Intel Sandy Bridge i5 2500K & i7 2600K Review - Where to Buy

By on January 3, 2011

Same 32nm goodness, more efficient Microarchitecture

Intel Sandy Bridge i5 2500K & i7 2600K Review

Tock- that's where Intel is with the launch of their second generation Core CPU aka Sandy Bridge. For those who are unaware, Intel's been following their Tick Tock model for the past few years where TOCK introduces a new generation of CPUs while TICK refines those CPUs by cutting down on the manufacturing process which happened last year when Intel switched to 32nm technology. Now, unlike the previous generation of Core CPUs where we saw the highest-end Core i7 Extreme Edition released first, Intel has chosen to release the mainstream CPUs this time around. Say hello to the Second Generation of Intel Core CPUs.

Lets get the worst thing about these new CPUs out of the way before talking about some of their new features and performance enhancements- these new CPUs bring a new socket with them. This is a bit of a shame as this will be the fourth socket for Intel CPUs in the last few years. We saw the move from LGA 775 found in Core 2 Duo CPUs to LGA 1366 with the introduction of the Core i7 extreme in 2008 which was followed by the mainstream Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs with the LGA 1156 socket in 2009. What this means is that you will need a new motherboard if you plan on upgrading to the new Core CPU which has an LGA 1155 socket. With that out of the way, here is what these new Sandy Bridge CPU's architecture look like

The biggest architectural change in Sandy bridge is that it Integrates CPU, Graphics, MC, PCI Express On Single Chip with the L3 Cache shared across all four cores and the processor graphics. This gives the integrated graphics a nice shot in the arm as far as performance is concerned and expect it to perform as well as the lower-end mainstream GPUs.

The second big thing about these new CPUs is Turbo Boost 2.0. Previously, Turbo Boost used to shut down your extra cores and boost the performance of a single core, however, with Turbo Boost 2.0, all cores are capable of receiving some extra boost of performance. Intel has also added a new instruction set called AVX in these new CPUs which improved floating point and vector computation.

Finally, these CPUs are a lot more efficient when it comes to battery life- something we will see once we evaluate the mobile version of this desktop. Since we are looking at the desktop line-up, lets introduce these new CPUs.

With the new generation of Core CPUs, there is a distinguished difference between the Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 models. All Core i3 models are dual core while all Core i5 models are quad core with the Core i7 adding HyperThreading to the mix. The CPUs that end with a K are unlocked and targeted towards the enthusiast. With us today, we have the Core i5 2500K and Core i7 2600K models. The K at the end of the model denotes an unlocked CPU.

For benchmarking the Core i5-2500K Intel provided us with the DH67BL motherboard which came with a standard Intel Core i5 CPU cooler on top. The Core i7-2600K was put on the DP67BG (Extreme Edition) motherboard with the flagship XTS100H CPU cooler attached.

The rest of the goodies came from our end, starting with Kingmax 4GB DDR3-2200 ram, Zotac GeForce GTX 580 AMP! Edition graphics card, Kingston V-Series 64GB SSD with Windows 7 Ultimate and Corsairs HX1000W PSU.

First up are the 3D benchmarks which were performed to better realize the CPU pushing capabilities of the Sandy Bridge processors. Note that the 3DMark Vantage result of all the CPUs except the Sandy Bridge has a MSI GTX 480 Lightning instead of the Zotac GTX 580 AMP! Edition. The latter card was used for 3DMark 11 with all 3 CPUs tested below.

As you can see the Sandy Bridge CPUs perform neck and neck with a two generation old Nehalem Extreme Edition processor. The 965EE cost $999 in its day, these two processors aren’t even a 3rd of that asking price.

This is where things get really interesting. What I am comparing the new Sandy Bridge processors with are listed in the table below.

The only comparable AMD processor we had on hand within similar price range and performance was the Phenom II X6 1075T, which isn’t great in games, but in pure computing horsepower it’s a beast at that price point.

The Core i7-2600K bests the Core i7-965EE in every benchmark, showing how far technology has come indeed, that such high-end performance is now available to the masses at a respectable price point.

Apart from 7-zip and X264, the Core 5-2500K outperforms its closest rivals, the i7-860 and X6 1075T by a healthy margin.

Keep in mind that this is a preliminary test. While we didn’t get much time with the Intel test units to perform detailed benchmarks, rest assured that our upcoming motherboard roundup later this week will test the overclocking capabilities and other functionalities of the Core i7-2600K to its fullest extent.

As far as stock performance is concerned, the new Sandy Bridge processors provide a whole lot of performance for their price point, especially compared to their older counterparts. The new microarchitecture update from Intel provides more for less, exactly what a hardware revision should be.

In the near future we’ll be getting Sandy Bridge notebooks to further test the claims of Sandy Bridge’s improved microarchitecture, especially with regards to the graphics capabilities of Intel HD Graphics 3000.

The new Intel Sandy Bridge processors sure bring a whole lot to the table, and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of its true potential. The only thing we don’t like is the naming scheme which can easily confuse consumers. Outside of that though, there will be a lot more mobile and desktop Core i3/i5/i7 processors introduced later in the year, and let’s not forget the ever wondrous Extreme Edition CPUs which we haven’t heard of yet. Till Ivy Bridge comes out, there’s a lot to get excited about.
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