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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  • iwodo - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    The GPU is on the same die, So depending on what you mean by true "Fusion" product. It is by AMD's definition ( the creator of the tech terms "Fusion" ) a fusion product.
  • iwodo - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    You get 10% of IPC on average. It varies widely from 5 % to ~30% clock per clock.

    None of these Test have had AVX coded. I am not sure if you need to recompile to take advantage of the additional width for faster SSE Code. ( I am thinking such changes in coding of instruction should require one. ) AVX should offer some more improvement in many areas.

    So much performance is here with even less Peak Power usage. If you factor in the Turbo Mode, Sandy Bridge actually give you a huge boost in Performance / Watts!!!

    So i dont understand why people are complaining.
  • yuhong - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Yes AVX requires software changes, as well as OS support for using XSAVE to save AVX state.
  • BD2003 - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    It sounds like intel has a home run here. At least for my needs. Right now I'm running entirely on core 2 chips, but I can definitely find a use for all these.

    For my main/gaming desktop, the quad core i5s seem like theyll be the first upgrade thats big enough to move me away from my e6300 from 4 years ago.

    For my HTPC, the integrated graphics seem like theyre getting to a point where I can move past my e2180 + 9400 IGP. I need at least some 3d graphics, and the current i3/i5 don't cut it. Even lower power consumption + faster CPU, all in a presumably smaller package - win.

    For my home server, I'd love to put the lowest end i3 in there for great idle power consumption but with the speed to make things happen when it needs to. I'd been contemplating throwing in a quad core, but if the on-die video transcoding engine is legitimate there will be no need for that.

    Thats still my main unanswered question: what's the deal with the video encoder/transcoder? Does it require explicit software support, or is it compatible with anything that's already out there? I'm mainly interested in real time streaming over LAN/internet to devices such as an ipad or even a laptop - if it can put out good quality 720-1080p h264 at decent bitrates in real time, especially on a low end chip, I'll be absolutely blown away. Any more info on this?
  • _Q_ - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    I do understand some complains, but Intel is running a business and so they do what is in their best interest.

    Yet, concerning USB 3 it seems to be too much of a disservice to the costumers that it should be in, without any third party add-on chip!

    I think it is shameful of them to delay this further just so that they can get their LightPeak thing into to the market. Of which I read nothing in this review so I wonder, when will even that one come?!

    I can only hope AMD does support it (haven't read about it) and they start getting more market, maybe that will show these near sighted Intel guys.
  • tatertot - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Lightpeak would be chipset functionality, at least at first.

    Also, lightpeak is not a protocol, it's protocol-agnostic, and can in fact carry USB 3.0.

    But, rant away if you want...
  • Guimar - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Really need one
  • Triple Omega - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    I'm really interested to see how Intel is going to price the higher of these new CPU's, as there are several hurdles:

    1) The non-K's are going up against highly overclockable 1366 and 1156 parts. So pricing the K-models too high could mean trouble.

    2) The LGA-1356 platform housing the new consumer high-end(LGA-2011 will be server-only) will also arrive later in 2011. Since these are expected to have up to 8 cores, pricing the higher 1155 CPU's too high will force a massive price-drop when 1356 arrives.(Or the P67 platform will collapse.) And 1366 has shown that such a high-end platform needs the equivalent of an i7 920 to be successful. So pricing the 2600K @ $500 seems impossible. Even $300 would not leave room for a $300 1356 part as that will, with 6-8 cores, easily outperform the 2600K.

    It will also be quite interesting to see the development of those limits on overclocking when 1356 comes out. As imposing limits there too, could make the entire platform fail.(OCed 2600K better then 6-core 1356 CPU for example.) And of course AMD's response to all this. Will they profit from the overclocking limits of Intel? Will they grab back some high-end? Will they force Intel to change their pricing on 1155/1356?


    It would be nice to see another PCIe 2.0 x8 SLI/CF bottleneck test with the new HD 6xxx series when the time comes. I'm interested to see if the GPU's will catch up with Intels limited platform choice.
  • thewhat - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    I'm disappointed that you didn't test it against 1366 quads. The triple channel memory and a more powerful platform in general have a significant advantage over 1156, so a lot of us are looking at those CPUs. Especially since the i7 950 is about to have its price reduced.

    A $1000 six-core 980X doesn't really fit in there, since it's at a totally different price point.

    I was all for the 1366 as my next upgrade, but the low power consumption of Sandy Bridge looks very promising in terms of silent computing (less heat).
  • SteelCity1981 - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    What do you think the Core i7 980x uses? An LGA 1366 socket with triple channel memory support. So what makes you think that the Core i7 950 is going to perform any diff?????

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