Reviewed: Intel Socket 1155 Sandy Bridge CPUs

Reviewed: Intel Socket 1155 Sandy Bridge CPUs
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Sandy Bridge processors are the champions of the market, but there’s a price to be paid for that performance

Launched in January, Intel's Sandy Bridge processors were initially dogged by a chipset manufacturing problem, but it's resolved now and you can buy them with confidence. That's good, because the range offers some attractive options.

A brand-new core design enables them to do more at a given clock speed than their predecessors. The humble Core i3-2120 runs at a slightly slower 3.3GHz frequency than the mid-range i5-660 from Intel's older 1156 platform, but it achieved higher benchmark scores across all our tests.

With the Core i5 and i7 models, the difference is even more dramatic. The Turbo Boost feature that dynamically ramps up the clock speed isn't new, but Sandy Bridge chips do it much more aggressively than their forebears. As a result, the 3.3GHz Core i5-2500 blew previous Core i5 processors out of the water. It achieved a stellar overall score of 0.94, while the older generation managed no better than 0.83. Even AMD's premium six-core Phenom II processor reached only 0.87.

The only question mark hangs over the price. Certainly, Sandy Bridge processors aren't a rip-off: considering how far ahead of the competition they are, Intel's pricing looks decidedly restrained. The issue is there's simply nothing here for system builders on a tight budget, with only the very low-end Core i3-2100 dipping below the $150 mark. Motherboards can be pricey, too, starting at around $70 and going all the way to the $500 range.

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Benchmark results: Click to Enlarge

On the upside, all Sandy Bridge CPUs include the latest HD Graphics processors, which can keep things compact and efficient. They're not powerful enough for serious 3D performance, but they'll certainly do for desktop tasks and casual, low-resolution gaming - as long as you buy a motherboard with video outputs.

The two unlocked K models let you squeeze even more power out of the processor by adjusting the Turbo frequencies as high as you like (see p65). That's a great deal, because these 32nm chips have bags of headroom: with a standard Intel cooler, we boosted the i5-2500K right up to 4.4GHz, even when firing on all four cores. That yielded a stunning overall benchmark score of 1.08, matching the Core i7-990X.

Which one should you buy?If you're happy to run at stock speeds, the Core i3-2100 delivers the most power per dollar. Its performance is only on a par with AMD's Phenom II X4 970 BE, but it's cheaper and the platform is likely to have a longer life, so you could hang on to the motherboard and upgrade the processor in the future.

Move up the range and you start to pay more and more for small performance benefits. That's particularly obvious with the top-end Core i7-2600. Across our benchmarks it proved only 6% faster than the Core i5-2500, yet the price is more than 30% higher. Unless you really need the Hyper-Threading feature, we'd steer clear.

It makes sense to plump for a mid-range Core i5 model. Any of them will give satisfactory performance, but the difference between the low-end and top-end models is pronounced enough to be noticeable. Since you're already splashing out on Intel's latest and greatest architecture, we recommend you spend the extra money and treat yourself to a Core i5-2500.

For those who are happy to tinker with clock speeds, the choice is a no-brainer. An overclocked Core i5-2500K offers gobsmacking performance at a reasonable price. Don't bother moving up to the Core i7-2600K: it's unlikely to achieve frequencies any higher than the i5. 


This Review appeared in the July, 2011 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

Source: Copyright © PC Pro, Dennis Publishing

See more about:  review  |  intel  |  socket  |  1155  |  cpu  |  intel  |  sandy  |  bridge  |  pcbuilding

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Comments: 4
10 November 2011
There is a curiosity as well that if the software does not take advantage of hyperthreading, and very little does, then the much more expensive i7 actually runs slower than the cheaper i5.

If it DOES take advantage of hyperthreading then yes there is a healthy boost in processing speed.

It is quite clear that unless you want to pay 50% more for onlt a few percent extra speed in just a select handful of tasks, the chip of choice has to be the i5 2500/k. It actually beats the i7 2600k handsomely in some tests.

Comment made about the PC & Tech Authority article:
Reviewed: Intel Socket 1155 Sandy Bridge CPUs?
Sandy Bridge processors are the champions of the market, but there’s a price to be paid for that performance

What do you think? Join the discussion.
13 November 2011
All true, and if you have no plans to overclock the CPU then save money and don't buy the "k" version either.

8 threads is rather handy if you want to run some distributed computing in the background though and still be able to use the computer and play games at the same time :-)

14 November 2011
For a few dollars more having the ability to overclock gives you the near parrity with the i7.

The 8 threads are really still only 4 with the other 4 virtual and only available under certain unique conditions IF the programmer has correctly put it into their software. Mostly just a few Photoshop filters.

Some of the forums have discussed ways to turn off the hyperthreading because it actually slows down other processes.

So the i7 speeds up some processes at the cost of perhaps slowing down more common processes.

The speed gain is most noticeable in such activities as video or audio encoding where it gives a bit less than 10% gain.

Since the i5 2500k is probably much faster than what you are used to anyway, your money is probably better spent on an SSD where you get much more significant speed gains.
15 November 2011
I'll stick with the i7 2600K seeing as hyperthreading is the way video editing software is going.

In the scheme of things it's not that big a price difference.

Tag it with a good Cuda video card and 6Gbs SSD and it's a screamer.
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