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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  • Touche - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Questionable overclocking is bad enough, but together with...

    "There’s no nice way to put this: Sandy Bridge marks the third new socket Intel will have introduced since 2008."

    "The CPU and socket are not compatible with existing motherboards or CPUs. That’s right, if you want to buy Sandy Bridge you’ll need a new motherboard."

    "In the second half of 2011 Intel will replace LGA-1366 with LGA-2011."

    ...it is just terrible!

    I'll definitely buy AMD Bulldozer, even if it ends up a bit slower. At least they have some respect for their customers and an ability of forward thinking when designing sockets (actually, Intel probably has it too, but just likes to milk us on chipset purchases also). And I am no fanboy, 4 of my 7 PC's are Intel based (two of those 4 were my latest computer purchases).
    Reply
  • Touche - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    And the naming...OMG!

    There will be i7 processors that require three (3 !!!) different sockets! Maybe even 4 when 2011 comes. Intel can't get their naming right for quite some time now, but they've outdone themselves this time.
    Reply
  • ereavis - Monday, August 30, 2010 - link

    Processor names really should mean something, even if AMD and Intel don't agree. It's annoying that I have to wikipedia a processor (or memorize a thousand processors) to know what it is. We are still getting quotes for three year old Opterons and Xeons (that we're using as desktops no less), those only add to the annoyance.

    What ends up happening - good for Intel bad for technology advancement - is non IT type people buying computers are buying DDR2-667 based three-year old desktop processors.
    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Ummm, but Bulldozer comes with AM3-r2... Just a sketchier way of saying new MB needed.

    At least this new Intel isn't trying to BS you. Significant revisions to the architecture require different pin layouts/counts... It is inevitable with processor evolution.
    Reply
  • Touche - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Actually, it should be AM3 compatible:

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/bulldozer-bobc...

    Even if it's not, AM2/AM3 lasted quite some time.

    "At least this new Intel isn't trying to BS you. Significant revisions to the architecture require different pin layouts/counts... It is inevitable with processor evolution."

    They know in advance what they need and could design a socket to support multiple processors. And i7/i5/i3 definitely don't need different ones.
    Reply
  • BSMonitor - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    "Even if it's not, AM2/AM3 lasted quite some time."

    Not all AM2 processors were compatible with AM2+ MB or vice versa, not all AM3 processors compatible on AM2+ MB.

    It's still 3 different sockets.

    Marketing buddy, marketing.

    By the time 1366 is replaced, it will have been on the market for 4 years.
    Reply
  • stmok - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Eh, no its not. Bulldozer does NOT work with non-AM3+ mobos

    AMD engineers made a decision not to make it backward compatible for three reasons.

    (1) No one but enthusiasts upgrade their CPUs. People in the real world upgrade their whole computer.

    (2) Bulldozer introduces new features that won't work with existing Socket AM3 mobos. (Isn't it bloody obvious when they have to introduce a new socket specification?)

    (3) It would cost more money and delays if they were to make a backward compatible version of Bulldozer.

    As a result, they made a compromise:
    You can take your existing AM3 CPU to AM3+ mobos, while you wait for Bulldozer to arrive. BUT, you can NOT upgrade your existing AM3 based system to Bulldozer.

    Simply put...
    AM3+ CPU and AM3+ mobo = OK
    AM3 CPU and AM3+ mobo = OK
    AM3+ CPU and AM3 mobo = Sorry. No.

    So it doesn't matter if AMD "Bulldozer" or Intel "Sandy Bridge". You will need a new mobo.
    Reply
  • Ard - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    AMD seriously has their work cut out for them with Bulldozer. The lowest end Sandy Bridge processor absolutely trounced the competition. It's insane what Intel is pulling off here, especially in the integrated graphics arena. Really makes me hope Larrabee comes back as a discrete product in the next few years. Reply
  • dgz - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    poor kid, you don't realize 2400 is not nearly lowest end. Reply
  • Finally - Sunday, August 29, 2010 - link

    Doesn't that make him a "(filthy) rich kid"? Reply

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