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.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 H67 ExpressP67 ExpressP55 Express
InterfaceLGA 1155LGA 1155LGA 1156
Memory Channels / DIMMs Per Channel2/22/22/2
USB 2.0141414
Total SATA (6 Gb/s)6 (2)6 (2)6 (0)
PCIe8 (5 GT/s)8 (5 GT/s)8 (2.5 GT/s)
PCI Slot SupportNoneNone4
Independent Display Outputs200
Protected Audio/Video PathYesNoNo
Rapid Storage TechnologyYesYesYes
OverclockingGraphics-onlyProcessor ratio-onlyProcessor 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.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.
  • 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.