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

    You're correct, I didn't feel a dual vs. quad-core comparison was fair which is why I focused on the 760. I'll clear up the text though :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    fixed :) Reply
  • mastrdrver - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    If we go with what Anand has said and use the roadmap to guess pricing I just have one question then:

    Why in the world would anyone spend ~$300 for the 2500 and ~$500 on the 2600 then use the on chip gpu with no plans on some kind of discrete?

    If the difference between a $600 HP is Llano and Sandy Bridge, Llano has a possibly huge advantage since I think its safe to assume that the gpu side will start at 5450 performance.

    Its like Intel would be trying to tell you that SD Xbox 360 is better than HD Xbox 360 (Llano). Are you serious? If Llano can hit a pc at that price point and have a full shader count, Sandy Bridge is dead in the consumer market.

    I know that's a lot of ifs and time between here and then but Intel doing what it has always done with graphics (suck) is going to haunt it. I think Intel let the door wide open and its head between it and the frame. All AMD has to do is shut it.
    Reply
  • DanNeely - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    There are people whose workloads are heavily CPU bound but who don't need a heavy duty GPU. Higher end servers and a lot of workstations fall into this category.

    Beyond that unless Intel made a GPUless die or deliberately disabled the onboard GPU there's no reason not to include it. While we'll have to wait until Intel shows off labeled die shots I doubt that the GPU is a large enough chunk to justify the engineering effort just to save a little on the manufacturing side.
    Reply
  • mastrdrver - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    You are correct but my point was meant to be on "Best Buy" systems and not server or workstations. Sorry if I didn't get that clear.

    On the server front this will have to go up against Bulldozer which is an entirely different topic.

    While it would be foolish for Intel to make a gpuless die since integration with the cpu side is inevitable, Larabee or what ever better be good. Then there is the driver thing. That Dragon Age Origin picture sure doesn't look right. For drivers that still have work to do, that picture looks exactly like the one from when Clarkdale was released. I'd be a little surprised if much driver work is left if those two pictures are actually different.
    Reply
  • arh2o - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    How much will these new 1155 motherboard prices be? Will they be in the same price range as the current 1156 motherboards? Reply
  • Rajinder Gill - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    I'd imagine the P67 boards will be priced between $150~$200. Reply
  • odin607 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    What about temps =( Reply
  • cmdrdredd - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I'm never buying an Intel CPU or Motherboard ever again. This is one area that made them what they are today. The ability to take a mid range part and clock it up is what made the Core 2 series such a success with gamers and other performance enthusiasts. Not all of the success is attributed to overclocking, but a good bit of the popularity came from a $200 CPU being able to clock up to levels that the $700+ cpus hit. Now, if the unlocked parts can hit big overclocks and aren't overpriced then maybe it'll work out. However, it's all to easy for Intel to give us the finger and price a $200 CPU at $600 because it's unlocked and say "tough crap, if you want to overclock then pay up!". I am hopeful it doesn't come to this.

    Anyway, quads are old news IMO...I'm looking at 6core for my next one.
    Reply
  • JumpingJack - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    "but a good bit of the popularity came from a $200 CPU being able to clock up" ...

    Reading the preview, it looks like the 2500K may fit this description.

    From the articles:
    "...and the 2500K will replace the i5 760/655K ($205 - $216). ..."

    Even the 875K, when it launched, wasn't as you claim... it actually came in 200 bucks cheaper than the 870.

    http://techreport.com/articles.x/18988

    It would seem to me that Intel has been planning this change for sometime and went out to address this....
    Reply

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