Update: Be sure to read our Sandy Bridge Architecture Exposed article for more details on the design behind Intel's next-generation microprocessor architecture.

The mainstream quad-core market has been neglected ever since we got Lynnfield in 2009. Both the high end and low end markets saw a move to 32nm, but if you wanted a mainstream quad-core desktop processor the best you could get was a 45nm Lynnfield from Intel. Even quad-core Xeons got the 32nm treatment.

That's all going to change starting next year. This time it's the masses that get the upgrade first. While Nehalem launched with expensive motherboards and expensive processors, the next tock in Intel's architecture cadence is aimed right at the middle of the market. This time, the ultra high end users will have to wait - if you want affordable quad-core, if you want the successor to Lynnfield, Sandy Bridge is it.

Sandy Bridge is the next major architecture from Intel. What Intel likes to call a tock. The first tock was Conroe, then Nehalem and now SB. In between were the ticks - Penryn, Westmere and after SB we'll have Ivy Bridge, a 22nm shrink of Sandy.

Did I mention we have one?

While Intel is still a few weeks away from releasing Sandy Bridge performance numbers at IDF, we managed to spend some time with a very healthy sample and run it through a few of our tests to get a sneak peak at what's coming in Q1 2011.

New Naming

The naming isn’t great. It’s an extension of what we have today. Intel is calling Sandy Bridge the 2nd generation Core i7, i5 and i3 processors. As a result, all of the model numbers have a 2 preceding them.

For example, today the fastest LGA-1156 processor is the Core i7 880. When Sandy Bridge launches early next year, the fastest LGA-1155 processor will be the Core i7 2600. The two indicates that it’s a 2nd generation Core i7, and the 600 is the model number.

Sandy Bridge CPU Comparison
  Base Frequency L3 Cache Cores/Threads Max Single Core Turbo Intel HD Graphics Frequency/Max Turbo Unlocked TDP
Intel Core i7 2600K 3.4GHz 8MB 4 / 8 3.8GHz 850 / 1350MHz Y 95W
Intel Core i7 2600 3.4GHz 8MB 4 / 8 3.8GHz 850 / 1350MHz N 95W
Intel Core i5 2500K 3.3GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.7GHz 850 / 1100MHz Y 95W
Intel Core i5 2500 3.3GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.7GHz 850 / 1100MHz N 95W
Intel Core i5 2400 3.1GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.4GHz 850 / 1100MHz N 95W
Intel Core i3 2120 3.3GHz 3MB 2 / 4 N/A 850 / 1100MHz N 65W
Intel Core i3 2100 3.1GHz 3MB 2 / 4 N/A 850 / 1100MHz N 65W

The names can also have a letter after four digit model number. You’re already familiar with one: K denotes an unlocked SKU (similar to what we have today). There are two more: S and T. The S processors are performance optimized lifestyle SKUs, while the T are power optimized.

The S parts run at lower base frequencies than the non-S parts (e.g. a Core i7 2600 runs at 3.40GHz while a Core i7 2600S runs at 2.80GHz), however the max turbo frequency is the same for both (3.8GHz). GPU clocks remain the same but I’m not sure if they have the same number of execution units. All of the S parts run at 65W while the non-S parts are spec’d at 95W.

Sandy Bridge CPU Comparison
  Base Frequency L3 Cache Cores/Threads Max Single Core Turbo Intel HD Graphics Frequency/Max Turbo TDP
Intel Core i7 2600S 2.8GHz 8MB 4 / 8 3.8GHz 850 / 1100MHz 65W
Intel Core i5 2500S 2.7GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.7GHz 850 / 1100MHz 65W
Intel Core i5 2500T 2.3GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.3GHz 650 / 1250MHz 45W
Intel Core i5 2400S 2.5GHz 6MB 4 / 4 3.3GHz 850 / 1100MHz 65W
Intel Core i5 2390T 2.7GHz 3MB 2 / 4 3.5GHz 650 / 1100MHz 35W
Intel Core i3 2100T 2.5GHz 3MB 2 / 4 N/A 650 / 1100MHz 35W

The T parts run at even lower base frequencies and have lower max turbo frequencies. As a result, these parts have even lower TDPs (35W and 45W).

I suspect the S and T SKUs will be mostly used by OEMs to keep power down. Despite the confusion, I like the flexibility here. Presumably there will be a price premium for these lower wattage parts.

A New Architecture
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  • tatertot - Tuesday, August 31, 2010 - link

    Can you also confirm whether or not the GPU turbo was also disabled?
  • DanNeely - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Do you think Intel will be sharing preliminary performance/pricing data on LGA 2011 by the time that the first LGA 1155 parts start shipping? I'm on 1366 now and would like to know if staying on the high end platform will be a reasonable option or if there isn't any point in holding off for another 6 months on my upgrade.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    I wouldn't expect any near-final LGA-2011 performance data until Q2 next year, well after the LGA-1155 launch.

    Take care,
  • Casper42 - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    2 things jumped out at me

    1) No USB3 - Major FAIL. Putting USB3 in an Intel chipset will drive huge adoption rates rather than this limping in BS by manufacturers today. Not to mention that for Hard Drives, USB2 has been a bottleneck for a long time whereas only top end SSDs today are maxing out SATA3

    2) 2 chips with Quad Core and no HT that are identical except for Clock speed and one of them is essentially the 400 and the other is the 500? WTF? Call them the 2410, 2420, 2430, etc. That gives you like 8 or 9 speed bins for that family. Whomever is doing the numbering at Intel needs a swift kick to the head to get them back on track mentally as things just get more and more confusing. You have the i3/i5/i7 today, why not just change it to:
    i2 = Dual Core no HT/Turbo
    i3 = Dual Core with HT and/or Turbo
    i4 = Quad Core no HT/Turbo
    i5 = Quad WITH
    i6 = Six without
    As it stands now we have i5 with both dual and quad core and i7 with 4 and 6. just doesnt make sense.
  • dertechie - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    That's quite the IPC improvement there. Not quite Netburst to Core 2 but a lot more than I expected (I was expecting something on the order of 5%, with most gains coming from ramping clocks with the extra headroom of 32nm).

    Question is, do I want the i5-2500K more than I loathe Intel's motherboard department? I'm seeing them bring out new sockets almost as often as new processor families, which really, really does not make me confident in the socket's future.

    I will wait at least for Bulldozer benches before buying whatever makes sense at that time (okay, probably weighted in AMD's favor). I've lasted 4 years on this Pentium D, I can live another half of one.
  • IntelUser2000 - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Why do some people still compare Netburst vs. Core 2? The Pentium 4 generation was a clock speed focused that that FAILED to realize its clock speed potential so it looked really bad compared to Core 2.

    Compared to Core Duo Core 2 was only 15-20% faster. Sandy Bridge manages to do another 20%, which is really good in a generation, yea?
  • ssj4Gogeta - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Pentium D to SB will be such a huuuuge jump, lol.
  • neslog - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    Your excellent article was exciting to read. Thank you!

    I noticed a small typo on the Windows 7 Gaming Performance page in the first line under the Data Recovery chart : "Clock for clock...to the i7{5} 760..."
  • ET - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    I think that the integrated graphics here are a game changer. Sure nobody will look to them for serious gaming, but finally they're at a point where if you buy any CPU you will be able to play most games, even if at low settings. I'll be looking forward especially to the mobile CPU's. With Bobcat around the corner, I guess next year we will finally see mainstreams notebooks become capable of some game playing, which will be great (and bad for NVIDIA).
  • Exodite - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    What I'd like to see is something like Nvidia's Optimus make it to the desktop. With both AMD and Intel going for on-chip integrated graphics the market is practically begging for a unified standard for graphics switching.

    The next-generation IGPs look to be competent enough for anything but high-end gaming, which means I should be able to power down my discrete graphics card completely most of the time. The end result would be significant reductions in noise generation, power usage and heat emissions.

    Having discreet graphics cards reduced to basically connector-less, slot-in cards for on-demand co-processing seems the logical step.

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