Intel seems to have struck gold once again with their new Sandy Bridge architecture, which they introduced in early 2011. Intel calls them the 2nd Generation Core processors and although it may appear to be using the similar formula that we saw in Clarkdale (CPU and GPU on a single die), the architecture is completely different as compared to Clarkdale for both the CPU and GPU. By now, Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs are widely available across desktops and notebooks in different SKUs. Today, we’ll be looking at their flagship desktop CPU, the 2600K, that has garnered quite a bit of praise among gamers and enthusiasts for its performance prowess. First, let’s have a look at some of the features and how it’s changed from the old architecture.
The major difference between Sandy Bridge and Clarkdale is that in the former, both the CPU and GPU are built using the 32nm fabrication process. The entire Core i7 and Core i5 line-up features four physical cores along with Hyper-threading giving you eight threads in total. The 2600K features 8MB of L3 cache and has a TDP of 95W. The stock frequency is set to 3.4GHz, which is fast enough as it is. Then for added oomph, it also features Turbo Boost which pushes the frequency to 3.8GHz.
An overview of the Sandy Bridge architecture
Some of the new features include a AVX instruction set, which should help speed up video encoding. Unlike the last generation Turbo, the new Turbo 2.0 dynamically scales the CPU speed depending on the load and this time it works for all four cores. This is also the first time a non-extreme edition Intel CPU gets an unlocked multiplier. This way, you can easily overclock the CPU without having to bother with the voltages. Their Quick Sync technology let’s you use the onboard GPU for encoding movies. It will also easily handle 1080p videos for smoother playback.
Stock coolers have evolved quite a bit over the years
The stock cooler that comes with the 2600K does a pretty good job of keeping the CPU cool. Unlike the puny cooler Intel used to provide in the past, this one has a copper base with three heatpipes channeling the hot air to the aluminium fins, which is then cooled by the rather groovy looking LED lit fan. You can even choose the fan modes manually between 'Performance' and 'Quiet'.
For testing the perfomance of the processor, all the CPU settings in the BIOS were set to default. Turbo Boost was enabled and C1E and EIST was disabled.
Good performance across the board
The scores seem pretty solid. Even under load the CPU temperature never went above 55 degree C, which is good considering we used the stock thermal paste that came with it and the stock cooler. With a better third party cooler and good ventillation, you should easily be able to bring that down to 45 degree C.
Overclocking is extremely simple on the 2600K. The CPU management is set to manual in the motherboard; all you have to do is increase the multiplier and see how far you can push it. The new base clock of the Sandy Bridge processors is not as flexible as the old architecture, so if you don’t have an unlocked multiplier, then you won’t be able to push it a lot further. Our default clock is achieved by a 34×100 configuration where 34 is the multiplier and 100MHz is the base clock. Simply set the multiplier to 40 and you now have 4GHz. Windows booted just fine and we were able to run our tests, as well, all this sing the stock cooler.
We tried pushing it further and were able to get to 4.3GHz stable. It went to 4.5Ghz as well and we were able to boot into Windows, but running any test would crash the system. Still, this is not bad at all for minimum effort.
At Rs.13,800, the Core i7 2600K isn’t exactly cheap, but for the kind of performance it delivers and its feature set, it’s not bad. Just a year ago, if you wanted an Intel CPU with an unlocked multiplier, you’d have no choice, but to go with their Extreme Edition chips, which were about Rs. 40,000. Now, with SandyBridge, you can enjoy those features at a very affordable price. Overclocking the CPU is no longer a tedious task, all you have to do is raise the multiplier, save and reboot. It’s that simple.
If you’re looking for one of the best CPUs in the market for gaming or multimedia, then the 2600K is a great buy. It’s a bit expensive, but you won’t have to think of upgrading for the next two years, at least.
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