Intel Sandy Bridge Chips In The Wild – Besting Most All Current Chips At Fractional Cost

The upcoming Intel chips, codenamed Sandy Bridge, have gotten out to at least one reputable place for some analysis, AnandTech, and the news is great for Intel fans, not so good for those favoring AMD or nVidia.

The news according to the article on ZDNet is that a “mainstream” processor, which will have 4 cores (what? mainstream?) and a built-in GPU, so effectively 5 cores (but as the story goes, possibly 6) will be a mid priced giant, ripping to shreds almost any benchmark thrown at it, and decimating the current processors from brand A. To listen to this tale, you might think that AMD and nVidia had better cash in now, and invest in other ventures.

Is that truly how it will be?

Though not due to be released for several more months, an early copy of an Intel Sandy Bridge quad-core processor has reached the bench of enthusiast site AnandTech, which has duly reported the results of its testing. While those result s are extremely preliminary, it looks like it can lap most of today’s Core i7 processors at a lower price point and requiring less power. Its integrated graphics — built straight onto the die — are also impressive enough that budget discrete video cards could be headed toward extinction.

AnandTech obtained the Core i5 2400, which runs at 3.1GHz, but its version did not have Turbo Mode enabled (which will boost each core to 3.4GHz when needed). It did, however, have Hyper-Threading enabled for Intel partners who may require it for their own internal testing. So the site could test something the finished product won’t have (Hyper-Threading), but couldn’t test the Turbo Mode feature the final version will possess. AnandTech believes it has determined that its test CPU has two graphics cores, each with six execution units (EUs), which will apparently be standard on mobile Sandy Bridge units, but only select desktop processors will be similarly configured. (Otherwise, only a single-core GPU will be included).

This part is not clear. Why would the circuitry for HT be included on the die if the final chips won’t have it? What is the point? Also, the Turbo Mode feature will be relied upon heavily it seems – it is a strange way of selling a chip from my perspective, but then many things are strange when we first see them, then they become standard, and we think no more of it.

In the off chance that AnandTech tested a version with only a single-core GPU, AMD and Intel frenemy Nvidia should be truly concerned. That’s because the graphics benchmarks not only showed that Sandy Bridge’s integrated graphics are far superior to previous integrated graphics solutions, but were also on par with a budget discrete card like the Radeon HD 5450. In other words, it can offer playable frame rates at low settings (and low resolutions) for games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, and Dawn of War II. It won’t satisfy most gamers, but it means you can smoothly play World of Warcraft on a mainstream laptop without a lot of hiccups (though not with many graphical flourishes).

I am not imbued with special powers of divination, but my guess is that if these chips are released and they are that advanced, there will be some scrambling (if it is not happening as I write this) for AMD, possibly getting some help from Big Blue, because it is clear, those guys know how to design a CPU to achieve speed and performance. The cooperation would come from the fact that no one, probably not even Intel, would want a one horse race in the land of mainstream processors.

As for the CPU itself, the i5 2400 managed to play runner-up to the Core i7 980X Extreme in most benchmarks, though in some cases it trailed the Core i7 880 when Hyper-Threading wasn’t enabled. It routinely bested the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T, AMD’s fastest desktop processor.

Since this isn’t a final production chip, there’s bound to be some discrepancies between these first benchmarks and test results produced from Intel-delivered evaluation copies. Nonetheless, this “mainstream” CPU (according to Intel’s own roadmap) could be providing most of the performance of a $1,000 Extreme six-core one for a fraction of the price. That will put enormous pressure on AMD’s forthcoming Bulldozer architecture, as AMD may not be able to play the “more for less” card against Sandy Bridge. That should make next year a fascinating one for followers of the latest processor skirmish developing between AMD and Intel.

I will be excited to see at what fraction these chips be appear at – certainly the denominator will be a larger number if there is competition from an AMD product, if not we might see a very low number in the denominator and a number other than one in the numerator.

As for the idea that discrete graphics is on the way out, we’ve all heard that tune before, and it rings no truer this time around – perhaps there will be less need for some to have a separate card, but what usually happens is that the consumer sees what is available onboard, and demands that much more in something to add in. Then the AMDs and nVidias respond, giving more performance for fewer dollars.

Yes, that should make the next year fascinating for those on the sidelines, but for those involved at any level, it promises upheaval and uneasiness.

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Quote of the day:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.

- Albert Einstein

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