A few weeks ago we previewed the performance of Intel’s next-generation microprocessor architecture, codenamed Sandy Bridge. We came away impressed with our early look at performance but honestly had very little explanation for why the chip performed the way it did. For the first time in years we knew the performance of an Intel processor without knowing much about its underlying architecture.

Today, that all changes.

Sandy Bridge is Intel’s 2011 performance mainstream architecture refresh. It won’t take the place of the 6-core Gulftown based Core i7 processors at the top of the charts, but it’ll occupy the competitive space below it. The value segments won’t see Sandy Bridge until 2012.

The first CPUs will ship very early in 2011 for both desktops and notebooks. The architecture discussion we have here today applies to both. The CPUs won’t be called Sandy Bridge but instead will be called Intel’s 2nd generation Core i3/i5/i7 microrpocessors. The naming system will follow this format we outlined in our earlier look at Sandy Bridge:

Sandy Bridge Desktop 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 CPUs will require a new socket (LGA-1155) and all new motherboards based on Intel’s forthcoming 6-series chipsets.

The new socket

New low-profile 45W Sandy Bridge heatsink (left)

The chipset brings 6Gbps SATA support (2 ports) but no native USB 3, motherboard manufacturers will still have to use an off-chip controller to get USB 3 support. Intel will also enable 5GT/s PCIe 2.0 slots with its 6-series chipsets.

A mini-ITX LGA-1155 Motherboard

The Front End
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  • yuhong - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    There is no VEX.256 for 256-bit integer ops, but there is a VEX.128 prefix that zeros the upper part of YMM registers to reduce the delays..
  • NaN42 - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    Well, I found a summary of the prefixes. Interestingly there are some exception, like I guessed, e.g. a VEX.128 prefix does not exist for conversion of packed floating points<->packed integers and for CRC32c + POPCNT.
  • CSMR - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    The best info available on an exciting platform, good job.

    I wonder if for the next article you could test DirectX / OpenGL compatibility? Intel advertises compliance for a lot of its products, but in reality the support is partial, and some applications that use DirectX / OpenGL entirely correctly are not supported by Intel graphics, including the current HD graphics.

    I've found this with fastpictureviewer (DirectX, I think 9) and Photoshop CS5 (OpenGL 2)

    This is quite shocking. Given that Intel is doing this currently, it would be great if reviewers could prod it into action, but unfortunately they tend to place speed first, correctness second or nowhere.
  • marass31 - Thursday, September 16, 2010 - link

    Hi CSMR,
    Could you please write more details about problems with DX and OGL on Intel HD graphics( including gfx driver version, system config ...). You mentioned about two applications: Fastpictureviewer and PSCS5, so could you please write some steps to reproduce to each of them - THX a lot.
  • ssj4Gogeta - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    What's the point of extreme editions if we're going to have affordable K SKUs?
    Or will socket 2011 not have any K SKUs? I'm guessing they'll leave the BCLCK unlocked on the 2011, and only have normal and extreme processors (no K processors). Or maybe extreme editions will just have more cores like 980X?
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    The extreme editions have always been for people who buy retail or who're playing with LN2 and need the most insanely binned part available. They've never been a mainstream OCer part.
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    I have a bad feeling about the "k" chips and the future of overclocking. Sure, intel gave us turbo mode, but that almost seems like appeasement before the last shoe drops. First, limited turbo with good overclockng, then better turbo and less overclocking, and now it's sounding like slightly better turbo and even less overclocking. It looks like we are moving to intel-controlled overclocking. There's virtually no value left for the enthusiast--a user that is already just a small part of the market. Intel just decided what the enthusiast needs, but I don't think they get what those users actually want.

    I just don't buy that these limits are to prevent fraud. Mom and Pop stores are virtually all gone now, and I'd hate to think what Intel would do to a Dell or HP if they got caught overclocking desktops.

    I guess this leaves another door open for AMD. Sad, cause SnB looks like a great design.
  • This Guy - Wednesday, September 15, 2010 - link

    Hopefully Intel will allow the 'energy budget' to be increased when an extreme edition processer detects less thermal resistance (i.e. a bloody big heat sink). This would allow an EE CPU to either run with a higher multiplier or run at it's turbo frequency longer. (I'ld like this feature on all CPU's)

    This would make EE CPU's interesting if K CPU's catch up in terms of cores.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    What are the prospects for using Intel's transcoder to convert DVDs to 700MB avi files? Either DivX, Xvid, or H.264? Or anything else better than MPEG-2?
  • Dfere - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    Since this seems to be, overall, a refinement, and not so much an improvement with new capabilities, and Anand's comments about the scalability of GPU related enhancements, that Intel is taking a two step approach towards CPU releases, in addition to its fab strategies? E.G, we see a new CPU, then it gets shrunk, then it gets improved (like this), then it gets bells and whistles (like a GPU etc), then we start over again with a really new architecture.....

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