Articles: CPU

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General Information

It was clear over two years ago already that Intel was going to gradually transfer the chipset functions into the CPUs. The first CPUs on Nehalem microarchitecture – Bloomfield – acquired an integrated memory controller. The next generation, Lynnfield, also got a PCI Express bus controller, besides the memory one. After that Clarkdale processors also received an integrated graphics core, which, however, was implemented in the individual semiconductor die inside the processor package. Sandy Bridge dots the final “I” in this integration process: the CPUs built on the new microarchitecture will have everything integrated into a single chip: processor cores, graphics core, memory controller and PCI Express bus controller.

Sandy Bridge semiconductor dies will be about 225 mm2. It means that this die will be even smaller than the die of quad-core Bloomfield or Lynnfield, or even the six-core Gulftown CPUs due to finest 32 nm production process.

Sandy Bridge offers no compromises when it comes to features. The CPUs will consist of two or four processor cores with Hyper-Threading support, up to 8 MB of L3 cache-memory, a dual-channel DDR3 memory controller, will support 16 PCI Express 2.0 lanes and feature a modern DirectX 10.1 graphics core. In other words, new generation processors have everything it takes to conquer different market segments, including the high-end ones.

The overwhelming integration in Sandy Bridge microarchitecture inspired other significant improvements. The microarchitecture of the computational cores has been seriously modified, and these improvements will ensure that the new processors run considerably faster than their predecessors working at the same clock speeds. They have also worked on lowering the heat dissipation, so Sandy Bridge CPUs will be able to work at simply higher clock rates. Moreover, the new processors support new AVX instructions (Advanced Vector Extensions), which will be required for a number of multimedia, financial or scientific algorithms. AVX differ from the previous SSE vector instruction sets by higher operand width (256 bit instead of 128 bit), so they will allow processing larger amounts of data at a lower resource expense. Therefore, Sandy Bridge can be considered a significant step forward in a few directions at the same time, which gives us every reason to speak very highly of this promising product.

By launching Sandy Bridge early next year, Intel expects these processors to quickly conquer most of the market price segments. In the very beginning of the next year they will offer a wide range of Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 processors on the new microarchitecture with the prices from $100 to $300. And later in 2011 they will also introduce even less expensive modifications.

The existing information suggests that the first group of Sandy Bridge based processors should be announced on January 5, 2011, and they should hit the stores by January 9. On that day the company is planning to include the following new quad-core desktop CPU models into their price list:

Note that in addition to the processor models mentioned in the table above, there will also appear corresponding mobile and energy-efficient CPU modifications based on Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. While desktop processors are certainly our primary focus, we could also tell you about the following Sandy Bridge based CPUs with 65 W, 45 W and 35 W TDP that will be coming out on January 5:

So, the only price range that will still be occupied by Nehalem processors over the next year is the expensive LGA1366 CPUs, such as Bloomfield and Gulftown. They will most likely be replaced no sooner than by the end of 2011, when Intel adapts for desktops their LGA2011 server platform accordingly. Special “loaded” Sandy Bridge E modifications offered as part of this platform will boast up to eight computational cores, 16 MB L3 cache, quad-channel memory controller, 32 PCI Express 2.0 lanes, and other sweet little things that we can currently only dream of. However, this is something that will happen farther down the road. The first Sandy Bridge version will become the basis for a more down-to-earth, but still very new platform.

Although Sandy Bridge didn’t acquire any completely new units compared to Clarkdale, the new generation processors will come to the market as part of the LGA1155 platform. Unfortunately, it is incompatible with LGA1156, so new processors will require new mainboards with special processor socket.

Together with Sandy Bridge, a new chipset family will hit the market. Its primary figures will be Intel P67 chipset and Intel H67 chipset with integrated graphics. Just like the LGA1156 chipsets, the new P67 and H67 are very simple: now that the North Bridge functions have all migrated to the CPU, these chipsets only consist of one chip – a South Bridge with pretty typical set of functions. Besides being compatible with Sandy Bridge, these new chipsets will support two 6 Gbps SATA ports.

Unfortunately, the new chipsets do not support USB3, but most LGA1155 mainboards will undoubtedly have the corresponding ports implemented using additional onboard controllers. The same is true for the PCI bus: the absence of the corresponding controller inside the new chipsets doesn’t at all mean that the traditional PCI connectors will no longer be on the mainboards.

Although there is still a little time left before actual processors with Sandy Bridge microarchitecture and LGA1155 platform come out, the already known facts allows us to draw pretty specific conclusions about the performance of the upcoming systems. For example if we compare Sandy Bridge and Lynnfield processors with the same number of computational cores that work at the same clock frequency, the new microarchitecture delivers 5-10% higher actual performance.

Performance data courtesy of
They compared quad-core processors at 3.4 GHz frequency.

At the same time, the power consumption of Sandy Bridge processors appears about 25% lower, i.e. the new CPUs have progressed substantially in terms of performance-per-watt ratio. And by the way, taking into account that the nominal clock speeds of Sandy Bridge processors are about 10% higher than those of comparable Lynnfield ones, we can conclude that the new platform as a whole will be at least 25% faster than the previous-generation LGA1156 platform. This number should be used as a reference point for the practical value estimates of the new microarchitecture, if we leave aside such extensive enhancements as graphics core improvement and new AES-NI and AVX instructions support.

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