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.

Power Consumption
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • saikyan - Thursday, January 6, 2011 - link

    "perhaps we should return to just labeling these things with their clock speeds and core counts? After all, it’s what Apple does—and that’s a company that still refuses to put more than one button on its mice. Maybe it’s worth a try."

    I hate to sound like the resident Mac fanboy (I'm platform agnostic) but I want to point out:

    1. Apple sells by trim and display, they don't really make a big deal of the CPU (probably because they stick to low-end and midrange CPUs)

    2. They have been shipping multi-button mice for nearly six years now. Come on!
  • vol7ron - Friday, January 7, 2011 - link

    - gtx460 image quality definitely the worst
    - 6870 image quality next
    - quicksync/snb image quality are the best (marginally better than 6870); I did notice some color loss in the flowers behind the umbrella when I zoomed in on the quicksync picture, so I'd have to give SNB the title in terms of quality. QuickSync gets the title in terms of performance.
  • nitrousoxide - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

  • Burticus - Monday, January 10, 2011 - link

    My last Intel cpu was a prescott 2.4ghz P4 OC'd to over 3ghz... back in 2004? My last 3 main system builds all AMD.... I was thinking about going to an X6 in the near future, now I guess maybe not. My price point is pretty much $200 for the cpu + motherboard so maybe I'll have to wait a couple months.

    Suddenly my 2 year old Phenom II seems very, very slow...
  • magnusr - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    I just received my 2600K. It only had the normal fan. No special heatsink/fan for the 2600K. The same heatsink as the rest....

    This is a fraud since I placed my decision to take 2600K instead of the 2500K based on the better heatsink and the cache.
  • mmcnally - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    Same here.. Very disapointed as I would have purchased a better heatsink if I knew. I guess I'll just do the install with the standard crap HS and hold off on over-clocking until I get a better one.
  • swing848 - Tuesday, January 11, 2011 - link

    Many of us are using older equipment. And, for those of us with limited funds it would have been nice if you would have added the Intel Q9650 and run all game benchmarks at 3.4GHz [ the speed of the 2600K], except for the default 3.6GHz speed of the X4 975BE, leave it there.

    I have a QX9650 that I purchased from eBay and it does 4GHz+ with ease, in a Gigabyte P35-DS3R motherboard, even with my ancient cooler [Thermalright XP-90] that I pulled from a socket 478 motherboard [$5 adapter].

    Note: I lapped the XP-90 with a slight convex shape to better use with un-lapped CPUs.

    In any event, a "quick and dirty" or simple overclock would have yielded at least some usable information. To save time, no need to try to get the maximum speed from all components.

    As long as the CPUs were already overclocked, you could run all benchmarks at those speeds, not just games. Many of us overclock to get more for our money.

    You included the ancient Q6600 at it's slow default speed - in some of the benchmarks. Why didn't you include it in all benchmarks?

    Your normal benchmark page does not include a full, or nearly full, list of games and CPUs, so, comparisons are difficult to find, example here

    Where does this leave those of us with older equipment that is still chugging along?
  • Kell_sw - Thursday, January 13, 2011 - link

    DRM inside the cpu? People is blind?. The sad thing, everybody is going to buy this.
  • Sweeo - Friday, January 14, 2011 - link

    I just bought a upgrade "kit" from an core 2 2.8 quad to i7 950 :(
    but I got 6 sata ports I noticed the new boards have 4+2
    will the more advanced boards have more ?
  • Ahumado - Sunday, January 16, 2011 - link

    I didn't see it discussed. Did I miss it?

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now