Update: Be sure to read our Sandy Bridge Architecture Exposed article for more details on the design behind Intel's next-generation microprocessor architecture.

The mainstream quad-core market has been neglected ever since we got Lynnfield in 2009. Both the high end and low end markets saw a move to 32nm, but if you wanted a mainstream quad-core desktop processor the best you could get was a 45nm Lynnfield from Intel. Even quad-core Xeons got the 32nm treatment.

That's all going to change starting next year. This time it's the masses that get the upgrade first. While Nehalem launched with expensive motherboards and expensive processors, the next tock in Intel's architecture cadence is aimed right at the middle of the market. This time, the ultra high end users will have to wait - if you want affordable quad-core, if you want the successor to Lynnfield, Sandy Bridge is it.

Sandy Bridge is the next major architecture from Intel. What Intel likes to call a tock. The first tock was Conroe, then Nehalem and now SB. In between were the ticks - Penryn, Westmere and after SB we'll have Ivy Bridge, a 22nm shrink of Sandy.

Did I mention we have one?

While Intel is still a few weeks away from releasing Sandy Bridge performance numbers at IDF, we managed to spend some time with a very healthy sample and run it through a few of our tests to get a sneak peak at what's coming in Q1 2011.

New Naming

The naming isn’t great. It’s an extension of what we have today. Intel is calling Sandy Bridge the 2nd generation Core i7, i5 and i3 processors. As a result, all of the model numbers have a 2 preceding them.

For example, today the fastest LGA-1156 processor is the Core i7 880. When Sandy Bridge launches early next year, the fastest LGA-1155 processor will be the Core i7 2600. The two indicates that it’s a 2nd generation Core i7, and the 600 is the model number.

Sandy Bridge CPU Comparison
  Base Frequency L3 Cache Cores/Threads Max Single Core Turbo Intel HD Graphics Frequency/Max Turbo Unlocked TDP
Intel Core i7 2600K 3.4GHz 8MB 4 / 8 3.8GHz 850 / 1350MHz Y 95W
Intel Core i7 2600 3.4GHz 8MB 4 / 8 3.8GHz 850 / 1350MHz N 95W
Intel Core i5 2500K 3.3GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.7GHz 850 / 1100MHz Y 95W
Intel Core i5 2500 3.3GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.7GHz 850 / 1100MHz N 95W
Intel Core i5 2400 3.1GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.4GHz 850 / 1100MHz N 95W
Intel Core i3 2120 3.3GHz 3MB 2 / 4 N/A 850 / 1100MHz N 65W
Intel Core i3 2100 3.1GHz 3MB 2 / 4 N/A 850 / 1100MHz N 65W

The names can also have a letter after four digit model number. You’re already familiar with one: K denotes an unlocked SKU (similar to what we have today). There are two more: S and T. The S processors are performance optimized lifestyle SKUs, while the T are power optimized.

The S parts run at lower base frequencies than the non-S parts (e.g. a Core i7 2600 runs at 3.40GHz while a Core i7 2600S runs at 2.80GHz), however the max turbo frequency is the same for both (3.8GHz). GPU clocks remain the same but I’m not sure if they have the same number of execution units. All of the S parts run at 65W while the non-S parts are spec’d at 95W.

Sandy Bridge CPU Comparison
  Base Frequency L3 Cache Cores/Threads Max Single Core Turbo Intel HD Graphics Frequency/Max Turbo TDP
Intel Core i7 2600S 2.8GHz 8MB 4 / 8 3.8GHz 850 / 1100MHz 65W
Intel Core i5 2500S 2.7GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.7GHz 850 / 1100MHz 65W
Intel Core i5 2500T 2.3GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.3GHz 650 / 1250MHz 45W
Intel Core i5 2400S 2.5GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.3GHz 850 / 1100MHz 65W
Intel Core i5 2390T 2.7GHz 3MB 2 / 4 3.5GHz 650 / 1100MHz 35W
Intel Core i3 2100T 2.5GHz 3MB 2 / 4 N/A 650 / 1100MHz 35W

The T parts run at even lower base frequencies and have lower max turbo frequencies. As a result, these parts have even lower TDPs (35W and 45W).

I suspect the S and T SKUs will be mostly used by OEMs to keep power down. Despite the confusion, I like the flexibility here. Presumably there will be a price premium for these lower wattage parts.

A New Architecture
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  • wut - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Yep. I bet AMD is really wondering about that right now.
  • greenguy - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    I bought basically what is an i5-750 based on Anand's review here. Or at least, the Xeon version with hyperthreading (needed ECC RAM).

    From what I can tell, you get about a 20%-30% improvement over the i5-750, with the same power consumption. That's pretty good. Not only that, you get some competent entry level graphics... which would have good open source drivers. That's somewhat exciting, though I wonder whether it would do multiple monitors. Any idea on that Anand?

    Maybe I'll just stick to the cheapest Nvidia discrete cards I can buy, a couple G210s do the trick (to get 4 1920x1200 monitors). Unless Intel can make those G210s redundant, it represents just an incremental bump in performance, as the only thing that is of interest is the increase in CPU. One thing that is nice is that Intel is reputed to have the best open source support for their GPU drivers, which makes things really interesting now they are producing stuff that will compete with the entry level discrete market. It could be really good for Linux/BSD people like myself.

    The other thing of interest for me is in the low power, low cost, high numbers of SATA connections space, with ECC. I wonder if Bobcat will have something there, as AMD don't seek to arbitrarily differentiate their markets like Intel does with the ECC RAM.

    Also not really sure what the big thing is with the motherboards and same CPU. I tend to keep the same computer as a build. By the time you want to upgrade the CPU, there is invariably other stuff that needs upgrading, e.g. USB3, graphics, SATA, RAM, whatever. So you end up wasting the old parts for not that much benefit. Better to just re-purpose the old machine, and when you have enough money, buy the most performant parts that are still good bang for buck. A good example was the i5-750 about 8 months ago or so. So I don't fault Intel for this.
  • wut - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Intel's going after the mid range market, where most of the money is. We'll have to wait and see how good AMD's Fusion mid range ends up being. Even if it catches up all the way and achieves performance parity so AMD can make more money by raising prices, Intel would have their newest gen on the market first. Fusion had better be really, really, good...
  • Hrel - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    I'd say if that 2500K is 215 or less it'd be a fair buy. I'd still wait for the price to drop below 200 cause that's my absolute cap on a CPU. I am a little annoyed that it doesn't have hyper threading though, from a moral standpoint, I mean, from a raw material standpoint how much does adding hyperthreading cost? nothing! yeah, that's what I thought.
  • Hrel - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Those are some impressive integrated graphics. I've thought this for a while now, but we really don't need a card any lower than the HD5670, and maybe the 5650 in discrete graphics. Prefferably just the 5670 though. If mobo makers start setting aside a single DDR3 slot for the integrated GPU to use and dedicated GPU only memory, like a discrete GPU, so the integrated GPU doesn't have to share system RAM we really won't need low end graphics in laptops at all anymore.
  • mino - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link


    5450 is the LOWEST END card from 2008, A facelifted 4350.
    And 780G, it FINALLY manages to out-pace, in 2011, is the mainstream part of 2008 too.
    In 2011 there will be a 10W Ontario with 5450-class GPU on 40nm bulk ...

    On the other hand it seems Intel is thaking the GPU side seriously. Finally.

    But they are still where ATI/NV were in 2004 ...
  • LuckyKnight - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    I would have liked to have seen a better comparison when it comes to idle power consumption? How much has it improved since moving to a 45nm->32nm GPU?

    Also, has Intel addressed the Clarkdale issue of not outputting industry standard 24fps? (23.976 hz)
  • Miggleness - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    I was planning on purchasing an i5-760 in 2 weeks but looks like I'll have to settle for 2nd hand, low end parts instead and wait for the i5-2400's release.

    Great job Intel. I for one no longer have that much interest in overclocking when I have Turbo boost to compensate for that.

    Hope we hear about the official pricing soon.
  • jfelano - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Intel could have hit one out of the park with this one if it worked on existing s1155 motherboards....unfortunately it doesn't and it screws over everyone who bought into s1156 or s1366.....yet again.
  • siberian 3 - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Hi everyone i've read the preview and i am not so impresed by the performance of SB.The IGP
    is great but it make sense only for the mobile section of the pc not the desktop!!
    From the preview i understand that this is not a real fusion product but an evolution off clarkdale and arandale products.
    So i will wait for Llano to see what Amd has to offer!!!

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