Sandy Bridge and Cougar Point

Intel released its second-generation Core CPUs back in January. Unfortunately, the excitement generated by the release of the fastest mainstream desktop processors was quickly dampened by the Cougar Point chipset recall. To be clear, this issue affected only the earliest Sandy Bridge-compatible motherboards, and not the Sandy Bridge CPUs themselves. This issue is now fixed—there are no defective motherboards available through reputable North American retailers like Newegg and Amazon. In the almost half-year since the initial Sandy Bridge CPU release, the platform has matured, with CPU variants available for almost every budget and a number of niches, as well as motherboard chipsets with a variety of feature sets and in form factors from mini-ITX to extended-ATX. Succinctly, the second-gen Core CPUs are astonishingly powerful and sip electricity. As Anand aptly described them, “architecturally it’s the biggest change we’ve seen since Conroe.” I agree with Anand—not since I upgraded from an AMD Athlon X2 3800+ to an Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 at the end of 2006 have I been so impressed by a new CPU as I have by the Core i7-2600K.

This is the first guide I’ve written for AnandTech that will not be ‘fair and balanced’ for both AMD and Intel. I hoped this month’s guide would detail higher-end builds featuring and comparing AMD’s Bulldozer CPUs and Intel’s Core i5 and i7 chips, but unfortunately, AMD’s release of its high-end desktop Bulldozer SKUs is now delayed until September. The midrange Llano desktop APUs are scheduled for retail availability in early July, and Llano-based laptops are already showing up here and there online (though as of the time of writing, they are not available for actual sale). Thus, AMD’s entire product line will be refreshed within the next few months. With the imminent release of radically new APUs and no currently available AMD CPUs that can compete with Intel’s higher-end CPUs, this month’s guide focuses on the second-generation Intel Core processors. I simply don’t think it makes much sense to build an AMD system at least until Llano’s desktop release—unless you need a budget rig and you need it right now. And lest I be accused of favoritism, next month’s guide will likely focus on Llano-based desktop computers.

It’s also a great time to build an Intel-based computer. The successor to LGA 1155 (the Sandy Bridge socket), LGA 2011, is not due out until late this year, and looks to supersede LGA 1366 at Intel’s highest-end of the desktop CPU spectrum. Other than supporting Sandy Bridge-E CPUs, LGA 2011 will offer PCIe 3 (which current GPUs can’t take advantage of) and native USB 3.0 (even though third-party USB 3.0 controllers are already shipping on many Intel and AMD motherboards). Considering how capable the Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K are today, it’s unlikely Sandy Bridge-E will field any model that’s astonishingly faster than what’s already available. Thus, if you buy a Core i7-2600K now, you’ll be at the near pinnacle of desktop computing for at least 5-6 months. I think there are times to buy and times to wait. It’s a bad idea to buy right before a lineup refresh (as is the case with AMD today), but it’s also unwise to delay building a system to hold out for the next big thing when that’s half a year away and unlikely to be that much better!

CPU and Chipset Overview
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  • SantaAna12 - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    "... right now is an especially wise time to buy into a Sandy Bridge system..."

    Why are you saying this? I remember you flat refusal to talk about the this. Shades of Toms Hardware comedy IMO.
  • scott967a - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    I'm not sure about the RAM choice -- seems to be 1600-CAS 9. Wouldn't CAS 7 be a better fit at that speed? Also it seems like that RAM is spec'ed at 1.65v. I've seen many claims that that's too high on an SB system?
  • Germanicus - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Jared: If this is true, it is really pathetic. So performance, power consumption, reliability, and cost were all superior on an AMD system they'd still buy Intel? I hope you're letting them know that it is foolish to discount one company over another simply because of a name.

    Where is the logic??
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Big business often has no logic; that's what carried Intel through the Pentium 4/Pentium D era where Athlon 64/X2 were superior in performance, power, and cost (with reliability being the one potential drawback, not because of AMD but because of the motherboards). Even today, I still get plenty of people that ask me about laptops and desktops and only know that "Intel Inside is important".
  • Germanicus - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    I'd hope you're doing best by your customers and informing them that "Intel Inside" really is *not* important, and that they should be swayed by blue men and cute marketing jingles. I have to imagine if you let them know they could save money by not opting for Intel they'd be all ears.
  • JarredWalton - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    I let them know the current market -- not that I have a lot of customers, mind you. And the current market is pretty simple: AMD is less expensive and not as fast. Up until Llano, AMD also used more power, but the difference in power is not so much as to be a significant issue. Long-term, ever since Core 2 came out, I have generally recommended Intel, but for those interested in saving money I have built quite a few AMD setups. During the Athlon 64/X2 vs. Pentium 4/D era, 95% of the systems I built were AMD. P4 vs. Athlon XP was about 50/50.

    For laptops, my recommendations tend more heavily towards Intel. I don't recommend netbooks, but I have had a couple people purchase HP dm1z on my recommendation. There have also been a few $400 sales for AMD laptops that I've told people about. Mostly, though, battery life is important on laptops and Intel had that and performance on their side, so they won out. Now I have to juggle the fGPU vs. IGP aspect, but I can tell you my experience is 90% of the time the people I'm helping get a laptop (usually over 35 years old) put absolutely no weight on graphics, since the only real reason to get faster than HD 2000/3000 is if you want to play games.
  • marc1000 - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    in some cases, "intel inside" (or "amd inside") is actually important. business users and big companies have other considerations to make. see, I'm a DBA and I know that AMD and Intel cpu's handle floating point in different ways. if you create and test an application using a system from one vendor, and when you publish that app on a production server that has a different CPU, you will have problems on the float and real columns inside your tables. this is just one example.

    so, if a company has already used Intel (or AMD) cpu's on their servers, they have to take these issues in consideration when buying new servers or even desktops.
  • Fallen Kell - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    I just upgraded the CPU/motherboard/RAM. I went from a Gigabyte X48-DQ6+E6600+4GB DDR2 to the following:

    MSI Z68A-GD80 motherboard
    G.Skill 4x4GB DDR3 1600 8-8-8-24
    Intel SSD 510 120GB
    4x WD 2TB Green
    LG GGC-H20L Blu-Ray/HD-DVD combo drive
    3x Sony 200 disc DVD+/-RW Burner/Changer
    Powercolor HD5750 SCS3
    Enermax Modu82+ 625W power supply
    Antec Remote Fusion MAX case (minus the Tri-cool fans which are way too loud, Scythe S-Flex F 120mm rear fan and Noctua 140mm side fan replaced them)
    Noctua NH-D14 heatsink (yes it fits in that case)

    I am still in the process of re-installing everything, but this system is absolutely awesome. System temps are 28C and CPU temp 45C while re-encoding a blu-ray iso into a mkv file. I still need to configure my recording software again and setup Mediaportal for the front-end (and configure any software tweaks like LAV, FFDShow, etc). But from what I have seen so far, I am really liking it.
  • arorarah - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    I would like to purchase a new computer which will be mainly used as an HTPC and for HD video transcoding but no gaming.

    Please find below the configuration:

    Processor - Intel i3-2105
    Motherboard - Intel DH67BL
    Ram - Kingston 4GB X 1 - Value Ram DDR 3 - 1333 MHZ
    Power Supply - Corsair CX430 ($50)
    Cabinet - NZXT Gama Classic - ($42)

    I have a DVD Writer a 1 TB Seagate HDD.

    1) Please let me know if the above configuration is alright for my needs
    2) Is there any noticeable difference between the HD 2000 and HD 3000 while watching 1080p videos or doing video Transcoding?

    The Antec Cabinet and PSU metioned in the Article are quite expensive in India.
    The Cabinet is about $78
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Might want to make sure the Kingston memory is the 1.5V variant and I've always found that Intel Branded boards are higher priced.

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