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Sandy Bridge: The Big Refresh for Entry Platforms

Original Article Date: 2011-05-03 

Intel has finally released the complete range of processors, chipsets and mainboards featuring the new Sandy Bridge microprocessor architecture. Every two years or so, Intel issues a refresh of architecture used in CPUs and chipsets. The last time this occurred was in early 2009 with the landmark release of the "Nehalem" architecture which saw a massive boost across the entire range of Intel computing platforms. Sandy Bridge, whilst not quite as significant as Nehalem, is nonetheless a significant advance in that it brings even faster, more power efficient computing at an even lower cost.

The initial release of this architecture is for the desktop and entry server/workstation market. Mainstream dual-processor server configurations will not see this technology until the end of the year.

So what's new in Sandy Bridge, compared with the previous generation Nehalem? Here's a summary:

  • Significantly higher clock speeds: All CPUs are now rated at over 3GHz compared with the 2GHz range of most Nehalem based CPUs.
  • Turbo Boost 2.0: Delivering even more aggressive dynamic overclocking of the CPU when performance demands it.
  • On-chip HD Graphics: Eliminates the need for discrete graphics cards or onboard graphics modules on mainboards for everyday server or desktop display needs.
  • 32nm process technology across the board (although later steppings of Nehalem CPUs had moved from 45nm to 32nm, this is standard across the entire range of Sandy Bridge CPUs)

Here is a table showing the new CPU range now available:

Model Rated Clock Max Turbo Clock Cores Cache Max TDP On-Chip Graphics Integrated Price
Core i3-2100 3.1GHz n/a 2 4MB 65W Yes $151
Core i3-2120 3.3GHz n/a 2 4MB 65W Yes $178
Core i5-2500 3.3GHz 3.7GHz 4 6MB 95W Yes $262
Core i7-2600 3.4GHz 3.8GHz 4 8MB 95W Yes $367
Xeon E3-1220/1225 3.1GHz 3.4GHz 4 8MB 80W/95W E3-1225 $237/$250
Xeon E3-1230/1235 3.2GHz 3.6GHz 4 8MB 80W/95W E3-1235 $281/$306
Xeon E3-1240/1245 3.3GHz 3.7GHz 4 8MB 80W/95W E3-1245 $318/$343
Xeon E3-1270/1275 3.4GHz 3.8GHz 4 8MB 80W/95W E3-1275 $413/$426
Xeon E3-1280 3.5GHz 3.9GHz 4 8MB 95W No $750

It can be seen that there are two main product segments - the Core i3/i5/i7 series and the Xeon E3 series. This distinction is primarily for marketing purposes, with the Core i3/i5/i7 aimed at the desktop/consumer market, whilst the Xeons are targeted toward the server and enterprise market. The technology in each series is identical and some model specifications (such as the i7-2600 and the E3-1275) are in fact identical.

The Xeon CPUs are available with or without on-chip graphics - distinguished by the product number ending in a '0' or '5'.

New Chipsets, Launch Recall and Reissue

Many of you are probably aware of a bug that occurred in a recent Intel release. This was actually the desktop chipsets intended for the new Sandy Bridge CPUs - the Intel P67/H67. There was an issue with the SATA 3Gbps ports that caused them to degrade over time whereupon they would become unusable. Intel recalled all of the boards that had the affected chipset some months ago, and have since been reissued with the the "B3" version (the bugged version was "B2").

Desktop oriented chipsets for the Core i3/i5 and i7 are referred to as the "Intel 6" series (P67/H67/Z68/H61/Q67/Q65/B65). Features vary within each model, but of note are that most now include SATA-III which has a maximum bandwidth of 6Gbps per port, making them suitable for the faster solid state drives (SSDs) on the market now.

Server oriented chipsets for the Xeon E3 series are referred to as the "Intel C200" series (C202/C204/C206).

In all cases, a single socket design is used at 1155 pins, allowing an interchange of all CPUs in the range across all mainboards for simplicity.

Some boards have graphics onboard, to run with the chips that do not have on-chip graphics, whilst boards without graphics chips will still have VGA and DVI ports on the I/O panel to allow connectivity to those CPUs carrying on-chip HD graphics.

Electronics Nexus - Now Shipping Sandy Bridge Based Systems

We are now shipping three systems based on the new Sandy Bridge architecture:

Each of these models is available now. Our base pricing on the workstation and tower server is the lowest we've had for any units sold, demonstrating the significant value increase that Sandy Bridge brings over previous generations.


Sandy Bridge offers yet another gain in performance for the entry server and workstation market at prices not seen before. Are you ready to take advantage of this performance and value opportunity?

Best regards,

Ben Ranson
Chief Systems Engineer
Electronics Nexus