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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  • DanNeely - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Maybe, but IIRC Apple's biggest issue with the Clarkdale platform on smaller laptops was wanting to maintain CUDA support across their entire platform without adding a 3rd chip to the board, not general GPU performance. Unless the Intel/nVidia lawsuit concludes with nVidia getting a DMI license or Intel getting a CUDA license this isn't going to change. Reply
  • Pinski - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    I don't think it has anything to do with CUDA. I mean, they sell Mac Pros with AMD/ATI Cards in them, and they don't support CUDA. It's more of OpenCL and high enough performance. However, just looking at these new performance, I'm willing to say that it'll be the next chip for the MBP 13" easily. Reply
  • Pinski - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Well, wait never mind. Apparently it doesn't support OpenCL, which basically puts it out of the picture for Apple to use. Reply
  • starfalcon - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Hmm, they really want all of the systems to have OpenCL?
    I don't have OpenCL and I don't care at all and I have CUDA but have only used it once.
    320M doesn't even have OpenCl does it?
    Seems like it would be ok for the less expensive ones to have Intel graphics and the higher end ones to have CUDA, OpenCL, and better gaming performance if someone cares about those.
    They'll keep on upgrading the performance and features of Intel graphics though, who knows.
    Reply
  • Veerappan - Thursday, September 02, 2010 - link

    No, just ... no.

    Nvidia implements an OpenCL run-time by translating OpenCL API calls to CUDA calls. If your card supports CUDA, it supports OpenCL.

    The 320M supports OpenCL, and every Apple laptop/desktop that has shipped in the last few years has as well.

    A large portion of the motivation for OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard) was introducing OpenCL support.. along with increasing general performance.

    There is a large amount of speculation that OS X 10.7 will take advantage of the OpenCL groundwork that OS X 10.6 has put in place.

    Also, in the case that you have a GPU that doesn't support OpenCL (older Intel Macs with Intel IGP graphics), Apple has written a CPU-based OpenCL run-time. It'll be slower than GPU, but the programs will still run. That being said, I highly doubt that Apple will be willing to accept such a performance deficit existing in a brand new machine compared to prior hardware.
    Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    It has more to do with nVidia's VP3 PureVideo engine which they rely on for video acceleration. It's as simple as that.

    Which is why they only find their place in the notebooks. It's also a low-end gpu with enough performance to say run a source game at low res. And they have more complete drivers for OS X.

    CUDA is a third party add on. OpenCL isn't.
    Reply
  • burek - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Will there be a "cheap"(~$300) 6-core LGA-2011 replacement for i7 920/930 or will Intel limit the 6/8 cores to the high-end/extreme price segment ($500+)? Reply
  • DJMiggy - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    yea I doubt that will happen. It would be like trying to SLI/crossfire an nvidia to an ati discrete. You would need a special chip like the hyrda one. Reply
  • DJMiggy - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Hydra even. Hydra Lucid chip. Reply
  • Touche - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Questionable overclocking is bad enough, but together with...

    "There’s no nice way to put this: Sandy Bridge marks the third new socket Intel will have introduced since 2008."

    "The CPU and socket are not compatible with existing motherboards or CPUs. That’s right, if you want to buy Sandy Bridge you’ll need a new motherboard."

    "In the second half of 2011 Intel will replace LGA-1366 with LGA-2011."

    ...it is just terrible!

    I'll definitely buy AMD Bulldozer, even if it ends up a bit slower. At least they have some respect for their customers and an ability of forward thinking when designing sockets (actually, Intel probably has it too, but just likes to milk us on chipset purchases also). And I am no fanboy, 4 of my 7 PC's are Intel based (two of those 4 were my latest computer purchases).
    Reply

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