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

    I don't believe any of these apps have AVX support, they're all too old for that.

    Take care,
  • ESetter - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Thank you for the quick answer. It would be great to include some software with AVX support in the full review, when Sandy Bridge launches. Probably the Intel Math Kernel Library will be updated in time.
  • darckhart - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    1. i'd like to see some temp numbers. along with, does intel stock hsf actually do the job here? (which they have been getting better at really)

    2. i didnt see anything about accelerated hd video playback using the on die gpu?

    3. sure these cpu look great from price point performance gain....until you realize you need a full platform upgrade to go along with it...which if we assume mainstream mobo around the 100$ mark and ram to match since they're taking away the bclk deal... and every 2 yrs is a bit too soon for full platform upgrade imo.

    4. hardware virtualization parts? i know the current i3 vs i5/7 chips had some stuff disabled. will these SB chips follow the same profile?

    5. mobile versions? we know the mobile ones are usually cut back to fit low tdp profile. will the same cuts apply like the current mobile i3/i5 parts (eg, no real quad core parts)? otoh, what about the quad core mobiles? the current i7 mobile quads are laughable at their performance and heat output (i'm looking at you first gen hp envy). do you think these SB quad mobiles will actually be decent?
  • DanNeely - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    Wikipedia lists both 2 and 4 core mobile parts. Not definative but they generally do a good job of keeping up with the latest leaks for things like this.

  • hamitaltintop22 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I hope there is a price drop for the i5 750 to around $150 when this comes out or i7 920 to $200 (no microcenter here).
  • DesktopMan - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure about this, but I seem to recall having read that aes-ni instructions use the GPU, at least partially. Makes sense as the gpu is excellent at parallel tasks. If this is the case, would the 6 EU part perform differently than the 12 EU part at AES?

    Any news on when the inevitable Q67 would launch? I guess it's likely that Q67 will use AMT 6.0 as it was a pretty recent upgrade.

    With sata III support at launch you'd imagine they'd also support sata III on their gen 3 SSDs. Time will tell I guess.
  • overclocking101 - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    wow bummer. welcome to the end of intel Bus speed overclocking. I will not be adapting the new sockets unless something happens and intel changes their minds. overclocking is not as easy as switching multiplyers even EE cpu's of nowadays show that. 90% of the high overclocks with EE cpus show that a mixture of multi and bus speed is needed. i sense though that with the higher end socket intel will allow it. if not i think its a very bad move on their part.
  • starfalcon - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I don't think any of the sandy bridge graphics will be able to get to GT 240 levels.
    This one trades blows with the 5450 as we can see, and just looking at 3DMark06 scores the 5450 scores about 3500 or so, while the GT 240 does maybe 9000 or 10000.
    If the more powerful sandy bridge graphics can get up to 4000 or 5000 or so that would be great, that would be beating the 9400 GT and closing in on the 9500 GT, not getting to GT 240 levels though. Wonder what the next integrated graphics after this will be like.
  • TETRONG - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I take it this means it will soon be the optimum time to purchase current-gen technology at significantly reduced prices?

    Just wanting to build a no nonsense system at slightly below the current price/performance sweet-spot.

    Seems Intel are only interested in toying with consumers.
    They've wasted die space that could've been used for a more capable CPU. How many years have we been chained under 4Ghz frequency? 5 years or so?
    Nine women can't make a baby in one month! Not every problem is parallelizable - we need greater frequencies/efficiencies.

    Now they are locking processors and playing games with the sockets. No USB 3.0!!?

    Garbage, No Thanks!!!

    Seems you are giving them a free pass Anand. Very convenient timing to steal AMD's thunder, eh!

    I love you man - big fan since the beginning, but you should read Scott Wasson over at Tech Report. Those value scatterplots are very helpful to me - these regurgitated press releases, not so much.


    To be so harsh, but we deserve better than these kiddie chips!
    Only you can hold them accountable for these failures of imagination.
  • wyvernknight - Friday, August 27, 2010 - link

    I am a bit disappointed. Seems like since intel is wiping the floor with AMD, decided it was OK to screw us all over with this socket thing. I will still buy an intel processor if AMD has no cards to play, but i wont be pleased.

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