The Lineup

I don’t include a lot of super markety slides in these launch reviews, but this one is worthy of a mention:

Sandy Bridge is launching with no less than 29 different SKUs today. That’s 15 for mobile and 14 for desktop. Jarred posted his full review of the mobile Core i7-2820QM, so check that out if you want the mobile perspective on all of this.

By comparison, this time last year Intel announced 11 mobile Arrandale CPUs and 7 desktop parts. A year prior we got Lynnfield with 3 SKUs and Clarksfield with 3 as well. That Sandy Bridge is Intel’s biggest launch ever goes without saying. It’s also the most confusing. While Core i7 exclusively refers to processors with 4 or more cores (on the desktop at least), Core i5 can mean either 2 or 4 cores. Core i3 is reserved exclusively for dual-core parts.

Intel promised that the marketing would all make sense one day. Here we are, two and a half years later, and the Core i-branding is no clearer. At the risk of upsetting all of Intel Global Marketing, perhaps we should return to just labeling these things with their clock speeds and core counts? After all, it’s what Apple does—and that’s a company that still refuses to put more than one button on its mice. Maybe it’s worth a try.

Check Jarred’s article out for the mobile lineup, but on desktop here’s how it breaks down:

Processor Core Clock Cores / Threads L3 Cache Max Turbo Max Overclock Multiplier TDP Price
Intel Core i7-2600K 3.4GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.8GHz 57x 95W $317
Intel Core i7-2600 3.4GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.8GHz 42x 95W $294
Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.7GHz 57x 95W $216
Intel Core i5-2500 3.3GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.7GHz 41x 95W $205
Intel Core i5-2400 3.1GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.4GHz 38x 95W $184
Intel Core i5-2300 2.8GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.1GHz 34x 95W $177
Intel Core i3-2120 3.3GHz 2 / 4 3MB N/A N/A 65W $138
Intel Core i3-2100 2.93GHz 2 / 4 3MB N/A N/A 65W $117

Intel is referring to these chips as the 2nd generation Core processor family, despite three generations of processors carrying the Core architecture name before it (Conroe, Nehalem, and Westmere). The second generation is encapsulated in the model numbers for these chips. While all previous generation Core processors have three digit model numbers, Sandy Bridge CPUs have four digit models. The first digit in all cases is a 2, indicating that these are “2nd generation” chips and the remaining three are business as usual. I’d expect that Ivy Bridge will swap out the 2 for a 3 next year.

What you will see more of this time around are letter suffixes following the four digit model number. K means what it did last time: a fully multiplier unlocked part (similar to AMD’s Black Edition). The K-series SKUs are even more important this time around as some Sandy Bridge CPUs will ship fully locked, as in they cannot be overclocked at all (more on this later).

Processor Core Clock Cores / Threads L3 Cache Max Turbo TDP
Intel Core i7-2600S 2.8GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.8GHz 65W
Intel Core i5-2500S 2.7GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.7GHz 65W
Intel Core i5-2500T 2.3GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.3GHz 45W
Intel Core i5-2400S 2.5GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.3GHz 65W
Intel Core i5-2390T 2.7GHz 2 / 4 3MB 3.5GHz 35W
Intel Core i5-2100T 2.5GHz 2 / 4 3MB N/A 35W

There are also T and S series parts for desktop. These are mostly aimed at OEMs building small form factor or power optimized boxes. The S stands for “performance optimized lifestyle” and the T for “power optimized lifestyle”. In actual terms the Ses are lower clocked 65W parts while the Ts are lower clocked 35W or 45W parts. Intel hasn’t disclosed pricing on either of these lines but expect them to carry noticeable premiums over the standard chips. There’s nothing new about this approach; both AMD and Intel have done it for a little while now, it’s just more prevalent in Sandy Bridge than before.

More Differentiation

In the old days Intel would segment chips based on clock speed and cache size. Then Intel added core count and Hyper Threading to the list. Then hardware accelerated virtualization. With Sandy Bridge the matrix grows even bigger thanks to the on-die GPU.

Processor Intel HD Graphics Graphics Max Turbo Quick Sync VT-x VT-d TXT AES-NI
Intel Core i7-2600K 3000 1350MHz Y Y N N Y
Intel Core i7-2600 2000 1350MHz Y Y Y Y Y
Intel Core i5-2500K 3000 1100MHz Y Y N N Y
Intel Core i5-2500 2000 1100MHz Y Y Y Y Y
Intel Core i5-2400 2000 1100MHz Y Y Y Y Y
Intel Core i5-2300 2000 1100MHz Y Y N N Y
Intel Core i3-2120 2000 1100MHz Y N N N N
Intel Core i3-2100 2000 1100MHz Y N N N Y

While almost all SNB parts support VT-x (the poor i3s are left out), only three support VT-d. Intel also uses AES-NI as a reason to force users away from the i3 and towards the i5. I’ll get into the difference in GPUs in a moment.

Introduction Overclocking: Effortless 4.4GHz+ on Air
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  • dacipher - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    The Core i5-2500K was just what i was looking for. Performance/ Price is where it needs to be and overclocking should be a breeze. Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    I agree.

    "As an added bonus, both K-series SKUs get Intel’s HD Graphics 3000, while the non-K series SKUs are left with the lower HD Graphics 2000 GPU."

    Doesn't it seem like Intel has this backwards? For me, I'd think to put the 3000 on the lesser performing CPUs. Users will probably have their own graphics to use with the unlocked procs, whereas the limit-locked ones will more likely be used in HTPC-like machines.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    This seems odd to me unless they're having yield problems with the GPU portion of their desktop chips. That doesn't seem too likely though because you'd expect the mobile version to have the same problem but they're all 12 EU parts. Perhaps they're binning more aggressively on TDP, and only had enough chips that met target with all 12 EUs to offer them at the top of the chart. Reply
  • dananski - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    I agree with both of you. This should be the ultimate upgrade for my E8400, but I can't help thinking they could've made it even better if they'd used the die space for more CPU and less graphics and video decode. The Quick Sync feature would be awesome if it could work while you're using a discrete card, but for most people who have discrete graphics, this and the HD Graphics 3000 are a complete waste of transistors. I suppose they're power gated off so the thermal headroom could maybe be used for overclocking. Reply
  • JE_Delta - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    WOW........

    Great review guys!
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Great review, but does anyone know how often 1 active core is used. I know this is a matter of subjection, but if you're running an anti-virus and have a bunch of standard services running in the background, are you likely to use only one core when idling?

    What should I advise people, as consumers, to really pay attention to? I know when playing games such as Counter-Strike or Battlefield: Bad Company 2, my C2D maxes out at 100%, I assume both cores are being used to achieve the 100% utilization. I'd imagine that in this age, hardly ever will there be a time to use just one core; probably 2 cores at idle.

    I would think that the 3-core figures are where the real noticeable impact is, especially in turbo, when gaming/browsing. Does anyone have any more perceived input on this?
    Reply
  • dualsmp - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    What resolution is tested under Gaming Performance on pg. 20? Reply
  • johnlewis - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    According to Bench, it looks like he used 1680×1050 for L4D, Fallout 3, Far Cry 2, Crysis Warhead, Dragon Age Origins, and Dawn of War 2, and 1024×768 for StarCraft 2. I couldn't find the tested resolution for World of Warcraft or Civilization V. I don't know why he didn't list the resolutions anywhere in the article or the graphs themselves, however. Reply
  • karlostomy - Thursday, January 06, 2011 - link

    what the hell is the point of posting gaming scores at resolutions that no one will be playing at?

    If i am not mistaken, the grahics cards in the test are:
    eVGA GeForce GTX 280 (Vista 64)
    ATI Radeon HD 5870 (Windows 7)
    MSI GeForce GTX 580 (Windows 7)

    So then, with a sandybridge processor, these resolutions are irrelevant.
    1080p or above should be standard resolution for modern setup reviews.

    Why, Anand, have you posted irrelevant resolutions for the hardware tested?
    Reply
  • dananski - Thursday, January 06, 2011 - link

    Games are usually limited in fps by the level of graphics, so processor speed doesn't make much of a difference unless you turn the graphics detail right down and use an overkill graphics card. As the point of this page was to review the CPU power, it's more representative to use low resolutions so that the CPU is the limiting factor.

    If you did this set of charts for gaming at 2560x1600 with full AA & max quality, all the processors would be stuck at about the same rate because the graphics card is the limiting factor.

    I expect Civ 5 would be an exception to this because it has really counter-intuitive performance.
    Reply

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