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Sandy Bridge and Cougar Point

Intel released its second-generation Core CPUs back in January. Unfortunately, the excitement generated by the release of the fastest mainstream desktop processors was quickly dampened by the Cougar Point chipset recall. To be clear, this issue affected only the earliest Sandy Bridge-compatible motherboards, and not the Sandy Bridge CPUs themselves. This issue is now fixed—there are no defective motherboards available through reputable North American retailers like Newegg and Amazon. In the almost half-year since the initial Sandy Bridge CPU release, the platform has matured, with CPU variants available for almost every budget and a number of niches, as well as motherboard chipsets with a variety of feature sets and in form factors from mini-ITX to extended-ATX. Succinctly, the second-gen Core CPUs are astonishingly powerful and sip electricity. As Anand aptly described them, “architecturally it’s the biggest change we’ve seen since Conroe.” I agree with Anand—not since I upgraded from an AMD Athlon X2 3800+ to an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 at the end of 2006 have I been so impressed by a new CPU as I have by the Core i7-2600K.

This is the first guide I’ve written for AnandTech that will not be ‘fair and balanced’ for both AMD and Intel. I hoped this month’s guide would detail higher-end builds featuring and comparing AMD’s Bulldozer CPUs and Intel’s Core i5 and i7 chips, but unfortunately, AMD’s release of its high-end desktop Bulldozer SKUs is now delayed until September. The midrange Llano desktop APUs are scheduled for retail availability in early July, and Llano-based laptops are already showing up here and there online (though as of the time of writing, they are not available for actual sale). Thus, AMD’s entire product line will be refreshed within the next few months. With the imminent release of radically new APUs and no currently available AMD CPUs that can compete with Intel’s higher-end CPUs, this month’s guide focuses on the second-generation Intel Core processors. I simply don’t think it makes much sense to build an AMD system at least until Llano’s desktop release—unless you need a budget rig and you need it right now. And lest I be accused of favoritism, next month’s guide will likely focus on Llano-based desktop computers.

It’s also a great time to build an Intel-based computer. The successor to LGA 1155 (the Sandy Bridge socket), LGA 2011, is not due out until late this year, and looks to supersede LGA 1366 at Intel’s highest-end of the desktop CPU spectrum. Other than supporting Sandy Bridge-E CPUs, LGA 2011 will offer PCIe 3 (which current GPUs can’t take advantage of) and native USB 3.0 (even though third-party USB 3.0 controllers are already shipping on many Intel and AMD motherboards). Considering how capable the Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K are today, it’s unlikely Sandy Bridge-E will field any model that’s astonishingly faster than what’s already available. Thus, if you buy a Core i7-2600K now, you’ll be at the near pinnacle of desktop computing for at least 5-6 months. I think there are times to buy and times to wait. It’s a bad idea to buy right before a lineup refresh (as is the case with AMD today), but it’s also unwise to delay building a system to hold out for the next big thing when that’s half a year away and unlikely to be that much better!

CPU and Chipset Overview
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  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    "Oh, and rare is the Core i5-2500K that can’t overclock to 4.4GHz on air, with the stock cooler."

    -----

    In my experience the stock cooler isn't good enough for overclocking.. I keep my place relatively cool so ambient temperatures are usually lower then most but wow.. On a lark I was doing quick overclocks with the 2500k using the stock cooler and I quickly went past my comfort zone of 60C with a few benchmarks.. (not even the most demanding ones!) After that I scaled back to stock and opted to not OC until I had a aftermarket cooler in there. I really don't think the stock cooler is good enough if you plan to overclock.
    Reply
  • arorarah - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Thank you so much just4u. I'll check if the Kingston ram is 1.5V.

    I am getting the i3-2100 and the intel DH67BL motherboard for for $218 in India. Its a good price. However, the intel i3-2105 has not been launched in India as yet.

    I wanted to know if there is any noticeable difference between the HD 2000 and HD 3000 while watching 1080p videos or Transcoding video.

    If there is no noticeable difference then I need not wait for the i3-2105 and can purchase the i3-2100 instead.

    Thanks. I really appreciate your help.
    Reply
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    It's not as impressive as the HD3000 but.. supposedly it decodes just as well and should offer the same sort of quality for video playback. Reply
  • arorarah - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Thank you so much just4U. I 'll wait and purchase the i3-2105. Reply
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    I didn't want to sway your choice one way or another but since you've decided... I don't really know why Intel even released the 2000. It's an improvement yes but it's certainly not in a class with the 3000. You'd think (since it outdoes the competition in most respects) they'd have opted out for it being the standard but... no. Had to offer a lesser alternative that's really not much better then the 785 chipset. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    It's all about market segments -- Intel wants to have things they can point to and say, "See, i5 is better than i3, and i7 is better than i5!" Since CPU performance has mostly leveled off, they start doing things like Hyper-Threading, Turbo Boost, HD2000/3000, and Quick Sync. If you're not going to use Quick Sync and you're just running basic tasks, even the Pentium SNB chips are still plenty fast for basic use. Reply
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Oh I agree.. but look what their doing.. One of the i5's has the 3000 graphics.. a future i3 many of their mobility products. Granted some of these are their top products for each series but you kind of roll your eyes at it all and explaining it to potentials buyers not in the know is a trial at the best of times. Reply
  • P_Turner - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Zach,

    As you pointed out, the Sandy Bridge Pentium G620 does not support DDR3-1333 RAM.

    Does that mean that the system wouldn't boot, or just that the memory would run as DDR3-1066?

    Thanks in advance, Paul
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Nearly all memory (unless it's really bad) will work at lower speeds, often with better timings. So if you get DDR3-1600 CL9, you can usually run that at DDR3-1333 CL8, or DDR3-1066 CL6. The real determiner of speed is often the cycle time, and as you can see below, DDR3-1600 CL9 is actually a faster cycle than DDR3-1066 CL7, meaning it should work at CL7 no problem, and probably even CL6.

    DDR3-1600 CL9 cycle time = 5.625ns
    DDR3-1333 CL8 cycle time = 6.000ns
    DDR3-1066 CL7 cycle time = 6.563ns
    DDR3-1066 CL6 cycle time = 5.625ns
    Reply
  • P_Turner - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Jarred,

    I wouldn't ordinarily clutter up the comments to say "thank you," but your response goes well beyond the call of duty.

    Now let's hope that next year's Ivy Bridge really is backwards compatible with a Z68 chipset mobo purchased this summer.
    Reply

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