Performance Summary: There are a number of performance related aspects to summarize here, including CPU, graphics, and motherboard / chipset performance. First let’s focus on CPU performance relative to previous generation Intel processors. The Core i7-2600K is arguably the fastest quad-core processor released from Intel to date. It hung with or surpassed the Core i7-975 and was clearly outpaced by only Intel’s 6-core processors. The Core i5-2500K couldn’t quite keep pace with previous generation Core i7 chips across the board, but it was right there alongside them in most tests, and it clearly outperformed the Lynnfield-based Core i5 processors. In relation to AMD’s current crop of processors, the new Sandy Bridge-based chips were clearly faster than AMD’s fastest quad-core, the Phenom II X4 970, and they were able to outpace the 6-core Phenom II X6 1100T in a number of tests as well.
In terms of graphics, the performance of Intel’s new HD Graphics 3000 core is vastly superior to anything the company has released to date, but it couldn’t keep pace with AMD’s or NVIDIA’s current-generation entry-level offerings. Intel’s new graphics core is perfectly capable of casual gaming and can even run many modern gaming titles at medium settings though, which is probably more than enough for a large portion of users. And the media encoding capabilities of the Quick Sync engine in the graphics core are nothing short of phenomenal. With Quick Sync enabled, the new Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K offered exception encoding performance.
As expected, motherboard performance doesn’t vary much with Sandy Bridge and the 6-series chipsets. Due to the fact that all of the traditional Northbridge functionality is now on the CPU itself, there aren’t many areas to optimize system performance at the chipset / motherboard level, and as such, quality motherboards like the ones we tested should perform similarly.
The quad-core Intel Sandy Bridge-based processors we have shown you here, along with their standard, non-K counterparts, should be hitting store shelves in roughly the next week or so, with dual-core Core i3 variants arriving in about another month. The price and feature breakdown of the mainstream Core i5 and Core i7 processors due to arrive is as follows.
As you can see, there is a small premium to be paid for an unlocked K SKUs, but for enthusiasts, that will be money well spent in our opinion. We should also note that in addition to the 95W processors listed here, Intel has lower-power 35W (dual-core), 45W, and 65W models coming down the pipeline as well. 6-Series chipset based motherboards should also be hitting the market in droves in the coming weeks at price points similar to the previous-gen 5-series chipsets that arrived alongside Lynnfield.
At the prices Intel will be asking for these processors, we’re nothing short of impressed. While $317 for the Core i7-2600K isn’t cheap, it is easily justified considering the chip is unlocked and offers performance that can only be bested by Intel’s ultra-expensive 6-core processors. And the $216 Core i5-2500K is easily the best performer in its segment as well. Couple these facts with the relatively low power consumption of the platform, excellent media transcoding performance, “free” DX10.1 graphics, and highly overclockable cores and Intel’s got a winner on their hands. About the only downside to these new processors is that they require yet another new socket. We also would like to see Quick Sync enabled when discrete graphics card is used.
Ultimately though, Intel’s new Sandy Bridge-based Core i5 and Core i7 processors and 6-series chipsets make for one heck of a potent combination. And we’ve only looked at the mainstream offerings here. We can’t wait to see what Intel has in store for the high-end.