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Intel’s Sandy Bridge Revealed: Core i5-2500K & i7-2600K Reviewed
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by Rob Williams on January 3, 2011 in Intel Processors

The long-awaited launch of Intel’s Sandy Bridge is here, and we have all of the details of what to expect, what you need to “upgrade”, what models will be available at launch, and of course, their prices. We’re taking a look at two of the higest-end offerings, the Core i5-2500K and i7-2600K – both quad-cores and both fully unlocked.

Introduction

Exactly one year ago today, we posted our biggest (in terms of wordage) launch article ever. The product at hand? Intel’s Clarkdale processors, which at the time, were the most sophisticated offerings on the market. They were also the first to bring a GPU onto the same PCB as the CPU, which not only improved efficiency, but made things more convenient for the consumer.

The Clarkdale/Arrandale launch for Intel was quite successful, as the microarchitecture proved to be the fastest and most capable to date. In some cases, it even outperformed the company’s much larger Bloomfield offerings – especially where encryption is concerned. So overall, the value was quite high.

Where can things be improved? Sandy Bridge is Intel’s answer to that question, and it brings a lot to the table. There’s not only lots to talk about architecture-wise, but rather the platform as a whole. That includes motherboards, chipsets and even some of Intel’s major marketing focuses.

Unlike our Clarkdale launch article, this one is not going to be a 10,000 word mega-article, but rather it’s going to be a little more simple, tackling the basics and also covering what’s new. In the weeks ahead, we’ll be following-up with other content that delves a bit deeper into certain aspects of Sandy Bridge, including the new integrated graphics chip, the overclockability, and of course, UEFI (also known as the “new BIOS”).

To help put the new launch into perspective, I’m thrown together our largest processor table list to date. This beast includes almost all of Intel’s current offerings (I’ve removed impossible-to-purchase models), and nothing here has yet been made redundant. There are sure to be removals made in the weeks ahead, but until it happens, the models should be listed.

Intel CPU
Cores
Threads
Clock
Turbo
Cache
GPU
TDP
1Ku Price
Core i7-980X (4)
6
12
3.33GHz
3.60GHz
12MB
N/A
130W
$999
Core i7-970 (4)
6
12
3.20GHz
3.46GHz
12MB
N/A
130W
$885
Core i7-2600K (5)
4
8
3.40GHz
3.80GHz
8MB
~1350MHz
95W
$317
Core i7-2600S (5)
4
8
2.80GHz
3.80GHz
8MB
~1350MHz
65W
$???
Core i5-2600 (5)
4
8
3.40GHz
3.80GHz
8MB
~1350MHz
95W
$294
Core i7-960 (1)
4
8
3.20GHz
3.46GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$562
Core i7-950 (1)
4
8
3.06GHz
3.33GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$294
Core i7-870 (2)
4
8
2.93GHz
3.60GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$294
Core i7-870S (2)
4
8
2.66GHz
3.60GHz
8MB
N/A
82W
$351
Core i7-875K (2)
4
8
2.93GHz
3.60GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$342
Core i7-860S (2)
4
8
2.53GHz
3.46GHz
8MB
N/A
82W
$337
Core i7-930 (1)
4
8
2.80GHz
3.06GHz
8MB
N/A
130W
$294
Core i7-860 (2)
4
8
2.80GHz
3.46GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$284
Core i5-2500K (5)
4
4
3.30GHz
3.70GHz
6MB
~1100MHz
95W
$216
Core i5-2500T (5)
4
4
2.30GHz
3.30GHz
6MB
~1250MHz
65W
$???
Core i5-2500S (5)
4
4
2.70GHz
3.70GHz
6MB
~1100MHz
65W
$???
Core i5-2500 (5)
4
4
3.30GHz
3.70GHz
6MB
~1100MHz
95W
$205
Core i5-2400 (5)
4
4
3.10GHz
3.40GHz
6MB
~1100MHz
95W
$184
Core i5-2400S (5)
4
4
2.50GHz
3.30GHz
6MB
~1100MHz
65W
$???
Core i5-2390T (5)
2
4
2.70GHz
3.50GHz
3MB
~1100MHz
35W
$???
Core i5-2300 (5)
4
4
2.80GHz
3.10GHz
6MB
~1100MHz
95W
$177
Core i5-760 (2)
4
4
2.80GHz
3.33GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$205
Core i5-680 (3)
2
4
3.60GHz
3.86GHz
4MB
733MHz
73W
$294
Core i5-750S (2)
4
4
2.40GHz
3.20GHz
8MB
N/A
82W
$259
Core i5-655K (3)
2
4
3.20GHz
3.46GHz
4MB
733MHz
73W
$216
Core i5-750 (2)
4
4
2.66GHz
3.20GHz
8MB
N/A
95W
$196
Core i5-661 (3)
2
4
3.33GHz
3.60GHz
4MB
900MHz
87W
$196
Core i5-660 (3)
2
4
3.33GHz
3.60GHz
4MB
733MHz
73W
$196
Core i5-650 (3)
2
4
3.20GHz
3.46GHz
4MB
733MHz
73W
$176
Core i3-2120 (5)
2
4
3.30GHz
N/A
3MB
~1100MHz
65W
$138
Core i3-2100 (5)
2
4
3.10GHz
N/A
3MB
~1100MHz
65W
$117
Core i3-2100T (5)
2
4
2.50GHz
N/A
3MB
~1100MHz
35W
$???
Core i3-560 (3)
2
4
3.33GHz
N/A
4MB
733MHz
73W
$138
Core i3-550 (3)
2
4
3.20GHz
N/A
4MB
733MHz
73W
$117
Core i3-540 (3)
2
4
3.06GHz
N/A
4MB
733MHz
73W
$117
Pentium G6950 (3)
2
2
2.80GHz
N/A
3MB
533MHz
73W
$87
Microarchitecture: (1) Bloomfield, (2) Lynnfield, (3) Clarkdale, (4) Gulftown, (5) Sandy Bridge

The most expensive part we’ll see from this launch is the Core i7-2600K, at $317. It’s a quad-core offering that features eight threads and is clocked at 3.40GHz. Like the Clarkdale models released last January, Sandy Bridge brings to the table a very effective Turbo mode, and in the case of this particular CPU, it can top out at 3.80GHz when under stress.

At the very bottom we have the Core i3-2100, at $117. It’s a dual-core model that lacks a Turbo mode but does include HyperThreading, which could be argued to be even more important. Unlike the bigger models, the Core i3s (and also the Core i5-2390T) feature just 3MB of L3 Cache. The bigger models, including the Core i7s and most of the Core i5s, include either 6MB or 8MB.

One of the most ambitious goals of Sandy Bridge was to meld the GPU and CPU together, and going forward, that’s something we’ll be seeing from most released models (the exceptions will be future high-end parts). For launch models, the GPU core will be clocked at up to 1350MHz, and will vary depending on the model. Because Intel introduced a mode similar to Turbo for the GPU, the clocks will be a little more modest when idle.

Along with this launch comes some new box art, and also revised “Core i” logos. The previous box art looked quite nice as it was, but the revised art is even more modern, and a bit more colorful.

If there’s a downside to Sandy Bridge that’s worth mentioning up front, it’s that it supports the LGA1155 socket, not LGA1156. While AMD has managed to keep its sockets the same from launch to launch, Intel has been releasing a different design for each major one, which complicates the upgrade process for many. With the sockets being near-identical in size here, Intel no doubt wanted to use LGA1156, but due to important architecture differences, it couldn’t.

There is an upside, though. Because the physical size of the CPU hasn’t changed, neither has the mounting holes for the CPU coolers. That means that all LGA1156 coolers will fit an LGA1155 socket no problem.

We’re going to spend the next couple of pages tackling more of the specifics of Sandy Bridge and also its related components, so let’s get right into it!


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