In 2006 Intel introduced its tick-tock cadence for microprocessor releases. Every year would see the release of a new family of microprocessors as either a tick or a tock. Ticks would keep architectures relatively unchanged and focus on transitions to smaller manufacturing technologies, while tocks would keep fab process the same and revamp architecture. Sandy Bridge was the most recent tock, and arguably the biggest one since Intel started down this road.

At a high level the Sandy Bridge CPU architecture looked unchanged from prior iterations. Intel still put forth a 4-issue machine with a similar number of execution resources to prior designs. Looking a bit closer revealed that Intel completely redesigned the out-of-order execution engine in Sandy Bridge, while heavily modifying its front end. Sandy Bridge also introduced Intel's high performance ring bus, allowing access to L3 by all of the cores as well as Intel's new on-die GPU.

The Sandy Bridge GPU was particularly surprising. While it pales in comparison to the performance of the GPU in AMD's Llano, it does represent the first substantial effort by Intel in the GPU space. Alongside the integrated GPU was Intel's first hardware video transcoding engine: Quick Sync. In our initial review we found that Quick Sync was the best way to quickly transcode videos, beating out both AMD and NVIDIA GPU based implementations in our tests. Quick Sync adoption has been limited at best, which is unfortunate given how well the feature performed in our tests.

Sandy Bridge wasn't all rosy however. It was the first architecture that Intel shipped with overclocking disabled on certain parts. Any CPU without Turbo Boost enabled is effectively unoverclockable. Intel killed the low end overclocking market with Sandy Bridge.

The overclocking limits were a shame as Sandy Bridge spanned a wide range of price points. The low end Core i3-2100 was listed at $117 while the highest end Core i7-2600K came in at $317. While you can't claim that Sandy Bridge was overpriced at the high end, there's always room for improvement.

Despite abandoning Pentium as a high end brand with the 2006 release of Intel's Core 2 Duo, Intel has kept the label around for use on its value mainstream parts. Last year we saw only two Pentium branded Clarkdale parts: the G6950 and G6960. This year, powered by Sandy Bridge, the Pentium brand is a bit more active.

Processor Core Clock Cores / Threads L3 Cache Max Turbo Max Overclock Multiplier TDP Price
Intel Core i7 2600K 3.4GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.8GHz 57x 95W $317
Intel Core i7 2600 3.4GHz 4 / 8 8MB 3.8GHz 42x 95W $294
Intel Core i5 2500K 3.3GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.7GHz 57x 95W $216
Intel Core i5 2500 3.3GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.7GHz 41x 95W $205
Intel Core i5 2400 3.1GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.4GHz 38x 95W $184
Intel Core i5 2300 2.8GHz 4 / 4 6MB 3.1GHz 34x 95W $177
Intel Core i3 2120 3.3GHz 2 / 4 3MB N/A N/A 65W $138
Intel Core i3 2100 2.93GHz 2 / 4 3MB N/A N/A 65W $117
Intel Pentium G850 2.9GHz 2 / 2 3MB N/A N/A 65W $86
Intel Pentium G840 2.8GHz 2 / 2 3MB N/A N/A 65W $75
Intel Pentium G620 2.6GHz 2 / 2 3MB N/A N/A 65W $64
Intel Pentium G620T 2.2GHz 2 / 2 3MB N/A N/A 35W $70

The new Sandy Bridge based Pentiums fall into two lines at present: the G800 and G600. All SNB Pentiums have two cores (HT disabled) with 256KB L2 per core and a 3MB L3 cache. CPU core turbo is disabled across the entire Pentium line. From a performance standpoint, other than missing hyper threading and lower clocks - the Sandy Bridge Pentiums are very similar to Intel's Core i3.

Intel continues to separate the low end from the high end by limiting supported instructions. None of the Pentiums support AES-NI or VT-d. Other than higher clock speeds the 800 series only adds official DDR3-1333 support. The 600 series only officially supports up to DDR3-1066.

All standard Pentiums carry a 65W TDP. The Pentium G620T runs at a meager 2.2GHz and manages a 35W TDP. Regardless of thermal rating, the boxed SNB Pentiums come with an ultra low profile cooler:

These Pentium CPUs work in the same 6-series LGA-1155 motherboards as their Core i3/5/7 counterparts. The same rules apply here as well. If you want video out from the on-die GPU you need either an H-series or a Z-series chipset.

The Pentium GPU

When Intel moved its integrated graphics on-package with Clarkdale it dropped the GMA moniker and started calling it HD Graphics. When it introduced the Sandy Bridge Core i3/5/7, Intel added the 2000 and 3000 suffixes to the HD Graphics brand. With the Sandy Bridge Pentium, Intel has gone back to calling its on-die GPU "HD Graphics".

Despite the name, the Pentium's HD Graphics has nothing in common with Clarkdale's GPU. The GPU is still on-die and it features the same architecture as Intel's HD Graphics 2000 (6 EUs). Performance should be pretty similar as it even shares the same clock speeds as the HD 2000 (850MHz base, 1.1GHz turbo for most models). I ran a quick test to confirm that what Intel is selling as HD Graphics is really no different than the HD Graphics 2000 in 3D performance:

Intel HD vs 2000 vs 3000 - Crysis Warhead

All is well in the world.

Where the vanilla HD Graphics loses is in video features: Quick Sync, InTru 3D (Blu-ray 3D), Intel Insider (DRM support for web streaming of high bitrate HD video) and Clear Video HD (GPU accelerated post processing) are all gone. Thankfully you do still get hardware H.264 video acceleration and fully audio bitstreaming support (including TrueHD/DTS-HD MA).

Missing Quick Sync is a major blow, although as I mentioned earlier I'm very disappointed in the poor support for the feature outside of the initial launch applications. The rest of the features vary in importance. To someone building a basic HTPC, a Sandy Bridge Pentium will do just fine. Personally I never play anything in 3D, never use the Clear Video HD features and never use Intel Insider so I wouldn't notice the difference between a Sandy Bridge Pentium and a Core i5 for video playback.

The Matchup
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  • Shadowmaster625 - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    Despite the fact that these chips are so crappy, they will still outsell amd's cheaper alternative by a factor of at least 3 to 1. AMD could give you an A6-3650+FCH for the same price as a G850+chipset, and the G850 would still outsell it by 2:1.
  • yankeeDDL - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    I totally agree.
    Exactly like the Pentium 4 still surpassed the Athlon when it came out. Made no sense, but people still bought it.
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    There's more to it back then. Intel was using anti-competative practices to keep OEMs away from AMD. Now I think a huge part of AMDs problem is supply. Even now, there's a pretty nice mix of AMD and Intel products at B&M stores.

    That said, I totally loathe Intel's CPU marketing. You have to do in depth research on their products because features are randomly disabled down the product line. There's no good reason for it, and it just goes to show what Intel would sell you if there was no AMD.
  • CeriseCogburn - Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - link

    Just look at the gaming benchmarks - the "crappy" G850 is at the top of the chart, the a6-3650 is 2/3rds to the bottom.
    The difference in G850 winning frame rates over a6-3650 is a gigantic super-win when it comes to evaluating video cards, so why does your prediction surprise you ? Why scowl and moan about it, amd loses and should sell less.

    Do you want to buy a new motherboard, a new amd APU, get all fired up, drop your $500, then have some crappy Intel cpu with a $50 video card spank the ever loving daylights out of your brand new amd rockin' system ?
    You probably don't, but that's what will happen. So you go buy a new smokin' video card to catch up - and the "crappy" G850 system slams you into the dirt, anyway !

    Two years later, as you moan for amd driver patchings that don't break and fail other things while not really fixing anything except 2 fps in a game you used to play but don't anymore because your crappy amd APU can't keep the frames very high, you spend your upgrade money on depression meds...

    The Intel G850 person upgrades to the then $99 2500K, overclocks it to 4400 on stock volts, and DOUBLES their frame rate. They show.... and you ... well... it's been good knowing you...

    See- that's why 2X the sales really isn't enough. Should be 10X the sales of the amd apu.

    Amd= locked into CRAP a6-3650 failure forever

    Intel= massive G850 upgrade path on the cheap years down the road.
  • alent1234 - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    3 year old intel GMA 950 graphics cards will accelerate flash as well
  • yankeeDDL - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    Correct. Just like any GPU integrated in older north bridges. I think I am missing your point.
  • CeriseCogburn - Monday, June 25, 2012 - link

    Don't you feel like an idiot now yankeeDDL ? The crappy as heck amd APU and it's debilitated motherboard END OF LIFE is already toast.

    If you would have been smart instead of an amd fan with no sense, you would have supported the 850 and said " I can save literaly hundred$ a year or two down the road with a massive cpu upgrade, while amd will leave me and my crap single use cpu in the dirt dung of lonely and slow forever...

    It's nice to see how these amd fan predictions work out - as in "epic fail".
  • BSMonitor - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    It is not aimed at YOU at all. Lenovo, Dell, HP and others LOVE to sell these to the corporate world. The chart that matters most is that power consumption number. The will stick these in their ultra-low end "workstation" and sell millions of them.

    There is a huge number of computer users who need nothing more than a dumb terminal. And these are that. Intel can produce the quantity at a price point that AMD simply cannot offer for this kind of market.
  • Stuka87 - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    Well, probably NOT HP....
  • stimudent - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 - link

    ...and who the hell has a desktop computer anymore??!

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