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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  • JarredWalton - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    Fixed. We had initially put 6950 CF in the build, but Ryan talked us out of that. It's still an alternative, though, so now it's "graphics card(s)". :-)
  • Mcgoober - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    Umm...problem. The Antec HCG 400 has only 1 pci-e connector. All GTX 460s need 2 pci-e connectors and using a molex adapter on that PS isn't going to work but I'll let you figure out why. Not to mention 400 watts for that build is probably the worst advice ever.
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    I've updated the text slightly to address your question. You'll need a Molex to PCIe for the second PEG connector, but trust me: you're not going to use 400W with the components we've listed. We already mentioned that adding a second GPU would need a larger PSU, but I was running 5850 CrossFire off of a 450W PSU (using Molex to PEG adapters on the second card) for about a year without problems. So why am I not running that anymore? Simply put, a single 5870 2GB card is proving to be a better experience overall.
  • bl4C - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    Jarred, are you a gamer or a casual gamer ?
    i find it strange that you're almost "recommending" a 450W PSU for a 5850 CF setup ... the total system power draw under full load could/would be well over 450W

    maybe you're only a causal gamer ?
    in that case you probably won't be stressing you graphic cards that much, but then there wouldn't have been any need to go CF ... and that might explain also why the single 5870 is a better experience for you

    anyway, your comment puzzles me, as it is coming from a writer for the (personally respected) Anandtech site ... it sounds almost like an argument from a salesman: "this is a great piece of hardware ... i have one at home myself", trying to pesuade you into buying :D
    no offense, but puzzling ... why would you be using a 450 PSU for a CF setup ? (in the context of somebody who works for Anandtech :D ... )

    about the article itself, probably the title says it all:
    "Sandy Bridge Buyer’s Guide"
    it's just that, and if you look it it like that, and beyond the components-price tables (actually read it :) ), it can be helpful for people just wanting to buy a Sandy Bridge system (emphasis on "a")
  • JarredWalton - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    I beat Crysis and Crysis: Warhead, Mass Effect 2, and several other games on the 5850 CrossFire setups. I'm currently playing through Crysis 2 with the 5870 (it's part of why I switched; CrossFire was broken for over a month after release), I play Left 4 Dead 2 on occasion, and I'm working on Dragon Age (never did beat it) so that I can play Dragon Age 2, along with playing Fallout: New Vegas. I've played other games as well (Trine, Shadowgrounds, Shadowgrounds Survivor recently) as well. If that's only a "casual" gamer, well, I'd like you to talk to my wife.

    Why only a 450W PSU? Because when I'm not gaming, my overclocked Core i7-965 idles at around 170W (and it was around 125W with 5850 CF). Since there are many hours in a day where I'm not gaming, maximum efficiency comes into play. A 750W PSU is generally less efficient at ~150W load than a 450W PSU. Actually, I even have a 750W PSU I'm going to swap in at some point, but only so I can go to 5870 CrossFire. Until I make that upgrade, the current PSU is running perfectly fine.

    IMO, there are far too many people who remain convinced that just because NVIDIA and AMD generally say you need at least 650W for SLI/CF, it's true. AMD and NVIDIA need to worry about people buying a cheap 500W PSU and having it die and kill their GPUs and other components because it really couldn't handle a 500W load (or even 400W). My current PSU is actually a Thermaltake LightPower 450W -- not even SLI or CF certified! The horror! Again, I've tested a variety of games and apps, and under load with 5850 CrossFire I never managed to exceed 400W at the wall; as an 80 Plus Bronze PSU, it's likely running at 83-85% efficiency, so the highest load I measured (using a Kill-A-Watt) was 385W, which translates to a PSU output of around 320-325W. I suppose if I were to load up Furmark and run Cinebench at the same time, I could draw more power, but I'm still 125W south of the rated output.
  • DanNeely - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    Efficiency curves tend to be more or less flat between 20 and 80% load. 1 or 2% variation is negligible. My preference for a PSU that exceeds maximum load by 200-300W is driven by noise considerations. It's only the last few hundred watts of load that cause the PSU fan to spin up above idle, so my overprovisioned PSUs never switch out of all but silent mode. My CPU is water cooled and uses quiet 1350 RPM fans. The GPU is currently an issue; but my planned fall build will include a larger rad so I can bring it into the loop as well.
  • toyota - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    its still a bad idea recommending just a 400 watt psu for that level of pc. 360 watts MAX on the 12v line is not a lot to work with and if you oc that i5 and gtx460 significantly you will be asking for it. it also limits upgrades because if you decide you want something that uses more power you will need a new psu. 500-550 watt psus with around 40 amps should be the recommendation for a system of that level.
  • just4U - Sunday, June 19, 2011 - link

    I think they were making a point with the inclusion of the 400W PSU. Alot of enthusiasts would be surprised at what you can get up and running on 400-500W units if they are of good quality. Most of us are not PSU experts afterall and tend to opt out for beefier units which are more often then not overkill.
  • BernardP - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    "... right now is an especially wise time to buy into a Sandy Bridge system..."

    I would respectfully beg to differ. If one doesn't absolutely have to buy now, it seems safer to wait at most a couple of months to see what Bulldozer has to offer before buying. We already have credible leaks abour BD pricing, and it should be competitive with SB. Relative performance info is what is missing now.
  • GullLars - Saturday, June 18, 2011 - link

    A posibble alternative to the 510 is Crucial M4, the 128GB versions of both are different from the 256GB ones performance wise, and it makes the M4 look better. I'd only advice 510 over 320 for scratch-disk duty, or heavy sequential loads. The vertex 3 is also a better choice than 510 IMO for boot drive on such a build, if you're not building it for someone else who require stability without ever getting support from you again.

    A nice way to waste/spend money past what you have put up there is RAID-0 of 2x 128GB SSDs, be that 510, M4, or Vertex 3. The 67 motherboards have 2x 6Gbps ports, and can handle 1000MB/s of bandwidth and >100K IOPS.

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