The latest Intel roadmap has come out, and it's already being discussed elsewhere, so we're going to weigh in with our own analysis of the content as there's plenty of interesting bits of information to sift through. We’ll be looking at other areas over the coming days, but today we’re going to start with the Sandy Bridge-E (SNB-E) processors. Sporting a new socket and chipset, the SNB-E CPUs will start showing up in Q4 this year. None of this is new, as we’ve known the general timeframe for the launch since our Sandy Bridge review, but we can now add some concrete specs. According to the roadmap, the initial SNB-E lineup will consist of three CPUs: two hex-core processors and one quad-core. We don’t have model numbers yet, but we do have most of the other pieces of information.

The Sandy Bridge-E Lineup
Family Core i7 Extreme Core i7 Core i7
Core/Thread Count 6/12 6/12 4/8
Frequency 3.3GHz 3.2GHz 3.6GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.9GHz 3.8GHz 3.9GHz
L3 Cache 15MB 12MB 10MB
Overclocking Fully unlocked Fully unlocked Limited unlock

The new chips will all use the LGA2011 socket with Intel’s X79 chipset, scheduled for simultaneous release with the CPUs. The platform replaces the current LGA1366 with X58 chipset, providing an upgrade path for high-end enthusiasts and workstation users. Memory support will move up to quad-channel DDR3-1333, so where the current Bloomfield can provide up to 25.6GB/s of bandwidth at the specified tri-channel DDR3-1066, LGA2011 kicks that figure up to 42.7GB/s—a 66% increase. The additional memory bandwidth should be particularly useful with certain workloads on the hex-core chips.

One interesting piece of information is that the roadmaps make no mention of integrated graphics or Quick Sync, suggesting the platform will be for discrete graphics only. That makes perfect sense on one level, as users likely to upgrade to such high-end systems are almost sure to have discrete GPUs. On the other hand, Quick Sync has proven very effective for video transcoding, providing up to a four-fold increase over CPU-based encoding, so the loss of the feature is unfortunate.

Intel hasn’t disclosed all of the various Turbo modes yet, but they have listed the maximum single-core Turbo speeds. Both the hex-core 3.3GHz and quad-core 3.6GHz top out at a maximum speed of 3.9GHz, and likely the hex-core chip can do 3.6GHz on QC workloads making it equal to or better than the QC chip on every potential workload. The 3.2GHz hex-core steps the maximum clocks speeds down 100MHz, along with cutting the L3 cache size. As with other i7 processors, all the new chips support Hyper-Threading, and while the hex-core chips will be fully multiplier unlocked the quad-core offering will be a “limited unlock”. The roadmap states that the limited unlock will allow up to six bins of overclocking above the maximum Turbo frequencies, which means that even that chip should be able to hit up to 4.5GHz (with appropriate cooling, motherboard, etc.)

Intel makes no mention of pricing at this time, but the new chips should follow familiar patterns. The i7 Extreme will replace the current i7-990X and target the familiar $1000 price point. Moving down, the 3.2GHz hex-core replaces the current i7-980 (which is set to replace the i7-970 in the near future), taking over the $550~$600 range. At the bottom of the SNB-E lineup is the quad-core 3.6GHz chip, which will take over from the i7-960 as well as providing a competitor to the i7-2600 in the sub-$300 market.

Chipset Comparison
  X58 X79
Processor Support LGA1366 LGA2011
PCIe Graphics 2x16 or 4x8 (chipset) 2x16 or 4x8 (CPU)
PCIe Based Uplink to CPU for Storage No Yes (x4)
USB 2.0 Ports 12 14
SATA Total (6Gbps) 6 (0) 14 (10)

One final area to discuss is the chipset. We’ve included X58 in the above table as a reference point, and we can see that X79 improves a few areas but still fails to support a few newer technologies. While the X79 chipset will include native support for SATA 6Gbps (up to 10 ports, with four additional SATA 3Gbps ports), USB 3.0 support is still missing, similar to the current 5- and 6-series chipsets. X79 natively supports dual x16 PCIe graphics, or quad x8 graphics, but this time the PCIe lanes come directly from the CPU instead of from the chipset, providing lower latency GPU access. There’s another extra, as the CPU (chipset) has the option to use four additional PCIe lanes from the PCH dedicated to storage bandwidth, presumably to help with performance on fast SATA 6Gbps devices (e.g. SSDs).

Given the 2x16 PCIe lanes for graphics and quad-channel memory, we can account for most of the pinout increase relative to LGA1366 and LGA1155, and adding in these remaining storage PCIe lanes with a DMI link to the chipset should take care of the rest. Intel doesn't state whether they're using DMI or QPI, but DMI 2.0 only provides up to 20Gbps between the CPU and chipset, so supporting 10 SATA 6Gbps ports with fast SSDs would certainly saturate that.

That wraps up the consumer side of the SNB-E platform. Note that Intel will also have SNB-E Xeons launching in a similar timeframe. The bigger concern for us is that SNB-E continues the strengths of the Bloomfield/Gulftown processors but doesn’t address some of the weaknesses (i.e. lack of Quick Sync). SNB-E looks like a very capable processor, but if you’re willing to forego the current SNB lineup and wait for SNB-E, you’ll then have to contend with Ivy Bridge. That will be Intel’s first 22nm CPU and it’s scheduled for release in the first half of 2012, but that’s a story for a separate article. We’ll also have additional information on Atom CPUs and Intel SSDs in the near future.

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  • Concillian - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 - link

    Couple that with the "limited unlock" of that 4-core i7 they will put into the 2600K price range, and I'm not entirely sure of the value of the "low end" 2011.

    Intel is not in the business of having a "value low end" processor anymore. They are very much insisting you spend money for the performance at this point. That much was already clear with 1155 and shouldn't come as a surprise that they're doing it again with 2011. They have specifically engineered this generation to separate as much money as possible from enthusiasts.

    It appears to be working well for them so far, lots of people are buying more processor than their demographic would have in the past. They're spending more on motherboards too. Intel is raking in the benefit of having so little competition on the high end.
  • Michael REMY - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    i really wonder why the number of usb port increase at each chipset generaton !

    in 20 years of computer science, it hardware, i never knew a person need such ports !

    i'd prefer more memory cache instead more usb ports !

    my notice is valuable also for sata port number !

    hard drive capacity grows up so ! number of hard drive decrease in the same time !!!
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    USB2 controllers are tiny, even on the legacy processes many southbridges are built with. As legacy IO ports are going away they need to pile on more USB2 controllers to keep the IO panel mostly filled up and to still have enough headers for cases with 4 built in ports and a card reader in one of the drive bays.
  • Lonyo - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    You can use that many if you really want, e.g. external drive + keyboard + mouse + USB drive + phone cable + printer + USB wi-fi device + another external drive + another USB drive + card reader.
    That's 10 right there. This is an enthusiast board after all.

    The 14 SATA ports is a little excessive, although it might be useful for more enterprise oriented motherboards where you might want lots of drives.
  • DanNeely - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    As for the sata ports, Intel's trying to squeeze out the 3rd party controller most higher end mobos have added. With LGA2011 dropping the PCI bus entirely this might not just be a case of trying to make sure that the extra dollar goes to them, because the several other misc devices that used to be piled onto the PCI bus are now having to compete with everything else for the 8 PCIe lanes on the SB. WIth no native USB3 support I suspect most full ATX enthusiast boards are going to end up resorting to PCIe multiplexer chips, or a PCI-PCIe bridge in order to fit everything in, while still putting at least a 1x PCIe slot in every available spot on the board.
  • name99 - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    The SATA ports make no sense. The USB are used in many surprising ways.
    On Mac portables, for example, USB is used for at least the internal kbd and trackpad, the webcam, bluetooth, the IR port. With two or three user USB ports, that gets you to 7 or 8. On a desktop mac you have the same stuff and maybe 5 USB ports. (And that's not dumb --- I use all 5 USB ports on my Mac mini HTPC, for example).

    I may have left some stuff out --- not sure how audio (out or in) is handled these days, for example. Also 802.11g I think used wifi (can't remember), but obviously n does not.
  • name99 - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    Oh, yeah, also include at least an SD slot for modern macs.
  • Blaze-Senpai - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    Hopefully Intel doesn't just start tacking on a pin to the socket every year now... would turn into more of a mess than it is now.
  • Hrel - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    This is getting rediculous. I really wish I had the influence to organize a global boycott on Intel until they get with the freakin times and put a USB 3.0 controller on their chipsets. I'm not buying another motherboard until EVERY USB port on it is USB 3.0.

    Seriously, WTF Intel?! WTF! So help me if you guys don't knock this shit off I'm going pure AMD out of spite. 50% profit margin is PLENTY! Stick with ONE socket for at least a couple generations. Like LGA775. As soon as it's physically possible, support the newest technologies and don't expect your customers to pay an arm and a leg for them. EVERY SATA port should be 6MBPS, EVERY USB port should be 3.0. Motherboards should NOT have major issues months after release.

    Gah, F it. At this point CPU power with just about anything is "good enough". Unless things change drastically in a year or so I'm now ONLY buying AMD.
  • slyck - Tuesday, April 26, 2011 - link

    That's why I'm going bulldozer. My Core2Duo has been great, and Intel's chips have the best cores. But their market segmentation games are beyond ridiculous, are are their naming schemes and planned obsolesence. LGA2011 is going to be expensive, just to get the same options you have had with more affordable AMD chipsets for years now.

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