Where do we begin? It has been a very long week and a half putting together numbers across 11 different CPU’s and four different platforms. All of this testing comes down to seeing that Sandy Bridge is more than just raw performance numbers. The hype around Core 2 Duo at launch wasn’t just that it put a royal beat down on everything that had come before it, it was that it did so with stunning efficiency, and was a monster at overclocking. With the launch of Nehalem Intel showed that it could still build a faster processor with good performance per watt, but it was a hot and hungry beast when you tried to overclock it.
In my opinion Sandy Bridge takes us back to the days of Core 2 Duo, giving us excellent performance with incredible efficiency. The midrange Core i5 2500K doesn’t blow everything else out of the water the way the Core 2 E6600 did in its day but for a 4 core CPU to trade blows with the Core i7 875K, a class leading, year old, 4 core 8 thread CPU, is quite an accomplishment. Intel certainly has an architecture that could do it but chose to launch only two “mainstream” SKU’s carrying a full Sandy Bridge core. There is obviously much more left in Sandy Bridge than we’ve seen here.
The really exciting part of Sandy Bridge for enthusiasts is that by increasing efficiency we have the ability to hit incredible clock speeds. Remembering the similarities in power use of the i5 2500K and i5 661, the i5 2500K absolutely destroys it in every performance test. Overclocking is in another world, a Sandy Bridge at even 4.5GHz should be enough to whet just about any gamer’s appetite.
For most of you, the Core i5 2500K is the CPU to go for thanks to the fully unlocked Turbo Boost multipliers. At a mere $216 and paired with a $160 motherboard, you can easily clock it up to 4.7GHz+ and outperform all but the highest clocked D0 stepping i7 920/930 Nehalems while using much less power. The feeling of a system operating at these speeds is incredible. Intel has worked some great magic into Sandy Bridge; this CPU is freaking insane!
When it comes down to it, Sandy Bridge has negated almost every reason you might have had to purchase an X58 or P55 system. You get the performance near that of a $1000 Core i7 980x but at about half of the total system cost. For those of you who have been holding on with Core 2 Duo or Core 2 Quad, your upgrade just arrived!
It took five paragraphs to finally mention AMD Phenom CPU’s in our conclusion. As you can see in our results AMD is in desperate need of their new Bulldozer CPU to compete with Intel. As mentioned, Intel did not even need to deliver a full iteration of Sandy Bridge to match AMD’s best.
Legit Bottom Line: Intel launches their “Tock” architecture, Sandy Bridge, and it’s a winner. With incredible power efficiency, performance per watt is at an all time high. For enthusiasts Sandy Bridge is a dream with a mountain of overclocking headroom at a price that won’t destroy your budget.