Intel's latest CPU microarchitecture has loads of potential. Potential that we probably won't see till Ivy Bridge arrives next year, with its 22nm process promising even lower power consumption and the inevitable architectural optimizations. As it is now, Sandy Bridge has eclipsed Intel's 6-core Core i7-980X in all but the most multi-threaded applications. This is the level of performance from an upper mainstream part that goes for a third the price of the 980X. We can't imagine what kind of performance we'll see from the enthusiast, high-end class of processors that Intel has planned for the latter part of 2011.
The surprise here is that when we deliberately stripped Sandy Bridge of its Turbo Boost advantage, it was at best 20% faster than the previous generation in your system benchmarks. Yet combined with Intel's Turbo Boost version 2.0, we get a performance level that surpasses the top processors of the Westmere generation.
Besides the raw performance, the truly mainstream crowd will find Sandy Bridge much to their liking. True, the integrated graphics will not make AMD or NVIDIA quake in their boots, but Quick Sync is a nice, impressive piece of work. Coupled with the belated support for HDMI 1.4 and improved media playback, and it's a fairly decent mix of features for everyone. Also, the introduction of native SATA 6Gbps support on the supporting Intel P67/H67 chipsets is a step forward, given the increasing adoption of solid state drives.
Of course, enthusiasts who demand at least a discrete graphics card will find Sandy Bridge less suited for their needs. Besides the limitations on base clock overclocking, the integrated graphics does nothing, especially when Quick Sync appears to require the integrated graphics core to be enabled. This just leaves the raw performance boost from Sandy Bridge, which while nice, may not be compelling enough to upgrade from a Nehalem Intel processor. More so when they know there's something more powerful awaiting them in 2011.
Thus, we predict that the notebook segment will be where Sandy Bridge will take off in a big way. It's where one can fully make use of the lower power consumption and the improved integrated graphics. We know, it's confusing that we praise the performance of Sandy Bridge on one hand, yet adopt a wait-and-see policy on getting one. However, that's the reality of Intel's yearly processor refresh and also, our growing belief that the x86 arena is not where the exciting things are happening now.
But that's for another discussion. As for the Sandy Bridge processors we reviewed today, the Core i5-2500K stands out for being unlocked and also having sufficient performance to keep up with the more costly 2600K. Enthusiasts who need to upgrade now, should find the 2500K the better bang for their buck at US$216 compared to the i7-2600K's US$317, provided that HyperThreading isn't that important. The Core i5-2400 that we saw is another quite capable processor, but at US$184, we rather pay a little more for the 2500K.