Intel’s Second-Gen Core CPUs: The Sandy Bridge Review

Two New Platforms, More On The Way

Sandy Bridge processors are not compatible with Intel’s 5-series chipsets. I guess this is fine, since you already have to buy a new motherboard as a result of LGA 1156 getting abandoned. But that doesn’t make another platform upgrade an easy pill to swallow for the mainstream market—presumably folks who don’t have two or three grand to spend on technology every time “next-gen” becomes “current-gen” hardware.

At launch, there are two desktop-oriented chipsets to go with Sandy Bridge: P67 and H67. The former is intended for use with discrete graphics. To that end, P67 is your only option for dividing the 16 lanes of processor-based PCIe connectivity between multiple graphics cards. For a majority of enthusiasts, P67 is the way to go. The latter option, H67, is the only way for you to take advantage of Sandy Bridge’s integrated graphics engine.

Worried about P67's performance with multiple graphics cards installed? Don't be. We've already shown that you can get very X58-like performance out of a P55 board armed with Nvidia's NF200 bridge chip, even using a trio of Radeon HD 5870s.

Both platform controller hubs serve up as many as 14 USB 2.0 ports. Neither of them supports USB 3.0. The pair also exposes as many as six SATA ports, two of which run at 6 Gb/s transfer rates (the other four are limited to 3 Gb/s). Neither extends support for legacy PCI.

In return, though, the two chipsets finally offer 5 GT/s signaling, enabling 500 MB/s per direction, per lane. P67 and H67 both include eight lanes, just like P55/H57. Presumably, that’ll be nice for add-on USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gb/s controllers, though the fact that Intel’s data sheet still lists the DMI interface at 1 GB/s in each direction could still cause congestion.

H67 Express
P67 Express
P55 Express
LGA 1155
LGA 1155
LGA 1156
Memory Channels / DIMMs Per Channel
USB 2.0
Total SATA (6 Gb/s)
6 (2)
6 (2)
6 (0)
8 (5 GT/s)
8 (5 GT/s)
8 (2.5 GT/s)
PCI Slot Support
Independent Display Outputs
Protected Audio/Video Path
Rapid Storage Technology
Processor ratio-only
Processor ratio / BCLK

Being the only chipset able to expose Sandy Bridge’s graphics capabilities, H67’s differentiators are naturally graphics-oriented. The PCH can do dual independent display outputs, for starters. It’s also the key to a protected audio/video path—mandatory for Blu-ray playback and bitstreaming high-def audio to a receiver. Finally, H67 lets you manually overclock on-die graphics.

How about H67’s limitations? Well, H67 does not support processor overclocking. If you pay a premium for a K-series SKU to get the faster graphics engine, you’re limited to the chip’s highest Turbo Boost setting as its frequency ceiling. H67 is also locked to Sandy Bridge’s programmed memory and power limits. To get unlocked core, power, and memory settings, you have to use P67. More on overclocking after the jump…

Later in 2011, Intel will release a chipset called Z68, which will facilitate core and graphics overclocking on the same board. That’s not to be confused with X78—Intel’s next-gen flagship chipset, set to replace X58.

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  • JE_D
    BENCHIES! Thanks Tomshardware!
  • Editor, page 10 has mistakes. Its LGA1155, not LGA1555.
  • cangelini
    MoneyFace pEditor, page 10 has mistakes. Its LGA1155, not LGA1555.

    Fixed, thanks Money!
  • juncture
    "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
  • cangelini
    juncturei think the author's saying he's sexually active

    Just this.
  • fakie
    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. =(
  • englandr753
    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
  • joytech22
    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.
  • cangelini
    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 :(

  • LuckyDucky7
    "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.
  • DjEaZy
    ... 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...
  • touchdowntexas13
    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...
  • jyar727
    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.
  • silversurfernhs
    Shouldn't the title be second gen Core i series... because Core 2s were second gen Cores, weren't they?
  • Tamz_msc
    Where is the 980x in these benchmarks?
    Other than that its a great article, and I'm drooling over QuickSync!
  • Maziar
    Thanks for the review Chris :)
    QuickSync definitely looks interesting.
  • Ramar
    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. =]
  • Hellbound
    Is sandy bridge the replacement to the x58 chipset? I thought I read somewhere they were planning on x68 sometime in 2011.
  • djdarko321
    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.
  • Tamz_msc
    Just looked at the AnandTech review and here is their opinion -

    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!
  • swiftor
    i5-2500k + p67 ftw!
  • nekromobo
    What if you throw something like 8k x 4k or 4k X 4k resolution video to QuickSand.. Sync :)

    Nice review, but personally still not going to replace my 3.6ghz C2Quad.. when will this cpu die so I can replace it!
  • Shuge1
    Im just waiting for bulldozer to get me out of buyin the i5 2500k
  • Reynod
    Quick Synch is just downright embarrasing for AMD ...