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Intel's Sandy Bridge I. Architecture & CPU Performance Print E-mail
Written by Michael Schuette   
Jan 02, 2011 at 12:37 AM

Sometimes the unveiling of a new CPU is exciting. Sometimes it is not. And then, sometimes, it is like fasten your seatbelt, close your eyes and hope you’ll withstand the G-force from the sheer acceleration of workloads. AMD had a few of those in the past, Intel, more recently with the Nehalem architecture and particularly that one seemed a tough act to follow, even though Lynnfield at least did not drop off the cliff with respect of upping the ante. Gulftown, well, that one is somewhat in a league of its own, courtesy of the 12 logical cores and also the price tag. Even Gulftown, though, has to yield in more than one application in comparison to today’s new kid on the block: Welcome Sandy Bridge and no, unlike Rocky Roads, Sandy is not a porn star.


Let's take a very quick look at Intel's latest roadmap just to gauge the internal positioning of Sandy Bridge in the desktop repertoire of processor. In the ultra-high sector, we see the perseverance of the Bloomfield/Lynnfield quad core offerings and this will certainly also encompass the hex core Gulftown models. However, Sandy Bridge will replace some of the lower end models even in the performance sector and, we believe that the roadmap shown below will undergo some major adjustments as soon as inventory of Bloomfield dies is exhausted - the reasons for this will be very clear by the end of this article. Clarkdale dual core processors are pretty much history. While a great pioneering foray into combining CPU and GPU on a single package, the hybrid design using two different process technologies with all the strings attached to each one has simply outlived its usefulness. In other words, we'll see a major push for the new Core i3 / i5 / i7 into the market along with the necessary infrastructure.

Hitchhiker’s guide through Intel’s new Model Numbers

We’ll try to keep this short and sweet and concentrate on the main features that make the new CPU as unique as it is and do a quick digest of the new naming convention. Essentially, Sandy Bridge is a concept, taking the best of any of the previous generations of Intel processors, recombining them, and adding a graphics core on-die. The actual nomenclature, will not use the Sandy Bridge name but rely on the established Core i3, 5 and 7 modifiers. The second part of the model number will have a 4-digit descriptor, all starting with a “2” as in second generation , followed by the actual SKU as for example 500 or 600. Finally there is the letter suffix designating whether the processor is unlocked or not by the presence or absence of the “K” moniker borrowed from Mercedes' K as in Kompressor. Or maybe from somewhere else.

All new Desktop Processors

For simplicity reasons we are sticking for now with the desktop versions, in addition, however, Intel is releasing several line-ups of mobile and ultra-low power models of Sandy Bridge.

The second feature associated with the K moniker is the update of the GPU from Intel HD 2000 to 3000, which means that 12 GPU execution units are at work as opposed to 6 in the 2000 series. Together with the two max target frequencies of the graphics units (1100 MHz and 1350 MHz) that do not coincide with the 2000/3000 distinction, this results in four different performance steppings of the integrated graphics, namely:

  • HD Graphics 2000 – 1100 MHz
  • HD Graphics 2000 – 1350 MHz
  • HD Graphics 3000 – 1100 MHz
  • HD Graphics 3000 – 1350 MHz

We start with a quick model number comparison by just pointing out the obvious differences: the new second generation Core i7 processors all have an 8MB L3 cache and Hyperthreading over four physical cores for a maximum of 8 threads or logical cores. The new Core i5 will feature 6 MB L3 cache and no Hyperthreading. In other words, while still featuring 4 physical cores, there are no logical cores and that will have some performance impact in a number of applications. Finally, there is the second gen Core i3 with a 3 MB L3 cache and 2 physical cores, yet, with HT enabled to add a bit more processing power in today’s world of poorly designed software. Missing from the Core i3 line-up is also AES-NI. Thus far, the only Kompressor models are the Core i7 2600K and the Core i5 2500K, each of which also has a conventional “locked” counterpart for the non-enthusiast market segment. Which does exist. Moreover,those processors can still be overclocked using the P67 chipset (see next page).

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Last Updated ( Jan 17, 2011 at 01:16 PM )
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