Final Words

In terms of absolute CPU performance, Sandy Bridge doesn't actually move things forward. This isn't another ultra-high-end CPU launch, but rather a refresh for the performance mainstream and below. As one AnandTech editor put it, you get yesterday's performance at a much lower price point. Lynnfield took away a lot of the reason to buy an X58 system as it delivered most of the performance with much more affordable motherboards; Sandy Bridge all but puts the final nail in X58's coffin. Unless you're running a lot of heavily threaded applications, I would recommend a Core i7-2600K over even a Core i7-980X. While six cores are nice, you're better off pocketing the difference in cost and enjoying nearly the same performance across the board (if not better in many cases).

In all but the heaviest threaded applications, Sandy Bridge is the fastest chip on the block—and you get the performance at a fairly reasonable price. The Core i7-2600K is tempting at $317 but the Core i5-2500K is absolutely a steal at $216. You're getting nearly $999 worth of performance at roughly a quarter of the cost. Compared to a Core i5-750/760, you'll get an additional 10-50% performance across the board in existing applications, and all that from a ~25% increase in clock speed. A big portion of what Sandy Bridge delivers is due to architectural enhancements, the type of thing we've come to expect from an Intel tock. Starting with Conroe, repeating with Nehalem, and going strong once more with Sandy Bridge, Intel makes this all seem so very easy.

Despite all of the nastiness Intel introduced by locking/limiting most of the Sandy Bridge CPUs, if you typically spend around $200 on a new CPU then Sandy Bridge is likely a better overclocker than anything you've ever owned before it. The biggest loser in the overclock locks is the Core i3 which now ships completely locked. Thankfully AMD has taken care of the low-end segments very well over the past couple of years. All Intel is doing by enforcing clock locks for these lower end chips is sending potential customers AMD's way.

The Core i3-2100 is still a step forward, but not nearly as much of one as the 2500K. For the most part you're getting a 5-20% increase in performance (although we did notice some 30-40% gains), but you're giving up overclocking as an option. For multithreaded workloads you're better off with an Athlon II X4 645; however, for lightly threaded work or a general purpose PC the Core i3-2100 is likely faster.

If this were a normal CPU, I'd probably end here, but Sandy Bridge is no normal chip. The on-die GPU and Quick Sync are both noteworthy additions. Back in 2006 I wondered if Intel would be able to stick to its aggressive tick-tock cadence. Today there's no question of whether or not Intel can do it. The question now is whether Intel will be able to sustain a similarly aggressive ramp in GPU performance and feature set. Clarkdale/Arrandale were both nice, but they didn't do much to compete with low-end discrete GPUs. Intel's HD Graphics 3000 makes today's $40-$50 discrete GPUs redundant. The problem there is we've never been happy with $40-$50 discrete GPUs for anything but HTPC use. What I really want to see from Ivy Bridge and beyond is the ability to compete with $70 GPUs. Give us that level of performance and then I'll be happy.

The HD Graphics 2000 is not as impressive. It's generally faster than what we had with Clarkdale, but it's not exactly moving the industry forward. Intel should just do away with the 6 EU version, or at least give more desktop SKUs the 3000 GPU. The lack of DX11 is acceptable for SNB consumers but it's—again—not moving the industry forward. I believe Intel does want to take graphics seriously, but I need to see more going forward.

Game developers need to put forth some effort as well. Intel has clearly tried to fix some of its bad reputation this go around, so simply banning SNB graphics from games isn't helping anyone. Hopefully both sides will put in the requisite testing time to actually improve the situation.

Quick Sync is just awesome. It's simply the best way to get videos onto your smartphone or tablet. Not only do you get most if not all of the quality of a software based transcode, you get performance that's better than what high-end discrete GPUs are able to offer. If you do a lot of video transcoding onto portable devices, Sandy Bridge will be worth the upgrade for Quick Sync alone.

For everyone else, Sandy Bridge is easily a no brainer. Unless you already have a high-end Core i7, this is what you'll want to upgrade to.

Power Consumption
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  • RagingDragon - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Or perhaps CPU overclocking on H67 is not *officially* supported by Intel, but the motherboard makers are supporting it anyway? Reply
  • IanWorthington - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Seems to sum it up. If you want both you have to wait until Q2.

    <face palm>
    Reply
  • 8steve8 - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    so if im someone who wants the best igp, but doesn't want to pay for overclockability, i still have to buy the K cpu... weird. Reply
  • beginner99 - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    yep. This is IMHO extremely stupid. Wanted to build a PC for someone that mainly needs CPU power (video editing). An overclocked 2600k would be ideal with QS but either wait another 3 month or go all compromise...in that case H67 probably but still paying for K part and not being able to use it.
    Intel does know how to get the most money from you...
    Reply
  • Hrel - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    haha, yeah that is stupid. You'd think on the CPU's you can overclock "K" they use the lower end GPU or not even use one at all. Makes for an awkward HTPC choice. Reply
  • AkumaX - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    omg omg omg wat do i do w/ my i7-875k... (p.s. how is this comment spam?) Reply
  • AssBall - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Maybe because you sound like a 12 year old girl with ADHD. Reply
  • usernamehere - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    I'm surprised nobody cares there's no native USB 3.0 support coming from Intel until 2012. It's obvious they are abusing their position as the number 1 chip maker, trying to push Light Peak as a replacement to USB. The truth is, Light Peak needs USB for power, it can never live without it (unless you like to carry around a bunch of AC adapters).
    Intel wants light peak to succeed so badly, they are leaving USB 3.0 (it's competitor) by the wayside. Since Intel sits on the USB board, they have a lot of pull in the industry, and as long as Intel wont support the standard, no manufacturer will ever get behind it 100%. Sounds very anti-competitive to me.
    Considering AMD is coming out with USB 3.0 support in Llano later this year, I've already decided to jump ship and boycott Intel. Not because I'm upset with their lack of support for USB 3.0, but because their anti-competitive practices are inexcusable; holding back the market and innovation so their own proprietary format can get a headstart. I'm done with Intel.
    Reply
  • IanWorthington - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Not really: the board manufacturers seem to be adding usb3 chipsets w/o real problems. Good enough. Reply
  • usernamehere - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Sure, if you're building a desktop you can find plenty with USB 3.0 support (via NEC). But if you're looking for a laptop, most will still not have it. For the fact that manufacturers don't want to have to pay extra for features, when they usually get features via the chipsets already included. Asus is coming out with a handful of notebooks in 2011 with USB 3.0 (that I know of), but wide-spread adoption will not be here this year. Reply

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