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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  • L. - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Again ... such a failure.

    Seriously.. you're spending 1k on a box and you take an SSD, and a cheap GFX when for 70 more you can get a 6950 ...

    And don't get me started on the 2k box ... you manage NOT to have SLI/CFX on a 2k box ... are you paid by boutiques to justify their ridiculous pricing or something ?
  • cjs150 - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    There is now always something new coming over the horizon, whether in Motherboards, CPUs, GPUS, SSDs etc.

    The issue is whether you need to buy (I do as my 8 year old computer died last week) and what do you need the computer for.

    My monitor does not do 1920x1080, so GPUs does not need to be top of the range, but I do like gaming. I do want to do a lot of video encoding (OK, I meant rip my Blu-ray collection onto that nice NAS I bought last week!)

    So: 2600K seems a good choice.

    More ram is always a good idea, but absolute top speed is probably overkill.

    SSD is a must. Once you have used it as the boot drive and for key programs (but, for me, not for windows swap file) you will never go back. Might as well be sata 6.

    1 TB Hard disk is good - more storage than ever likely to need (thanks to a 6TB Raid in the NAS) but I like silence so might go for a 500 Gb 2.5" HD and stick it into a Scythe HD silencing box.

    GPU is a tricky choice. NVidia 560 (with option to go to SLI) should be enough for me

    Big disagreement is choice of case. The new Fractal Design cases look very good and are a lot cheaper.

    I only have one question:

    Why do we need ATX boards these days? Sound is handled fine by the motherboard. What cards do people run that they need more than 4 slots? Sure there are speed kings (and queens) running triple or quad SLI but other than those I really fail to see why anyone needs more than a micro-atx board
  • L. - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Most configs would fit on a mini-ITX if there were no thermal issues with those.
    a 2600K for your needs is completely overkill.. check out the forums if you want advice.
    Also, micro ATX w/ sli can be sometimes too small, if you want slots apart + some other stuff in pcie ..
  • glassd - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    As much as I like the GTX 580, with a bit of searching you can get a pair of 6950's for about the same price as 1 GTX 580. Thanks to the really good scaling of the 6950 in crossfire you get way more gaming performance out of the the 6950's compared to the GTX 580. Unless you have a specific need for CUDA, I would recommend a pair for 6950's over a single GTX 580 for the high end build.
  • otpi - Monday, June 20, 2011 - link

    Just ordered parts last week and reading this made me happy ^^

    I basically bought the "what can you get for 2000$", 'tho I got a GTX 560ti, and have a 800D with an AX750 psu.
  • Bigroy - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 - link

    AMD keeps supplying their loyal customers with budget buys. Take for example a 740 Heka Triple Core black edition. For eighty seven dollars, you get an unlocked Quad Core that can run at 3.6 Gightz. A Full ATX 100 dollar ASUS Board will unlock the 4th core. That is my machine and very happy with it. Add some Quick Corsair memory and CPU fan, and ASUS 5770 for $120 and you get a poor man's computer that will play all games. Problem with the new expensive intel chips is that they have not been tested, and I mean four to five years of gaming and video processing. I don't believe in the budget i3 computer, because you can just as well buy it at Walmart. And that is not what gamers build. Antec Power Supplies, Corsair Memory, Water cooled CPU's and Lian Li Cases. That is a budget build for gaming. You are talking Walmart with your build. Won't last a year. So try building the i3 again, but this time with good parts and see how much it comes out to.
  • monkeyboy311 - Thursday, June 23, 2011 - link

    I want to build a budget system for my Dad. He does the basics, surf the web, email, HD videos, Popcap style games (casual games). Is it worth waiting for AMD Llano or should I go with this system?
  • handyjarhead - Friday, June 24, 2011 - link

    Would I need to buy a CPU cooler for this computer or would it be fine without one?
  • martixy - Tuesday, June 28, 2011 - link

    Articles like these are the reason I love anandtech!
  • Anato - Monday, August 15, 2011 - link

    Keep hanging, no point to move LGA-1155 as its close to parallel move. So wait SNB-E and if you need then go, but X58 is still very capable system. I wouldn't by SNB-E for gaming but for work it might be upgrade if data-runs need it.

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