Final Words

In terms of absolute CPU performance, Sandy Bridge doesn't actually move things forward. This isn't another ultra-high-end CPU launch, but rather a refresh for the performance mainstream and below. As one AnandTech editor put it, you get yesterday's performance at a much lower price point. Lynnfield took away a lot of the reason to buy an X58 system as it delivered most of the performance with much more affordable motherboards; Sandy Bridge all but puts the final nail in X58's coffin. Unless you're running a lot of heavily threaded applications, I would recommend a Core i7-2600K over even a Core i7-980X. While six cores are nice, you're better off pocketing the difference in cost and enjoying nearly the same performance across the board (if not better in many cases).

In all but the heaviest threaded applications, Sandy Bridge is the fastest chip on the block—and you get the performance at a fairly reasonable price. The Core i7-2600K is tempting at $317 but the Core i5-2500K is absolutely a steal at $216. You're getting nearly $999 worth of performance at roughly a quarter of the cost. Compared to a Core i5-750/760, you'll get an additional 10-50% performance across the board in existing applications, and all that from a ~25% increase in clock speed. A big portion of what Sandy Bridge delivers is due to architectural enhancements, the type of thing we've come to expect from an Intel tock. Starting with Conroe, repeating with Nehalem, and going strong once more with Sandy Bridge, Intel makes this all seem so very easy.

Despite all of the nastiness Intel introduced by locking/limiting most of the Sandy Bridge CPUs, if you typically spend around $200 on a new CPU then Sandy Bridge is likely a better overclocker than anything you've ever owned before it. The biggest loser in the overclock locks is the Core i3 which now ships completely locked. Thankfully AMD has taken care of the low-end segments very well over the past couple of years. All Intel is doing by enforcing clock locks for these lower end chips is sending potential customers AMD's way.

The Core i3-2100 is still a step forward, but not nearly as much of one as the 2500K. For the most part you're getting a 5-20% increase in performance (although we did notice some 30-40% gains), but you're giving up overclocking as an option. For multithreaded workloads you're better off with an Athlon II X4 645; however, for lightly threaded work or a general purpose PC the Core i3-2100 is likely faster.

If this were a normal CPU, I'd probably end here, but Sandy Bridge is no normal chip. The on-die GPU and Quick Sync are both noteworthy additions. Back in 2006 I wondered if Intel would be able to stick to its aggressive tick-tock cadence. Today there's no question of whether or not Intel can do it. The question now is whether Intel will be able to sustain a similarly aggressive ramp in GPU performance and feature set. Clarkdale/Arrandale were both nice, but they didn't do much to compete with low-end discrete GPUs. Intel's HD Graphics 3000 makes today's $40-$50 discrete GPUs redundant. The problem there is we've never been happy with $40-$50 discrete GPUs for anything but HTPC use. What I really want to see from Ivy Bridge and beyond is the ability to compete with $70 GPUs. Give us that level of performance and then I'll be happy.

The HD Graphics 2000 is not as impressive. It's generally faster than what we had with Clarkdale, but it's not exactly moving the industry forward. Intel should just do away with the 6 EU version, or at least give more desktop SKUs the 3000 GPU. The lack of DX11 is acceptable for SNB consumers but it's—again—not moving the industry forward. I believe Intel does want to take graphics seriously, but I need to see more going forward.

Game developers need to put forth some effort as well. Intel has clearly tried to fix some of its bad reputation this go around, so simply banning SNB graphics from games isn't helping anyone. Hopefully both sides will put in the requisite testing time to actually improve the situation.

Quick Sync is just awesome. It's simply the best way to get videos onto your smartphone or tablet. Not only do you get most if not all of the quality of a software based transcode, you get performance that's better than what high-end discrete GPUs are able to offer. If you do a lot of video transcoding onto portable devices, Sandy Bridge will be worth the upgrade for Quick Sync alone.

For everyone else, Sandy Bridge is easily a no brainer. Unless you already have a high-end Core i7, this is what you'll want to upgrade to.

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  • aviat72 - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    Though SB will be great for some applications, there are still rough edges in terms of the overall platform. I think it will be best to wait for SNB-E or at least the Z68. SNB-E seems to be the best future-proofing bet.

    I also wonder how a part rated for 95W TDP was drawing 111W in the 4.4GHz OC (the Power Consumption Page). SB's power budget controller must be really smart to allow the higher performance without throttling down, assuming your cooling system can manage the thermals.
  • marraco - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    I wish to know more about this Sandy Bridge "feature":
  • PeterO - Tuesday, January 4, 2011 - link

    Anand, Thanks for the great schooling and deep test results -- something surely representing an enormous amount of time to write, produce, and massage within Intel's bumped-forward official announcement date.

    Here's a crazy work-around question:

    Can I have my Quick Synch cake and eat my Single-monitor-with-Discrete-Graphics-card too if I, say:

    1). set my discrete card output to mirror Sandy Bridge's IGP display output;

    2). and, (should something exist), add some kind of signal loopback adapter to the IGP port to spoof the presence of a monitor? A null modem, of sorts?

    -- I have absolutely no mobo/video signaling background, so my idea may be laugh in my face funny to anybody who does but I figure it's worth a post, if only for your entertainment. :)
  • Hrel - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    It makes me SO angry when Intel does stupid shit like disable HT on most of their CPU's even though the damn CPU already has it on it, they already paid for. It literally wouldn't cost them ANYTHING to turn HT on those CPU's yet the greedy bastards don't do it.
  • Moizy - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    The HD Graphics 3000 performance is pretty impressive, but won't be utilized by most. Most who utilize Intel desktop graphics will be using the HD Graphics 2000, which is okay, but I ran back to the AMD Brazos performance review to get some comparisons.

    In Modern Warfare 2, at 1024 x 768, the new Intel HD Graphics 2000 in the Core i3 2100 barely bests the E-350. Hmm--that's when it's coupled with a full-powered, hyper-threaded desktop compute core that would run circles around the compute side of the Brazos E-350, an 18w, ultra-thin chip.

    This either makes Intel's graphics less impressive, or AMD's more impressive. For me, I'm more impressed with the graphics power in the 18w Brazos chip, and I'm very excited by what mainstream Llano desktop chips (65w - 95w) will bring, graphics-wise. Should be the perfect HTPC solution, all on the CPU (ahem, APU, I mean).

    I'm very impressed with Intel's video transcoding, however. Makes CUDA seem...less impressive, like a bunch of whoop-la. Scary what Intel can do when it decides that it cares about doing it.
  • andywuwei - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    not sure if anybody else noticed. CPU temp of the i5@3.2GHz is ~140 degrees. any idea why it is so high?
  • SantaAna12 - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    Did I miss the part where you tell of about the DRM built into this chip?
  • Cb422 - Wednesday, January 5, 2011 - link

    When will Sandy Bridge be available on Newegg or Amazon for me to purchase?
  • DesktopMan - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Very disappointed in the lack of vt-d and txt on k-variants. They are after all the high end products. I also find the fact that only the k-variants having the faster GPU very peculiar, as those are the CPUs most likely to be paired with a discrete GPU.
  • RagingDragon - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    Agreed. I find the exclusion of VT-d particularly irritating: many of the overclockers and enthusiasts to whom the K chips are marketed also use virtualization. Though I don't expect many enthusiasts, if any, to miss TXT (it's more for locked down corporate systems, media appliances, game consoles, etc.).

    With the Z68 chipset coming in the indeterminate near future, the faster GPU on K chips would have made sense if the K chips came with every other feature enabled (i.e. if they were the "do eveything chips").

    Also, I'd like to have the Sandy Bridge video encode/decode features separate from the GPU functionality - i.e. I'd like to choose between Intel and Nvidia/AMD video decode/encode when using a discrete GPU.

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