Articles: CPU

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After Intel has introduced “tick-tock” strategy in the processor market that implied alternating the introduction of new production processes with new microarchitectures, they will hardly be able to surprise us with an unexpected launch. Now everything happens following a precise schedule. In the beginning of last year 2010 the company switched to 32 nm process, which means that dramatically new processors are scheduled to come out in the beginning of this year. Revolutionary and progressive – this is what the new widely discussed processors codenamed “Sandy Bridge” are supposed to be like.

Sandy Bridge processors attract everyone’s attention for two reasons. First, their arrival is accompanied with a global refresh of the desktop and mobile platforms: besides a wide range of new processors for computer systems with different pricing and applications, Intel is also introducing a new processor socket and chipsets. Second, Sandy Bridge is a really good processor, which runs faster than any of its predecessors guaranteeing low levels of power consumption and heat dissipation.

We have already discussed in detail the advantages of Sandy Bridge microarchitecture as well as the theoretical preconditions of the new processors’ upcoming success in our Intel Sandy Bridge Microarchitecture Preview.

Let me sum up all the major advantages of Sandy Bridge microarchitecture for your reference below:

  • Sandy Bridge processors are based on monolithic 32 nm semiconductor die that contains processor cores, a graphics core, L3 cache memory, a PCI bus controller and a memory controller.
  • The CPU may consist of two or four processor cores and support Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost technologies, depending on the market segment the CPU modification is targeted at. Processors with 6 and 8 cores are also expected to be available later.
  • The nominal clock speeds of Sandy Bridge processors may reach 3.4 GHz, which may increase to 3.8 GHz with Turbo Boost technology.
  • The L3 cache shared among all cores (including the graphics core) may be maximum 8 MB big. This cache operates at the CPU frequency and has considerably higher throughput than any of its predecessors.
  • Sandy Bridge has a seriously improved memory controller that works best of all the CPUs supporting DDR3 SDRAM.
  • Sandy Bridge computational cores acquired an additional L0 cache for decoded instructions and an optimized branch prediction unit. Both these enhancements increase the CPU performance and ensure lower power consumption.
  • Processors support new AES-NI and AVX instruction sets. The first set accelerates cryptographic algorithms. The second one introduces SIMD instructions with 256-bit vectors, which are executed just as fast as 128-bit SSE instructions.
  • The shader processors of the graphics core integrated into the CPU have been improved significantly and work twice as fast now. Moreover, graphics core acquired separate hardware units for HD video encoding and decoding in all popular formats. These units may be utilized by software players as well as video content processing applications.
  • Desktop Sandy Bridge processors have a calculated TDP of 35-95 W, mobile Sandy Bridge processors – of 18-55 W.

Everything looks beautiful not only on paper. According to the first estimates, the arrival of new processors with Sandy Bridge microarchitecture should guarantee at least 25% increase in average systems performance. And if this is really the case, then Intel definitely deserves our admiration: breakthroughs like that have been quite rare lately, especially since the company doesn’t really have any serious competitors in the upper price segment.

However, let’s not rush any conclusions based only on preliminary data. We got several new Core i5 processors with Sandy Bridge microarchitecture for review. These CPUs are positioned for mainstream desktop computer systems. So, our today’s article will discuss in detail their features and performance. In this review we will primarily focus on the traditional processor component. As for the new graphics core, we are going to dedicate am entire separate article to it later on.

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