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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  • GullLars - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    I agree on the 2500K + GTX 460 being a great build for "medium" gamers, so don't take the next part as an attack on that system.

    Regarding the last part of your post, if you already have a quad Phenom II / Athlon II, migrating to a LGA 1155 build will require you to get both a motherboard and CPU, combined cost ~$300-350. If you don't already have an SSD, a 128GB Vertex 3, M4, or 510 will give you a noticably better improvement than going to the 2500K system outside number crunching.

    For gaming, an Athlon/Phenom II x4 >2,5GHz won't slow down a 460 noticably at 1900x1200 medium. There may be a few FPS difference, but both will be perfectly playable, and the GPU will be the determining factor.
  • marc1000 - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    for light use my c2duo is perfectly fine. I even do "almost medium" gaming because I invested in a radeon 5770 (it goes fine with my 1680x1050 monitor). but when I need to convert a blu-ray disc (legally bought), my system goes to its knees... it takes 5 to 6 hours for a single disk. at this task the sandy bridge cpus are faster than phenom II, and for anyone with even older hardware like me, it's about 5 times faster...
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    True. If you're upgrading a PC as opposed to buying new, the point at which it becomes important varies from individual to individual. I'm still running a Core 2 Quad desktop, and my wife is on Core 2 Duo -- only my gaming rig is running Core i7 (Bloomfield). My current go-to laptop is a Sandy Bridge quad-core that's actually faster than my Core 2 Quad desktop, but all my apps are still running happily on the C2Q.

    If you are already running in an AMD ecosystem, there's really no point to upgrading to Llano right now. Even if it's compatible with your motherboard, all you'd really get is lower power draw and a faster IGP. Considering you can get a much faster dGPU for $50, why bother? And as far as power goes, let's say Llano saves you 20W on average; at $0.15 per kWh (which is actually more than a lot of people in the US pay), you'd need to run 24/7 for five years to recoup the cost of a $100 investment. In five years, I can pretty much guarantee you'd have upgraded at least once if not twice from Llano.
  • ckryan - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    I decided to build a new system based on SB in part pretty much just cause I wanted to. A quad core Athlon/Phenom II isn't exactly feeble and it wasn't "holding me back". I didn't need to upgrade, I just wanted to upgrade. The 2500k/2600k might be a great deal ahead of the K10.5 architecture but it's not like AMDs are obsolete. Part of my decision to upgrade was based on the fact that I needed to build a system for a family member -- so I just upgraded my system and handed down my AMD system -- which is still way more powerful a system than was necessary. I bought an H67 and a 2500k which was great, but then I decided to get a P67 board. To be clear, in the few games I do play I get better framerates... but it's largely academic. I say if you're building a system for someone else, esp. if they're not a gamer than an H67/Core i3 is a great way to go. Which is what I'm planning to do with my "old" Biostar TH67+.
  • marc1000 - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    yeah, giving away our older parts is a great reason to upgrade! =D

    I guess that this "upgrading cycle" is more of an addiction than a necessity. I'm planning to whom I will give my old system as soon as I buy that 2500k!
  • jjj - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    "an AWESOME time to buy an Intel desktop, because there's nothing coming out in the next three months on the Intel side "

    Why would anyone sane buy based on brand name,how does it matter if it's Intel or AMD side and how is 3 MONTHS !?! a significant period of time?

    We have BD coming soon,you say september and it would be nice to tell us what makes you think it is september and not august since all public info suggests august,.There is SB-E this year and i guess we can hope BD will force Intel to price it better than it was planned and then Ivy Bridge could arrive in 7-10 months.It's maybe the worst time to buy a new desktop in YEARS.

    That aside,there are a lot of "best Intel something" articles lately on the internets,i really do hope this wasn't a payed article,or written at Intel's request. You guys are already almost never criticizing any products you review,always looking for the upside and that's starting to be annoying.You might need to keep good relations with hardware makers but objectivity is way more important or you'll end up being the next THG.
  • marc1000 - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    I don't agree with you. I don't believe they are saying any of this because of brand names. It's because of real performance. See, I'm an AMD supporter - each and every GPU I used is ATI/AMD (since the times of geforce2mx ruling the market, I was buying the radeon9000). I even bought an Athlon 64 system when it was faster than any Pentium. but since the core2duo, the intel CPU's are the best performers. I really hope that AMD will deliver a capable CPU with the next iteration of bulldozer, but right now you can't go wrong when buying any of the new sandy bridge cpus.
  • duploxxx - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    difference between initail buyers guide and this version :)

    In the end it's all about levelling a build, first of all you mention a pricerange, but you forget to add kyb-mouse-speakers and screens, so to what extend does a buyer only assign parts to the case and content..... never they look at the full picture.

    THe budget 500$ is off for a SNB anyhow right now, it is totally out of balance, you have more then CPU power enough for general usage and you get an IGP that is worth é&é&é&é sure general desktop usage is fine, but not meant to play any decent game at all, so you need a GPU anyhow.

    a very low budget mobo, the MSI -e35 has at least USB3 support....
    the caviar blue is slow against black series and others like spinpoint....

    THe 1000$ build is also not balanced. there is no need for the 2500K a 2400 will do more then ok for such a rig, for the difference in price you get a 6870 from asus or the his also in rebate with much better price/performance/power ratio then this 460. THe antec psu i would trade it in for a corsair anyday. cheap case that ain't really that looking unless you have a -25j old public. While the 60GB SSD does serve it's purpose here it is narrow on size and performance.... again balance the needs

    The 2000$ build well nothing to add, but then again select all major parts doesn't always provide the best ratio price/perf/power. you could easily take the 2500K here (no need for those HT cores anyway in daily usage), go with a 570 or 6970. buy a faster and better ssd, intel 68 chipset that isn' t really added value beside higher price.... throwing with money but forget for a total complete build you actually need 500$ more for the peripherals at the same level.

    last thing.... its nice searching for the cheapest prices everywhere on the net, but the chances that buyers actually go search for 3 different sites for the lowest $ cost for each part is hardly the case.

    Sure you can mention the fact that AMD has nothing new to offer right now so you don't throw them in, but the 500-1000$ range is still a valid range to compare both where they will do more then well for any user. The non-intel PC users is just lack of IT mind, old school ready for retirement in this branche.....

  • hi87 - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    You're a joke Duploxx. Just stfu. Anything that is not pro-AMD you hate on.

    I'm not a fanboy, I'm just sick of your trolling on anything that's about Intel. Damn, how childish are you?
  • Broheim - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link


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