An introduction to Sandy Bridge

Model names, chipsets and so on

DUE TO A LAST minute change by Intel, the expiration of the Sandy Bridge NDA has now, well, expired and as such we’re going to start off our coverage with a quick introduction of the various processors, chipsets and what not before we start digging into the tech and benchmarks. Much of what will be covered here contains information that leaked out ahead of the launch, but Intel still managed to hold on to plenty of details available now for your reading pleasure.

Editor’s note: Additional Sandy Bridge coverage on it’s way. Benchmarks, Disappointment, Linux

Let’s start with Intel’s desktop parts which, at least initially, only consists of the models we’ve already seen, namely the Core i3, Core i5 and the Core i7 models. Pentium SKUs won’t be launched until the second quarter of this year and Celerons aren’t expected to follow until the third quarter. Part of the reason behind this is that Intel is still sitting on a fair bit of Clarkdale stock that it needs to shift and the easy way to solve this problem is selling them as lower-end parts. Once Intel introduces the Pentium and Celeron Sandy Bridge based processors, socket 775 will also have played out its role and will be phased out alongside socket 1156 by the end of 2011, if not sooner.

For those that have followed our Sandy Bridge stories, there really is very little new to report and you can see the difference between the various models in the charts. Intel didn’t throw in any last minute surprises and even the pricing turned out to be as we reported last year. Intel’s new graphics ended up being the Intel HD Graphics 2000 and 3000 in the end, rather than 100 and 200 which was suggested early on. We’re not sure if the S and T low power models will be available at launch, but we’re sure Intel will reveal this in due time, but the lack of pricing provided by Intel indicates that we might not end up seeing these in retail for the time being.

Intel will have six new desktop chipsets, but again, it seems like we’re only getting four of them at launch.  There’s also the potential of the rumoured Z68 chipset sometime in the first half of this year, again, rumored. Intel’s consumer models are the P67 and H67 where the major difference is that the P67 supports K series CPUs, dual x8 PCI Express slots and supposedly even some degree of multiplier overclocking on standard CPUs, whereas the H67 offers support for integrated graphics. It’s worth noting that none of the H67 boards we’ve tested supports DDR3 memory speeds over 1333MHz, while the P67 happily accepts memory speeds of 2133MHz and beyond depending on the motherboard.

For Intel’s desktop business platform we’re looking at the Q67 and B65 where the Q67 is intended for the corporate desktop market and the B65 is for the SOHO office desktop market. The Q67 offers pretty much the same features as the H67 chipset with added support for AMT 7.0, while the B65 is a “feature light” model with only a single SATA 6Gbps port and two USB 2.0 ports less. Intel will also launch the Q65 and the H61 chipsets, but it doesn’t seem like these will be announced at the launch, instead they’re set to appear in the first half of the year alongside the Pentium branded Sandy Bridge processors. The Q65 features more basic management features than the Q67 and it doesn’t support RAID and as with the B65 chipset, it only supports a single SATA 6Gbps port. Finally the H61 chipset will be the most basic consumer model and it only supports four SATA 3Gbps ports (no RAID), two DIMMs and 10 USB 2.0 ports.

On the mobile side things are somewhat more complex, as here Intel is struggling even more when it comes to backlogs of Arrandale processors and as such we’ll see the current range of Core i5 and Core i3 processors carried over until at least Q2. However, Intel will be offering a range of Core i3, i5 and i7 processors based on Sandy Bridge at the same time and the older Clarskfield quad core based CPUs will be replaced by quad core Sandy Bridge models straight away. It also seems like Intel is going to be sitting on a few mobile CPUs and will introduce them later on in the year, but we’re not entirely clear on the details here.

The new mobile line-up is somewhat confusing, as Intel has come up with some really peculiar model names for its LV and ULV parts, but more on that in a second. Let’s start with the standard Voltage parts or SV as Intel refers to them. Here we have four quad cores to start with, namely the Core i7 2920XM, the 2820QM and the 2720QM. These three CPUs have one unique feature compared to all of the other Sandy Bridge mobile and desktop parts, native DDR3 1600MHz memory support. It’s unclear how much of a performance advantage this will offer, but one potential benefit is improved graphics performance due to the extra bandwidth available.

As you can see from the charts above, only the quad core mobile CPUs features more than 4MB of L3 cache where the Core i7 2920XM and 2820QM gets 8MB and the remaining models are equipped with 6MB. Only the dual core Core i7 parts will get 4MB of L3 cache, while the Core i3 and i5 models will have to make do with 3MB. The entire mobile line-up will feature Intel HD Graphics 3000, unlike the desktop models where so far only the K models will have the same graphics solution. However, it’s important to notice that not all of the mobile CPUs will offer the same graphics performance as there is some variation in terms of how far the graphics will turbo. As for the time being, it seems like we’re only getting a single Core i3 model as well, due to the reasons mentioned above relating to plenty of Arrandale stock.

When it comes to the LV and ULV models we’re not sure what Intel was thinking when it comes to the model names, as for example the Core i7 2629M is a faster model than the 2657M, despite having a lower model name. The reason for this is because the 2629M is a 25W TDP part and the 2657M is a 17W TDP part. To put things bluntly, Intel really seems to have screwed up its CPU naming scheme when it comes to these parts and we’re certain that this is going to cause no end of confusion for potential customers of notebooks with these CPUs. A higher number obviously doesn’t always mean a faster processor. At least these lower clocked parts aren’t feature stripped in any way, although the clock speed for the integrated graphics is also running much slower than on the 35W counterparts, but this is understandable considering the market segment these processors are intended for.

This time around Intel has no less than five mobile chipsets, but we’re not quite sure we’re following Intel’s market segmentation here. The consumer focused standard models are the HM67 and HM65 where the main difference being RAID support for the HM67 along with support for Intel’s Extreme Tuning Utility or in other words overclocking. We would expect most consumer notebooks to use the HM65 chipset as the extra features on offer by the HM67 has somewhat limited value in your average consumer notebook, especially as an Extreme Edition CPU is required for overclocking to work.

On the business side of things we have the QM67 which is pretty much the same as the HM67 with the addition of vPro and AMT 7.0 support.  Then we have the QS67 which is a 22x22mm square chipset – whereas the other models measures 25x25mm – with a slightly lower TDP of 3.4W compared to 3.9W of the regular chipsets. The QS67 is intended for small form factor notebooks, presumably 12-inches and below. Finally we have the UM67 which features the same 3.4W TDP as the QS67, but this chipset still measures 25x25mm and is otherwise identical to the HM65, with the exception of the USB 2.0 port support, as the HM65 chipset only supports 12 ports and all the other models support 14.

We’ll go into more details about the various features in the reviews (yes, there will be multiple reviews), as this was the summary of the various components of the new platforms rather than a detailed breakdown of it all. The reviews will be trickling out over the next week or so covering the various details of the desktop platform, as we have as yet to get our hands on a Sandy Bridge notebook. We doubt we’ll be able to get hold of a review unit until after CES, but rest assure that we’ve put in requests with a few notebook manufacturers for review units to look at.S|A

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