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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  • ericloewe - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    I think Virtu is actually by Lucid, not Intel
  • odditude - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    It also doesn't require Z68 - I just ordered an Intel DH67GDB3 that supports it.
  • Termie - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    You linked to the EVGA GTX460 1GB "SE" model, but in your writeup and linked benchmark, you are referring to the non-SE model. The SE model is not comparable to the HD6850, and is not a good deal at $115 after rebate. May I recommend the ASUS ENGTX460 DirectCU TOP 768MB, which is currently on Newegg for $115 after $30 rebate? If you're willing to go over $1000 pre-rebate, the EVGA GTX460 1GB non-SE model is also available for $170 with a $40 rebate.
  • cobalt42 - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    True, that is the SE model, and that fact should probably have been mentioned. I think it's still definitely a good deal though. It's factory overclocked, with a higher clockspeed than the 768MB, and the extra RAM and memory bandwidth can make a big difference even at 1920x1200 resolutions and moderate AA, so for about the same price I'd pick the SE 1GB over the 768MB, personally. The only thing you're getting by going up to the non-SE is an extra SM's worth of shader processors. (Non-SE 1GB is probably the best deal, but the extra $20 here would have put them over budget.)
  • JarredWalton - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    Sorry, that was my bad. Zach had the 6850 in there initially, but after discussing it with Ryan I switched out for the GTX 460. Unfortunately, I accidentally snagged an SE instead of the full 460; I've updated the prices and text accordingly, but it's only a $10 increase after MIR (and $5 increase before MIR).
  • GatoRat - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    Why jump from sub 1000 to 2000? For about 1200-1400, you can build a pretty good Core i7 2600 based system.
  • DanNeely - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    The first paragraph of the $2k build discusses a $1400 build (upgrade the GPU + PSU on the $1k build)
  • StormyParis - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    I'm all for spending money on fancy things (not !), but could we at least get a handful of benchmarks to know what that extra cash is buying ? A very appreciated extra would be a CPU vs GPU upgrade tryout, where we can see for the 2 lower builds where extra money would be well spent (my guess, GPU, always ?)

    Apart from that, thanks for a nice article, especially the first page which helps understand the ungodly mess that Intel's CPU/GPU/Chipset catalog is.
  • another user - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    > Unlike the Core i3 models, however, the Sandy Bridge Pentiums do not support Intel’s Quick Sync Video technology or DDR3-1333 RAM

    According to Pentiums G8xx do support DDR3 1333.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Friday, June 17, 2011 - link

    Reminds me of Cramer pumping up stocks in the summer of 2008. Oh yeah, great time to buy! Why would any sane person recommend an i3-2100 + a 6570 for a combined $180 when you will be able to get a llano cpu and motherboard for less than that, and it will game better?

    Of course llano isnt out yet, and of course this is a "sandy bridge" buyer's guide. But gimme a break... who you foolin? The timing on this is laughably conspicuous. Right now is an especially wise time to buy! No, it's not.

    It's ok to kiss the hand of your master, but jeez you dont have to lick it.

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