Intel Sandy Bridge – Core i7-2600K, Core i5-2500K

..:: Starcraft 2 Map Demo ::..

Now, one of the key areas where Intel said there were massive performance gains was with Starcraft 2, one of the most popular games out there. Initially, I was a little skeptical that a simple processor swap could be such a boon for performance, but as you can see in the above, it certainly was. This demo was run at 1680 x 1050 resolution with all graphics settings on Medium. The Sandy Bridge processors simple blow away the previous generation Core processors. It’s not even a respectable competition. And remember, this is on a system with a “lowly” 8800GT. I decided to toss the Intel HD Graphics results into this plot to show relative performance. At this resolution and detail setting level, they are “playable”, but not smooth. We’ll be covering the Intel HD Graphics capabilities in more detail in a future article.

..:: Lost Planet 2 (1680 x 1050) ::..

..:: Lost Planet 2 (1280 x 1024) ::..

When it comes to a more punishing benchmark, we see some performance boost from the new Sandy Bridge processor, but not enough to overcome the graphics card weaknesses. Looks like it’s time for an upgrade.

..:: Conclusion ::..

Now that we’ve taken a look at the microarchitecture changes that come with Sandy Bridge, the platform changes and the performance, it’s time to reflect upon what Intel has brought to the table with these new Sandy bridge processors. With Sandy Bridge, the full integration of the Northbridge into the processor die has finally been achieved.  This has been a long time coming, and the benefits that it has brought to computing are only going to improve in the future. Now that Intel has integrated the graphics core into the same die as the processor, Intel can offer this technology at a lower cost to the end user, and therefore more easily spread this technology. While we didn’t look much into Intel HD Graphics 2.0 today (we will be doing a full, detailed article shortly), we have seen that improvements certainly have been made since Clarkdale. With Clarkdale, basically every game was unplayable at an acceptable resolution or detail level. With Sandy Bridge, Intel has been able to improve the performance up to levels of Northbridge enabled graphics cores. I would actually play Starcraft 2 on the Intel HD Graphics without complaint, although it would be at a lower resolution than generally preferred.

The performance gains stemming from the single die package also show up in key places. Finally, we’re back to having the memory controller on the processor die…with integrated graphics. The Sandy Bridge processors  showed nice improvements in memory bandwidth across the board, L1 cache throughput increased greatly and L3 latency times fell. These Sandy Bridge processors are without a doubt superior to the previous generation of Core processors and their respective chipsets. The key is at what price point we will see motherboards coming out at. As the H67 and P67 are mainstream, we expect to see boards at a relatively low price. If boards are offered at the right price, I can see users of older Core 2 processors having plenty of reasons to upgrade to Sandy Bridge. Intels’ has suggested MSRP’s of $107 for the DH67BL and $184 for the DP67BG. At these competitive prices, we’re sure to see some excellent boards in the sub $200 range, and likely a few solid solutions around the $150-$160 mark. If this is the case, we’ll have more reason to consider suggesting upgrades to Sandy Bridge, but only for older products in need of it, i.e. Core 2 Duo / Core 2 Quad and prior generations. Factoring in the expense of a new processor and motherboard alone means that performance boost will come at a steep price, so users of the most recent Core processors may want to shy away for the time being.

In the end, I am impressed with what Intel has brought to the table with Sandy Bridge. AMD has, thus far, been unable to keep up with Intel and Sandy Bridge will only set the bar higher. If you’re going to be in the market in the next few months for a new system, give these Sandy Bridge chips a thorough screening. You will not be disappointed.