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Intel Sandy Bridge review

Verdict

Phenomenal performance and great value - Intel's latest CPUs are a class act

Review Date: 3 Jan 2011

Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith

Price when reviewed: £145 (£170 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
6 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
6 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

Sandy Bridge is Intel’s latest microarchitecture, and although CPUs built to this new design still use the familiar Core i3, i5 and i7 brand names, they bring some major advances over the previous generation.

The GPU has been beefed up and moved onto the same silicon die as the rest of the CPU, making the design faster and more power efficient. New “advanced vector extensions” (AVX) help accelerate certain types of repetitive operations, promising a significant boost to applications such as media converters.

And the Turbo Boost system has been upgraded: more cores can be overclocked at once, and to higher frequencies than before, while a new “kick-down” algorithm automatically provides a brief additional boost whenever the CPU load goes up suddenly — such as when you open a program or maximise a window.

The only frustration is Sandy Bridge brings a new LGA 1155 socket. It looks identical to LGA 1156, but isn’t compatible, so upgrading will mean buying a whole new motherboard.

The chips

The new range comprises 29 new chips, of which 21 are low-power chips designed for notebooks or all-in-one PCs. We’ll have to wait until manufacturers start building them into systems to see how these perform.

But we can get an idea of Sandy Bridge’s power from the eight regular desktop chips that Intel has also launched. You'll find full details, along with predicted launch pricing, in the table below:

Specifications and estimated prices for Intel Sandy Bridge processors

Core i5 performance

To test Sandy Bridge’s performance we put Intel’s new flagship i5 and i7 processors through their paces, starting with the Core i5-2500K. It comes with a clock frequency of 3.3GHz, rising to 3.7GHz with Turbo Boost, and as it’s an unlocked K model you’re free to pump those clocks higher in the BIOS.

Testing was carried out using our real world benchmarks, on a system based on an Intel DP67BG motherboard (based on the new P67 chipset) with 4GB of Kingston HyperX 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM, running Windows 7 Home Premium from a 1TB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 hard disk.

The i5 gave extremely impressive results compared to previous high-performing CPUs, as the graph below shows. At default speeds it achieved an overall benchmark score of 2.58 – the sort of score we normally see only from heavily overclocked enthusiast machines. Its particular strength was the multitasking component of our tests, in which it achieved a stunning score of 3.34.

Intel Sandy Bridge - benchmark results graph

Graphical performance was strong too: the P67 chipset (required for overclocking) doesn't support Sandy Bridge's integrated GPUs, but when we switched to a board based on the H67 chipset we found that Crysis ran at a perfectly playable 38fps at 1,366 x 768 resolution with Low quality settings. Switching up to Medium quality caused the frame rate to plummet to 13fps, but that still indicates a lot of graphical juice.

It’s worth noting that the Core i5-2500K uses the new HD Graphics 3000 integrated GPU; some other chips use the 2000 model, which has only half the shader power. But for casual games such as The Sims or World of Warcraft it looks like you’ll be able to get away without a discrete card.

There was even better news when we returned to the P67 board and adjusted the clock speeds. With just a standard Intel cooler, the i5-2500K remained stable as we turned Turbo Mode way up to 4.4GHz across all four cores. With these settings, the system achieved a gobsmacking overall benchmark score of 3.11. Those with more extravagant coolers and power supplies should be able to achieve even higher performance.

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User comments

I5 2500k...

Been waiting months for this chip, now where can I find one????

By David1981 on 3 Jan 2011

which VAT rate?

is that with the old 17.5% or the new 20% ?

By Henry_B on 3 Jan 2011

not another new socket!

I bought a 1156 mainboard on the assumption that it would last for a long time like lga 775 did, learning that they have changed to a new platform that is still exactly the same physical shape is just annoying!

By Henry_B on 3 Jan 2011

VAT and stuff..

The extra 2.5% will make about a fivers worth of difference on the i7 price.. so unless you plan to buy a couple of hundred it's not going to matter.

Your 1156 mainboard will still last a long time, unless of course you are sucked into the whole tech race thing and absolutely MUST have the latest thing.

By pinero50 on 3 Jan 2011

It's strongly rumoured that these have built-in DRM. Rather takes the shine off I think.

By nutalpa on 3 Jan 2011

Definitely come with DRM say Reuters

Link
http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE7020FG201101
03

By nutalpa on 3 Jan 2011

DRM & TDP

If it actually works, and the distributors and studios get behind it, it could open up the online sales of films.

It is one of the reasons that the Android is struggling to get video content at the moment, compared to the iPhone and other platforms which have dedicated encryption / DRM hardware built-in.

If they can really get the content creators behind them, it might bring a change in attitude from the studios, who currently block content even from their own streaming portals to PCs (a recent test, here in Germany, showed that the average Movie service delivered about 16 of the top 20 films to their devices, but PCs running the services streaming software would get between 2 and 8 of those films).

One thing I missed was the TDP ratings for the new chips. There was a brief mention of 90W for the i5-2500K, but otherwise no mention. Given that today, even the bottom end processor is probably more than enough for the average user, in terms of performance, the TDP - and thus running costs - make up a much more important part of the buying equation.

(For me especially, as prices per unit have just gone up 75% :-O)

By big_D on 4 Jan 2011

As I understand an integrated video chip was a requirement for hardware DRM? If it's so, it makes sense about the new motherboard. However, wouldn't that create segmentation in the online video streaming? Like, you can only watch the movie if you have this new cpu?

By Lomskij on 4 Jan 2011

@Lomskij

It would. But the hardware industry is always looking at ways to make people make unnecessary upgrades.

I can't see the DRM requiring the inbuilt graphics chip, unless the chip also handles the DRM decoding. It would exclude gamers, enthusiasts and professionals, if the streaming had to run over the integrated graphics.

That said, I don't see the need for discrete graphics, for the majority of users, these days. My old C2D Tecra A10 had the first generation of Intel HD graphics and they were more than fast enough for Aero or HD video playback.

By big_D on 4 Jan 2011

Overclocking on a H67 board?

Darien,

I have read that it is impossible to overclock the new processors on a H67 motherboard. How did you overclock using the Intel DH67BL motherboard?

By dplatten on 5 Jan 2011

Overclocking and on-baord graphics?

dplatten got there first, but I was going to ask the same thing - as I understand from other write-ups, it is only possible to overclock sandy bridge CPUs on motherboards based on the P67 chipset. But these don't allow the on-board graphics to work.

This appears to contradict the review "...with all four cores running at more than 4GHz. With no discrete graphics card, it was whisper-quiet too"

Has pcpro discovered options to overclock and have on-board graphics that nobody else knows about?

By timtap on 5 Jan 2011

Hi chaps - thanks for the questions about overclocking. I'm out of the office today but will check my notes tomorrow and get back to you with an answer.

By DarienGS on 6 Jan 2011

You chaps are right - the 2D benchmarks (including overclocked benchmarks) were indeed carried out on a P67 system, while the graphical ones used the H67 board as described. Thanks for catching that: I've corrected the text of the review.

By DarienGS on 7 Jan 2011

Exactly the attitude

RE: VAT and stuff. pinero50

"The extra 2.5% will make about a fivers worth of difference on the i7 price.. so unless you plan to buy a couple of hundred it's not going to matter."

It's exactly this attitude that allowed tax cheat George Osborne to put up VAT to 20%, he know people wouldn't be that bothered, it's only a couple of quid here and there. Moron. Ironically the second part of your post is critical of a similar attitude, the one where by people are conditioned from an early age into buying the latest piece of 'tech' because it's 'cool' or on the gadget show.

By dodge1963 on 8 Jan 2011

When?

When will the new Sandy Bridge chips in PCs on sale in the UK?

By jedi_kite1 on 11 Jan 2011

jedi_kite - Scan have them at the moment. I've just looked myself.

On the tax situation, it is only a 2.5% increase but yes, it would have been better for the state to have shrunk by 5% and allowed for a much overdue tax cut. Too much is stolen from us as it is. Join the TPA and fight back.

By bubbles16 on 11 Jan 2011

Triple Channel Memory

Be grateful if someone could clarify what's needed to support triple channel memory. Do some classes of cpu support triple channel memory or mobo or mobo and cpu

By simontompkins on 12 Feb 2011

Hi Simon: triple-channel memory is only used by Intel's enterprise-class Core i7-900 series chips. All other Core i3, i5 and i7 processors (including all Sandy Bridge and older Westmere parts) use dual-channel RAM. Hope this helps!

By DarienGS on 15 Feb 2011

Thank you

Hi Darien, cheers for the help:)

By simontompkins on 30 Apr 2012

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