When we got ready to test new Sandy Bridge processors and discussed their microarchitecture, we had very high expectations. And these expectations came true alright. Intel engineers have really done a good job on the new generation of Core microarchitecture: it turned out much better than the previous generation in all aspects. And we are talking not about evolutionary improvements, but about a real revolutionary breakthrough, like the one Intel made back in 2008 when the first Nehalem based products were announced.
However, today’s Sandy Bridge processors have one peculiarity. They start penetrating the market in the mainstream segment and they do not intent to replace the top LGA1366 CPUs. So, if we are talking about absolute performance, today’s Sandy Bridge processors cannot claim to be the fastest CPUs with x86 microarchitecture. Six-core Gulftown processors are still undefeated performance leaders and will remain in this position at least until the end of this year when Intel refreshes their LGA1366 platform and finishes Sandy Bridge processors with more than four cores inside.
As for the mainstream price segment, Sandy Bridge processors have no competitors here. They knock out all hit CPUs that were considered a great buy in 2010. For example, Core i5-2500 is about 30% faster on average than Core i5-760, and in some applications this advantages increases to 50%. Moreover, this significant performance increase is accompanied by a noticeable lowering of the power consumption, which dropped by 10-12%. No wonder that the new Core i5 can easily compete not only against the previous generation products, but also against the quad-core Core i7 of 2010.
AMD’s situation doesn’t look too good in this case, especially against the background of the current market changes. Our tests showed that Phenom II X4 can’t compete against Sandy Bridge at all, while Phenom II X6 can offer competitive performance only in very few applications that are well optimized for multi-threading. However, AMD has a card hidden up their sleeve, aka Bulldozer, though it is still hard to tell how big of a trump that is.
But still, even though we were very excited about Sandy Bridge throughout this entire article, these CPUs will definitely have to face some public discontent. The users will surely be unhappy about the need to buy a new LGA1155 mainboard for them. The life span of the LGA1156 socket turned out relatively short, so there is no certainty that the new platform is going to avoid that, too. So, the cost of the transition to Sandy Bridge has just grown higher by the price of the new mainboard, which will offer pretty much the same functionality as the mainboards with old LGA sockets. The main advantage of the new LGA1155 boards is definitely the UEFI that will replace traditional BIOS, but it will hardly become sufficient moral compensation of the financial investments in the new board.
Intel’s new approach towards overclocking will also endure some serious criticism. The fact that well-overclockable processors will now start at $200 will push away those overclocking fans who are used to working with inexpensive CPUs. Intel severely limited overclocking experience for them, which will hardly satisfy dedicated overclocking enthusiasts.
So, no matter how attractive the price of new Core i5-2500, Core i5-2400 and Core i5-2300 processors looks like and how appealing their performance is, you should be reasonable and understand very well that you can’t get off cheap if you decide to move to a new platform. It is quite possible that it would make more sense to go for a high-speed LGA1156 or LGA1366 processor instead of buying a new Sandy Bridge CPU at this point.