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Intel’s Sandybridge, 2nd generation Core technology

Ever since the pre-launch videos of Conroe taking FX apart, each new Intel processor range has delivered a solid THWACK to the PC market. Not only has each generation of chip delivered substantial increases in performance, the overall production quality has been nothing short of stunning. On the eve of war, KitGuru spies have smuggled us the hot and spicy sauce that you all know and love so well.

Say Chandler to most people and they think of Monica’s husband in Friends. KitGuru, on the other hand, thinks about nothing other than Intel’s state-of-the-art 32nm fabrication plant (FAB). One of the most interesting facts about Intel’s up-coming Sandybridge chip is that the process being used has been completely proven. This is what Intel refers to as a ‘tock’ cycle – proven process that’s ready for a new design. Because 32nm is not new to Intel, it will have 3 FABs up and running at full steam – almost from day one. That’s a LOT of chips. The boys in blue have been reading the PC market forecasts from IDC and others, and they are expecting huge demand. In a marketplace saturated with a wide variety of CPUs, Intel’s Sandybridge will need to go a long want to stand out. Is Intel right to expect strong demand?

Each process has produced some master overclocking chips. Here are some of KitGuru's favourites.

One of the biggest changes with the new architecture is the level of integration. Bringing everything onto the same chip delivers huge performance advantages. Think about the difference in workrate between having a buffet, with everything in front of you on a single table, and going from store to store to get all of the things you want to eat. The advantage is clear. It’s more complicated to engineer, but if you get it right then you’re going to raise the bar to a seriously high level. Graphics performance alone will leave Intel’s previous integrated solutions looking like a slow kid using a pack of crayons on rough paper.

Apart from laptops or consoles, most KitGuru readers will have minimal interest in integrated graphics solutions for the desktop. What we’re focused on is the pure CPU performance. Also enhanced in the new architecture.

All of the Core ranges are due for a serious update. Not only the icons, but also the key architecture

Over the next 3 months, Intel’s Sandybridge architecture will no doubt spawn a million HTML pages of tests, thoughts, opinions and pictures. Remember where you saw it first !   Enough of the preamble, let’s take a first look at the results that  Santa Claus brought back from Arizona (neatly highlighted on this map).

Turning sand into gold is what Intel's all about. Where better to set up shop than the edge of a desert?

Having teased you right to the point of the processor penetrating the gaping mainboard socket with pin point accuracy, we’re going to have to pull the shutters down. While some data has already moved into the public domain, we’re going to go slow with this product. It has been many years in the making and we don’t want to rush it just yet.

Results seen so far back up Intel’s claims that Sandybridge will offer class leading performance, that it’s proven 32nm architecture is rock solid under pressure, that cache sharing has some very cool benefits for graphics processing and power management is excellent. If you want to know more about features like the Advanced Vector Extensions and the way that the low-latency modular core improves throughout, then you gonna have to wait a little longer.

From our intelligence reports, this Sandybridge processor will actually have more transistors than the 1.18 million offered by Intel's original 486. Shocking. Absolutely shocking.

What can we tell you about the second generation experience so far?

The second generation of Intel’s Core series processors doesn’t disappoint. Matching core to core, clock to clock, processor intensive applications get a boost up to 20%. KitGuru has seen some claims of 30% on the web, but we have yet to substantiate that.

The design team in Haifa decided early on that ‘Formula One thinking’ was the real win. Improvements where performance gets boosted while power consumption is reduced and deemed ‘really cool’.

Also in line with F1 designers, they have put safety high on the list and Sandybridge includes a lot of security enhancements. Naturally, with the changes in server demands, they have also beefed up the virtualisation capabilities.

CPU genius Bob Valentine had a big hand in the design of Sandybridge at Intel's ultra efficient Haifa complex. The Advanced Vector Extensions were Bob's responsibility and he seems to have nailed them.

KitGuru is certain that the CPU architecture team has learned from the Larrabee project. Traditionally, CPUs would branch all over the place, while the best analogy for a graphic core was a waterfall. A massive and continuous flow of data, all going in the same direction, with enormous parallelism. To ensure that the waterfall does not need to change direction/function etc, a lot of processing goes into lining instructions up in the best way possible. If you can get the right sized blocks of data, bunched together in the most efficient way possible, maximising cache hits etc, then serious performance gains are to be had. This is something well known to nVidia and ATI in the old days.

So just how much does Sandybridge manage to avoid waste?

Sandybridge’s engineering team claim to sustain a cache hit rate of around 80% for most applications, and intelligent pre-processing ensures that each cycle completes the maximum possible number of instructions. The new chips also spend a lot less time doing useless work, because branch prediction has been improved yet again.

Why is that important?

Well, it’s this ‘pass completion rate’ that has most hampered recent AMD designs. Intel simply gets more work done per cycle. Sandybridge will extend that lead by a substantial amount.

When it comes to producing ever better processors, Intel is a machine. A terminator. It never gets tired. It never gets bored and it never sleeps. Each generation of architectural design brings a substantial improvement in performance – often at exactly the same price point.

These second generation Core i3, i5 and i7 processors would make most competitors just want to give up

Enthusiasts across the world were waxing lyrical about the Nehalem architecture when it delivered stunning levels of power and overclocking. Sandybridge takes that design to a new dimension. Sandybridge has an ability to buffer and check data WAY before it’s every allowed near the real processing engines. In some cases (load buffers for example), the amount of holding space available in Sandybridge is 33% bigger than Nehalem.

Nehalem was an amazing architecture, but Sandybridge delivers much, much more than simply putting Nehalem on steroids. It has been completely re-engineered for performance, while reducing the power draw as much as possible. Second generation Turbo Boost delivers the power when and where you need it most. Even the initial results we’ve seen have been enough to make KitGuru salivate, pick up a hammer and smash mister piggy bank over the head. We feel the need. The greedy need for speed.

KitGuru says: Nehalem was the smartest processor design in history and Sandybridge blows it away. It does so without significant changes in price point. At the same time, there has been an overall improvement in power envelope characteristics. Intel’s second generation Core series gives you armour piercing performance, at its sharpest and most intelligent. Stunning.

Comment below or in the KitGuru forums.


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