After we completed the first tests of Sandy Bridge processors, the verdict was extremely positive. Intel engineers did a great job on the new microarchitecture, so the actual products based on it ended up with a great combination of consumer features. However, the Core i7-2600K processor we discussed today is a unique thing. Although this CPU, like all other Sandy Bridge processors, is designed for LGA1155 platform and theoretically doesn’t belong to the top product category, things are totally different in reality. The new microarchitecture turns out so strong, that Core i7-2600K managed to outperform many pricier products for a higher-end LGA1366 platform.
In other words, in the face of the new Core i7-2600K Intel created some sort of diversion that from the inside totally messes up the company’s marketing strategy in the upper price segment. And now, as we can see, there is nothing they can do about it. Even the increase in the clock frequencies of their top-of-the-line six-core LGA1366 Gulftown processors doesn’t really help. As our tests showed, the recently launched Core i7-990X Extreme Edition processor with maximally increased clock speed can only compete against Core i7-2600K in a few individual cases – in those few applications that create heavy load that could be well-paralleled.
In fact, the most expensive processor in the market, the 1000-dollar six-core Core i7-990X Extreme Edition, can be titled the today’s fastest CPU only during video processing and transcoding, final rendering and a few specific tasks, such as encryption and batch image processing. As for the majority of general-purpose applications, including contemporary 3D games, it yields significantly to Core i7-2600K. Although the latter CPU has a smaller L3 cache, it can boast much higher relative performance per core.
Unfortunately, overclocking also doesn’t help to fix the situation for Core i7-990X Extreme Edition. Even though this CPU belongs to the elite Special Edition overclocker series, the potential of the regular Core i7-2600K is just as good. While its price is three times lower, it can be easily overclocked by simply raising its clock frequency multiplier, and the maximum frequencies for this processor are not any lower than those of the Core i7-990X Extreme Edition.
In the light of everything we have just said, the “Extreme Edition” part in the name of a 1000-dollar processor becomes a little ridiculous, because now it refers only to power consumption and price.
As for the specific recommendations, at this point it would make a lot of sense to walk away from the LGA1366 platform in general and the Core i7-990X Extreme Edition processor in particular. Much cheaper Core i7-2600K will be just as good in terms of performance in the majority of popular applications, and will leave Core i7-990X Extreme Edition behind in energy-efficiency and overclocking. Of course, there are specific applications where six-core Core i7-990X Extreme Edition is still very good, but a system based on it will cost an equivalent of two Sandy Bridge PCs.
So, in our opinion, those users who are looking to buy a high-performance system, have two possible options to consider. The first one is the following: they can decide on an LGA1155 platform and Core i7-2600K processor and spend the money they save in this case on a good mainboard, fast SSD and top-notch graphics accelerator (or even two). The second option is to wait until Intel releases something new to replace their high-end LGA1366 platform, which will include new generation multi-core processors, which will undoubtedly be superior. In fact, you won’t be waiting too long. By the end of this year they should roll out new enthusiast platform – LGA2011, which will boast all sorts of technological enhancements, including two PCI Express x16 slots and four memory channels. This platform will require multi-core (more than four cores) Sandy Bridge processors, which will undoubtedly faster than their LGA1155 relatives.