning to overclock, it’s worth ponying up the extra cash for the more flexible parts.

S-series parts should be familiar as well. We’ve seen Intel play games with the S designator in the past, dropping performance on its Core i5-750S to hit an 82 W TDP and simultaneously raising its price. The company isn’t giving out prices on its S-class models prior to launch, claiming these are going to be channel-oriented CPUs that you won't be buying online. We do know these “lifestyle” parts feature lower 65 W TDPs, though, and will still hit the same maximum Turbo Boost levels when the thermal headroom exists.

The ‘T’ suffix is new, denoting a handful of low-power 35 and 45 W desktop processors that employ reduced voltages and base clock rates to hit more aggressive thermal profiles. The only model that defies Intel’s establish nomenclature is the Core i5-2390T, which doesn’t feature four cores, like the i5 would suggest, but instead offers two cores with Hyper-Threading. Why this couldn’t have just been a Core i3, I’m not sure.

A New Interface, Too

This one is bound to rile up anyone who recently spent their Christmas cash on a new Lynnfield- or Clarkdale-based platform. Yes, Sandy Bridge employs a new processor interface called LGA 1155. Yes, that’s one-pin off from the existing LGA 1156 interface, breaking the compatibility of a socket that’s just over one year old. In fact, the actual interface is identical; it’s just keyed differently to prevent you from dropping in a Lynnfield- or Clarkdale-based CPU.

LGA 1156 (left) and LGA 1155 (right): Completely different pin-outsLGA 1156 (left) and LGA 1155 (right): Completely different pin-outs

Intel says the move to LGA 1155 couldn’t be helped. Sandy Bridge revolves around the idea of integration. Things moved onto the processor die that weren’t there before. And as a result, pins had to be moved around in response. The folks we talked to at Intel insisted that, had it been possible to make Sandy Bridge LGA 1156-compatible, it would have, as the company doesn’t make any money on an interface transition (that’s only partially true—it’s still selling the chipsets that go onto new motherboards).

But before you jump all over Intel for this one, realize that AMD faced the same challenges with its Bulldozer-based Zambezi, expected later this year. The company has gone on record saying it could have made the next-gen processor AM3-compatible, giving up architectural capabilities in the process. The smart move, however, was to simply transition to Socket AM3+, enabling the architecture’s full complement of features.

Bottom line: LGA 1155 breaks compatibility with the existing infrastructure, necessitating a platform upgrade. Unfortunately, the P67/H67 chipsets don’t really give you any features that weren’t already available on high-end P55-based motherboards, so the value proposition takes a substantial hit if you’re already rocking a decent mid-range machine.

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Top Comments
  • 11 Hide
    cangelini , January 3, 2011 3:41 AM
    juncturei think the author's saying he's sexually active


    Just this.
  • 10 Hide
    juncture , January 3, 2011 3:35 AM
    "an unlocked Sandy Bridge chip for $11 extra is actually pretty damn sexy."

    i think the author's saying he's a sexually active cyberphile
Other Comments
  • 6 Hide
    JE_D , January 3, 2011 3:15 AM
    BENCHIES! Thanks Tomshardware!
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , January 3, 2011 3:21 AM
    Editor, page 10 has mistakes. Its LGA1155, not LGA1555.
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , January 3, 2011 3:25 AM
    MoneyFace pEditor, page 10 has mistakes. Its LGA1155, not LGA1555.


    Fixed, thanks Money!
  • 10 Hide
    juncture , January 3, 2011 3:35 AM
    "an unlocked Sandy Bridge chip for $11 extra is actually pretty damn sexy."

    i think the author's saying he's a sexually active cyberphile
  • 11 Hide
    cangelini , January 3, 2011 3:41 AM
    juncturei think the author's saying he's sexually active


    Just this.
  • 7 Hide
    fakie , January 3, 2011 3:49 AM
    Contest is limited to residents of the USA (excluding Rhode Island) 18 years of age and older.

    Everytime there's a new contest, I see this line. =(
  • 5 Hide
    englandr753 , January 3, 2011 3:51 AM
    Great article guys. Glad to see you got your hands on those beauties. I look forward to you doing the same type of review with bulldozer. =D
  • 5 Hide
    joytech22 , January 3, 2011 3:52 AM
    Wow Intel owns when it came to converting video, beating out much faster dedicated solutions, which was strange but still awesome.

    I don't know how AMD's going to fare but i hope their new architecture will at least compete with these CPU's, because for a few years now AMD has been at least a generation worth of speed behind Intel.

    Also Intel's IGP's are finally gaining some ground in the games department.
  • 6 Hide
    cangelini , January 3, 2011 3:58 AM
    fakieContest is limited to residents of the USA (excluding Rhode Island) 18 years of age and older.Everytime there's a new contest, I see this line. =(


    I really wish this weren't the case fakie--and I'm very sorry it is. We're unfortunately subject to the will of the finance folks and the government, who make it hard to give things away without significant tax ramifications. I know that's of little consolation, but that's the reason :( 

    Best,
    Chris
  • 1 Hide
    LuckyDucky7 , January 3, 2011 4:07 AM
    "It’s the value-oriented buyers with processor budgets between $100 and $150 (where AMD offers some of its best deals) who get screwed."

    I believe that says it all. Sorry, Intel, your new architecture may be excellent, but unless the i3-2100 series outperforms anything AMD can offer at the same price range WHILE OVERCLOCKED, you will see none of my desktop dollars.

    That is all.
  • 6 Hide
    DjEaZy , January 3, 2011 4:13 AM
    ... will wait til 'buldozer'... and two things may happen... the buldozer at the price point will kick ass... or the sandy bridge parts will get cheaper...
  • 3 Hide
    touchdowntexas13 , January 3, 2011 4:30 AM
    There is some pretty cool stuff going on here. I like the way the article points out the good and the bad. As for me I really am mystified at Intel's decision to only put the higher end graphics in the k-models as most likely anyone buying them will be going for the P67 platform that doesn't even use the integrated graphics. It would have been soooo much better for the HTPC crowd if there were some lower end chips with the better integrated graphics. I guess somehow this is money motivated???

    As for overclocking, well it seems a bit odd in the way it is being implemented. But for $216, I can't complain too much about a quad-core with a base clock of 3.3 GHz. Some enthusiasts won't like the limited overclocking features, but others will welcome the simplified approach.

    I will be building my brother a new gaming computer for graduation this summer and now I have another viable option to look at. I had planned on going with a P55 + i5 760, but now I will need to consider the P67 + i5 2500K.

    Waiting on bulldozer...
  • 7 Hide
    jyar727 , January 3, 2011 4:36 AM
    I mean this looks like a thorough test but its really not. I wanted to see an I7 1:1 clock performance comparisons. Mainly, 3.4GHz I7-950 vs 3.4GHz I7-2600K. Obviously 3.4 GHz new tech would usually beat a 3.0 current tech in benches. UGH. lame lame lame. Really want to see this comparison instead.
  • 7 Hide
    silversurfernhs , January 3, 2011 4:39 AM
    Shouldn't the title be second gen Core i series... because Core 2s were second gen Cores, weren't they?
  • 8 Hide
    Tamz_msc , January 3, 2011 4:57 AM
    Where is the 980x in these benchmarks?
    Other than that its a great article, and I'm drooling over QuickSync!
  • 0 Hide
    Maziar , January 3, 2011 5:30 AM
    Thanks for the review Chris :) 
    QuickSync definitely looks interesting.
  • 1 Hide
    Ramar , January 3, 2011 5:34 AM
    I just bought an i5-760 system on 12/30 from newegg, I guess I wasn't paying attention to when Sandy Bridge would actually be released. It's not here yet, so I could just send the mobo and cpu back when they get here, but I don't see enough justification as a gamer to move to the 2500k. Based on the number of 1.35V 4.7ghz for the 2600k, I would assume that on stock voltage it doesn't get much higher in frequency than my 760 will, and I don't like raising stock voltage.

    This is all very nice, but I'll keep my bclk control for now and maybe move up when I get out of college in seven months and the tech is set in stone and dropping in price a little.

    Not a bad chip, and I'm excited to see where they go with it. =]
  • -1 Hide
    Hellbound , January 3, 2011 5:45 AM
    Is sandy bridge the replacement to the x58 chipset? I thought I read somewhere they were planning on x68 sometime in 2011.
  • 1 Hide
    djdarko321 , January 3, 2011 6:00 AM
    Remember though as this is the lower end Sandy Bridge platform NOT THE MAIN LGA2011 socket. As Intel decided to release for the mainstream first before the enthusiasts this go around.
  • -2 Hide
    Tamz_msc , January 3, 2011 6:08 AM
    Just looked at the AnandTech review and here is their opinion -

    Quote:
    In all but the heaviest threaded applications, Sandy Bridge is the fastest chip on the block—and you get the performance at a fairly reasonable price. The Core i7-2600K is tempting at $317 but the Core i5-2500K is absolutely a steal at $216. You're getting nearly $999 worth of performance at roughly a quarter of the cost.


    These things are as fast as the i7 980X and in some cases they're even faster!
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