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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