I’m sure you’ve heard the term Sandy Bridge thrown around – the articles and reviews on Intel’s second-generation Core i7 technology have more than proliferated by now. The consensus is that this “tock” in Intel’s “tick-tock” strategy is fresh, powerful, and a game changer. And even as good as Sandy Bridge is, it’s being positioned as Intel’s mainstream replacement platform, which actually makes for some interesting questions like, “If Intel’s keeping the X58 platform around as an enthusiast solution, how does Sandy Bridge stack up, and what, if any, advantages are there to it?”
With a new chipset, new capabilities, new price points, and new power efficiencies, there’s a lot to consider when evaluating Sandy Bridge, but in my experience, it’s all in favor of Intel’s latest creation.
What is Sandy Bridge?
Sandy Bridge is the code word for Intel’s latest 32nm mainstream processors. They come in various flavors, from dual-core Pentium and Core i3 processors, to quad-core Core i5 and Core i7 variants. They all feature the latest iteration of Intel’s HD Graphics – which turns out to be a fairly powerful update for certain flavors of these new processors. Each of these new models feature Intel Quick Sync Video, a dedicated video transcoder that, when used in conjunction with the integrated graphics core, delivers a quantum leap in video transcoding power that even a discrete GPU cannot touch in terms of speed.
Sandy Bridge requires a new socket and a new chipset, however, so those of you looking to upgrade from your existing configuration will need at the very minimum a new motherboard, and if you’re not using the latest DDR3 memory, you’ll find yourself forking over even more money. What you get in return is a very well-outfitted platform with smart configuration choices and most importantly, the bandwidth to support these new features. Intel has added SATA 6G to their chipset, replacing the need for finicky and often under-performing third-party controllers. Also, while not native to the platform, you’ll find almost all Sandy Bridge motherboards featuring USB 3.0 – a welcome endorsement of this high speed update to a venerable standard. The best part is that unlike Intel’s previous mainstream platform, they’ve made sure to provide enough bandwidth to each of these components to prevent data bottlenecks.
Performance for every budget
One of the cool things about Sandy Bridge is how well the platform scales up and down the price and performance stack. One can find Sandy Bridge motherboards south of $100, and enthusiasts can find three-way GPU, hardcore overclocking motherboards for over $300. Speaking of overclocking – how does 5GHz sound? At Maingear we’re hitting over 5GHz on select chips, and it’s pretty exciting to see this kind of performance out of a $300 processor. A word to overclockers – you’ll need to make sure you’re buying special “K” SKUs – currently the 2500K and the 2600K, in order to get the unlocked features necessary to facilitate overclocking.