The Sandy Bridge Review: Intel Core i7-2600K, i5-2500K and Core i3-2100 Testedby Anand Lal Shimpi on January 3, 2011 12:01 AM EST
In developing its 6-series chipsets Intel wanted to minimize as much risk as possible, so much of the underlying chipset architecture is borrowed from Lynnfield’s 5-series platform. The conservative chipset development for Sandy Bridge left a hole in the lineup. The P67 chipset lets you overclock CPU and memory but it lacks the flexible display interface necessary to support SNB’s HD Graphics. The H67 chipset has an FDI so you can use the on-die GPU, however it doesn’t support CPU or memory overclocking. What about those users who don’t need a discrete GPU but still want to overclock their CPUs? With the chipsets that Intel is launching today, you’re effectively forced to buy a discrete GPU if you want to overclock your CPU. This is great for AMD/NVIDIA, but not so great for consumers who don’t need a discrete GPU and not the most sensible decision on Intel’s part.
There is a third member of the 6-series family that will begin shipping in Q2: Z68. Take P67, add processor graphics support and you’ve got Z68. It’s as simple as that. Z68 is also slated to support something called SSD Caching, which Intel hasn’t said anything to us about yet. With version 10.5 of Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology drivers, Z68 will support SSD caching. This sounds like the holy grail of SSD/HDD setups, where you have a single drive letter and the driver manages what goes on your SSD vs. HDD. Whether SSD Caching is indeed a DIY hybrid hard drive technology remains to be seen. It’s also unclear whether or not P67/H67 will get SSD Caching once 10.5 ships.
LGA-2011 Coming in Q4
One side effect of Intel’s tick-tock cadence is a staggered release update schedule for various market segments. For example, Nehalem’s release in Q4 2008 took care of the high-end desktop market, however it didn’t see an update until the beginning of 2010 with Gulftown. Similarly, while Lynnfield debuted in Q3 2009 it was left out of the 32nm refresh in early 2010. Sandy Bridge is essentially that 32nm update to Lynnfield.
So where does that leave Nehalem and Gulftown owners? For the most part, the X58 platform is a dead end. While there are some niche benefits (more PCIe lanes, more memory bandwidth, 6-core support), the majority of users would be better served by Sandy Bridge on LGA-1155.
For the users who need those benefits however, there is a version of Sandy Bridge for you. It’s codenamed Sandy Bridge-E and it’ll debut in Q4 2011. The chips will be available in both 4 and 6 core versions with a large L3 cache (Intel isn’t being specific at this point).
SNB-E will get the ring bus, on-die PCIe and all of the other features of the LGA-1155 Sandy Bridge processors, but it won’t have an integrated GPU. While current SNB parts top out at 95W TDP, SNB-E will run all the way up to 130W—similar to existing LGA-1366 parts.
The new high-end platform will require a new socket and motherboard (LGA-2011). Expect CPU prices to start off at around the $294 level of the new i7-2600 and run all the way up to $999.