Many computer users have mixed feelings about the merger of traditional processor and graphics accelerator functions within new Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. Those who do not intend to use integrated graphics, but believe that the “unnecessary” integrated graphics core has a negative effect on the processors pricing, are particularly unhappy about it. However, their concerns are not totally correct. Even though graphics does increase the die size of the quad-core Sandy Bridge die by about 20%, in reality unification and large production volumes easily make up for Intel’s investments into production of larger dies. However, when you are building a system with integrated graphics inside, having both – computational and graphics – cores inside a single semiconductor die has a ton of advantages. First, it allows to easily share some of the CPU resources, such as L3 cache and memory controller among different cores, which positively affects the integrated graphics performance. Second, by placing all high-frequency and high-performance units inside a single chip, Intel can significantly simplify the overall platform design and give up the use of external high-speed busses.
So, it looks like processors with integrated graphics should suit perfectly for compact computer systems of various purposes. And we have already seen proof of that from the Clarkdale processors released a year ago, which have a graphics core, North Bridge and computational resources inside a single processor packaging. A CPU with an integrated graphics core allows not only giving up “power-hungry” add-on graphics cards and saving some room inside the system case. Once the discrete graphics card and chipset North Bridge are gone, the CPU remains the only chip in need of cooling, which simplifies the design of cooling systems significantly. So, it is quite natural that small LGA1156 mainboards become very popular: dual-core Clarkdale processors inspire users to build miniature computer systems.
New Sandy Bridge processors are ready to go even further. They boast higher level of component integration, and their computational as well as graphics performance have increased. Besides, miniature LGA1155 mainboards will be coming out to the market shortly. Intel also actively participated in expanding this tendency by making sure that they also offer processors for new-generation compact computers. These CPUs have all the advantages of Sandy Bridge microarchitecture, including excellent performance, but boast more modest power consumption and heat dissipation, not exceeding 65 W.
So, if you are planning to put together a small but fast computer system, a special energy-efficiency Sandy Bridge modification may be the way to go. The model lineup of these processors featuring lower power consumption and heat dissipation includes several different models marked with “S” or “T” following the processor model number. “S” stands for 65 W thermal envelope, while “T” indicates 45 W TDP or even lower.
However, low power consumption is achieved at a price, and part of it is slightly lower clock frequency. In other words, energy-efficient processor models are slightly slower than their “fully-fledged” brothers with 95 W TDP. That is why the 65 W S-series seems to be most interesting choice for typical compact systems. Its TDP is low enough to allow putting these processors even inside the smallest Mini-ITX cases, while the performance differences from the regular Sandy Bridge processors should be not very dramatic. We decided to discuss a processor like that in our today’s review, and we picked Core i5-2400S – an average model in terms of speed as well as TDP.