Until recently, Intel’s entire mainstream offering was based on the 1156 platform. Now that Sandy Bridge has come along, the long-term future of the 1156 platform is in doubt, but there’s still some decent technology on offer.
For one thing, all but the Core i3 models feature Intel’s Turbo Boost technology, enabling them to make the best of any kind of workload. That helps them achieve benchmark scores that rub up against AMD’s best, while keeping power consumption low.
The more mainstream processors – those built on the Westmere core – also bring integrated HD Graphics processors. These GPUs aren’t as powerful as the Sandy Bridge models, but they’re fine for everyday desktop applications and for watching HD video when installed in a compatible motherboard. Other models – based on the older 45nm Lynnfield design – lack GPUs, but have a complement of four physical cores, against the two of the newer chips.
The 1156 platform is also the home of Intel’s original K processors: unlocked models that allow users to adjust the Turbo multipliers. These don’t open up the same lofty performance heights as the Sandy Bridge models, but they’re still a bonus for those who don’t mind a little tweaking. Intel has shifted its K version focus squarely to Sandy Bridge but you might be able to find chips still.
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Which one should you buy?
In terms of pure value, the stars of the range are the Core i3s, in particular the cheapest Core i3-530. With a responsiveness score of 0.89, the i3 promises a slick computing experience. Media performance is less impressive, but still better than any of AMD’s Athlons. The i3’s weak spot is, predictably, multitasking: with only two physical cores, it managed only 0.53 in that element of our new benchmarks. You can get a small boost by trading up to the Core i3-540 or Core i3-550 for a fairly modest premium.
Move up to the Core i5 range, however, and prices start to outweigh the benefits. Turbo Boost gives a performance advantage, but it isn’t a competitive deal next to the newer Sandy Bridge models. Why pay $210 for the cheapest Core i5-650 when a Core i5-2400, delivering 15% more power and a massive leap in graphics performance, costs five dollars less?
The Core i5-760 stands a little way above the rest in the 1156 range. Thanks to its four cores, its multitasking abilities are some way ahead of the 600 series, making it the best in this range for a personal workstation. The Core i5 models with four physical cores are generally one of the sweet spots in Intel’s lineups, delivering noticeably better performance over models that use two cores and Hyper-threading, a trend that continues with Sandy Bridge.
The Core i7 range finds itself in the same position as the 1366 models: these chips are powerful, but Sandy Bridge makes them look overpriced. Even if you push up the overclockable i7-875K as far as it will go, it can’t approach the price-to-performance ratio of its successors.