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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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    We'll have to wait a little bit to find out... :) Reply
  • hnzw rui - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    If it doubles Clarkdale's GPU performance, then it probably will (at least on lower resolutions). I'm getting pretty decent framerates from Clarkdale on 1360x768 Low and I've been able to play on 1360x768 Medium with a Radeon HD 4550. I think Sandy Bridge is probably closer to the latter than the former in performance. Reply
  • SteelCity1981 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Any word when Intel will launch a mobile version of this new platform? Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Q1 2011 :) Reply
  • BSMonitor - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    So glad I waited on a 13" macbook pro! Sandy Bridge will probably be the next revision for Macbook's ehh? Reply
  • cheinonen - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Exactly my thoughts, that the GPU performance looks to be good enough that Apple could use it for the 13" MBP refresh next year. I'll be glad that I decided to wait, that's fur sure. Reply
  • synergist - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I was doing some research and if they would have to use the full integrated graphics core, with the 12 cores, to top the performance of the 320M in the current macbook pro 13 I doubt apple would take a step backwards in gfx performance, and use the 6 core integrated gfx.

    and the performance would still be pretty close, that the 320M would lose to the inter grated gfx (12 cores) by about 10-13%

    and llano is still an option, but I have a feeling it will be a dead heat with this.
    Reply
  • starfalcon - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Apple has to know a lot of the people buying the laptops are far from high end gamers.
    The amount of people with 320Ms who don't need them is probably a lot.
    We'll see how all the different parts of Sandy Bridge work out.
    Don't the Core iX processors not work with Nvidia Integrated graphics at all?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Correct on NVIDIA IGPs not working with Core 2010 (and presumably beyond). The need the QPI interface and Intel isn't licensing that to them.

    As for Apple, one thing to note is that they've started shipping all laptops with GPUs that support OpenCL it seems, so if Sandy Bridge doesn't have that they may do the same Optimus-style setup as current MBP. Not sure what they'd do with the base MacBook in that case, but Apple seems like they're gearing up to start leveraging OpenCL at some point in the near future. Pure speculation, though, so maybe SB's IGP will be enough, even if it's a step down from G320M.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Aside from on the high end (LGA 1366/2011) the bus nVidia needs is DMI, not QPI. If I was nVidia I'd insist on getting rights to both because QPI is more futureproof. Specifically having more than a few high speed SATA6GB/USB3/etc devices will be able to saturate DMI since it's only the equivalent of a PCIe 4x slot (1.0 speed for 1156, 2.0 for 1155/2011) while QPI is a much higher capacity bus similar to AMD's HyperTransport.

    While intel seems determined to milk as much out of the (presumably) cheaper to implement DMI bus as it can; sooner or later they're going to either need to mainstream QPI or have the CPU die eat the SATA/USB3 controllers. I find the latter unlikely because it would require cramming even more data lines into the already overcrowded CPU socket area.
    Reply

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