It's not often I am as impressed with hardware as what we've just reviewed. Typically when you test processors you see small performance increases. When you set aside all the new technologies and features for a minute and just look at the processors for what they are, then everybody can agree that Intel made incredible steps with the new architecture.
We'll go through some of the features in a minute, but I really want to start off with this; the most appealing thing about Sandy Bridge processors simply is the exceptional per-core performance. In the introduction I already mentioned it, unless you are transcoding or use heavily optimized applications, four core processors are all that you need anno 2011. When you place the focus on gaming, that's where we enter a reality where 2 to 4 cores are used at most. So once that per core performance improves (and you are not GPU limited) then the overall game performance will get a boost as well.
Now I admit it, I was rendered speechless by the performance of what initially was expected to be a mid-range series processors. Now the Core i7 2600K at just over 300 USD is not exactly a mid-range price, it however is and will remain the fastest quad-core processor currently available on the market. I can recommend this processor very very much. When you opt to step down to the Core i5 2500 then you'll forfeit on hyper-threading, get 2MB less L3 cache and the core clock goes down 100 MHz. It will save you some money alright, but the performance decrease is very much noticeable and measurable. It's still a very fast quad-core processor for the money. But yeah, we can't help it, we've fallen in love with the Core i7 2600K very much. That processor seems to have all the variables right.
New in the Sandy Bridge processors is of course that GPU completely merged. Quite honestly, for gaming, you are still looking at very little performance for any serious stuff. Flick down and forfeit on image quality and resolution, and things will get better fast. As huge as the overall performance improvement over the last generation IPGs really is, it remains to be entry-level gaming. But for laptops, the embedded GPU will be quite okay. Separate gaming from the graphics core and you'll quickly realize that it is a multipurpose graphics processor. You'll have no issues with Blu-ray playback, heck it can even deal with 3D TV, post-process your media files, help out with video en/trans and decoding. The GPU is compatible with HDMI 1.4 and Display Port 1.2 next to the regular DSUB and DVI connectors of course. But overall, we really like the embedded GPU for what it is and does, we like to call it a video or media processor though.
The new AVX extension... wowzers... I heard they would be good and make a difference, but again I did not expect it to perform this well. You have two requirements before you can use the AVX extension on the processor. First you'll need to get your Windows 7 up-to snuff with the latest SP1 installation. Since that's not yet officially released, grab the beta over at the Microsoft MSDN network. The second requirement is your software, it needs to support the new extension.
The latest revisions of Cyberlink Media Espresso and Arcsoft Media Converter also support Intel QuickSync. We have shown you some examples managed with Cyberlink Media Espresso, and a simple H67 / 2500K + QuickSync active combo beats a 2600K coupled with a GeForce GTX 580 with 512 CUDA processors enabled. The new feature is going to make a lot of difference this year in upcoming applications, a great new option to have alright.
Overclocking -- Initially we feared that overclocking would be a thing of the past with Sandy Bridge and sure, if you purchase the regular 2500/2600 model, then don't expect much. The baseclock is very tricky to overclock. Your best gain might end at as little as 10% extra performance.
However Intel did it decently pricing wise, if you fork out another 20 bucks and get the K series, then that's where things start to take off fast. We applied 1.3 Volts, used the reference Intel air-cooler. In the BIOS we opened up allowance for a higher TDP, set the maximum base multiplier (34) and then allowed all four cores to use a Turbo Multiplier of 43. We left the base frequency at 100 MHz and boom... one minute of work delivered a Sandy Bridge processor at 4300 MHz already. And really this was no effort at all. We have no doubt we can go much higher. In fact we'll try and do that with the dedicated P67 motherboard reviews. But yes, our per core performance once again jumps up -- yummie.
Power consumption then, again we see spot on numbers. The Intel reference board with a Sandy Bridge processor WITHOUT a graphics card idles at roughly 35 Watts. It made me scratch my head, even thinking the Wattage meter must be broken. When I replaced it with a second meter we measured the very same result. Once we stress the processor 100% on that platform we leveled out at 110~120 Watts. So that's a testimony that the processor and chipset are very energy friendly. Once you add a dedicated graphics card the dynamic changes of course. And we also have to mention that with some other motherboards from ODMs like ASUS and MSI, the power consumption was higher. We'll address that in each and every separate review.
Anyway guys, we can make the conclusion very very long so let's just cut it off and tell it like it is. The Core i5 2500K processor is splendid and real fast. It belongs in the high-end processor range performance wise along the lines of Core i7 870 and is very much recommended. Priced at 216 USD however that processor is going to offer a lot of value for money.
But yeah, we stated it already, we fell a little in love with the Core i7 2600K, it's fast, snappy, snazzy and jazzy, so much so that we can't get it out of our heads. We'll be posting a whole lot more articles based on this processor, as we have a lot of H67/P67 motherboard reviews to cover, in these reviews we'll also address deeper overclocking with this K model processor, as per motherboard that value will be different. The Core i7 2600 K model processor sells at 317 USD. What was expected to be a mid-range series processor took us by surprise. In every and any way this processor is raising the bar in per core processor performance.
When a product is good, we say it's good, flat-out and simple, that's the Core i5 2500K alright. The Core i7 2600K however is nearing perfection.
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