Thursday, November 24, 2011

Intel Chips: Second Generation Core Processors

Intel's Second (2nd) Generation Core Processors, also known as Sandy Bridge, have been out since the beginning of 2011, but these chips are now entering our ('s) "sweet-spot" in terms of price-to-performance for laptops.  The chips are an improvement on Intel's i3 / i5 / i7 series of powerful and low-power chips -- with noticeable improvements in CPU -- and especially s step-up for graphics.  We'll update our chart of laptop specs sometime soon.

It was just a year ago that Intel released its first generation Core processors, so what exactly makes this platform different? Well, a few things. For those that haven't followed the Sandy Bridge saga, the new family of processors are all based on Intel's 32nm microarchitecture and are the first to put both the processor, memory controller, and graphics on the same die. What's that mean for you? In short, it means the package is smaller and all the parts get to take advantage of each other better -- for instance, by dynamically clocking both the CPU cores and graphics to match whatever workload you throw at it, and giving them up to 1MB of shared cache. Speaking of those graphics, while they may still not be on par with a discrete video card, they're more powerful than ever before. According to Intel, the new HD 2000 and 3000 processor graphics provide 2x the performance of Capella-based systems, and that actually holds up with what we've seen in early benchmarks (so long, GMA 4500). What's more, Intel's improved its Turbo Boost and Hyper-threading technologies such that the new chips enable higher levels of CPU performance as well -- up to a 60 percent improvement with quad-core mobile CPUs.   

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 ... see Core i3, i5, and i7 branded chips on the market. The number immediately following the "i" modifier-a "2"-will indicate that said CPU is a part of the Sandy Bridge family, as it's a second-generation CPU. Three more numbers will indicate the specific processor SKU, and a letter possibly appended to the end-"K," "S," or "T"-will detail whether the CPU is unlocked for overclocking, optimized for "lifestyle" computing, or optimized for power-savings.
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