Intel's 'Sandy Bridge' To The Video Age

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Along with the new year, Intel this week rings in Sandy Bridge, the new processor and desktop computing platform that is sure to prove an important part of the reseller's 2011 product base. While companies such as Apple, HP and Lenovo already have announced plans to incorporate the low-cost processors in their products, Intel says that the channel also will play a major role in the chips' distribution strategy.

To be officially unveiled at CES in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Intel's Core i7 2600K and Core i5 2500K include an integrated high-res graphics processing unit, and afford the most accessibility yet to system clock settings. And with list prices in the $200-$300 range, they're expected to be popular among gamers and other enthusiasts that focus on squeezing every last drop of performance-per-dollar from their PCs.

Not that they would have to overclock the processors at all. Out of the box, the 3.4GHz Core i7 2600K with its four processor cores and eight threads shattered the CRN Test Center's performance records for a quad-core desktop platform, delivering a peak Geekbench score of 12,286. The next highest score for a quad-core desktop was Seneca Data's Nexlink 7100 at 8,513. The 2600K's four cores even outpaced the six cores in AMD's Phenom X6 1100T ($265 list) by about 15 percent.

With performance and clock speed on par with the Phenom 1100T, the Core i5 2500K is a four-core, four-thread circuit running at 3.3GHz in standard mode. Running in Intel's DH67BL motherboard, this part delivered a peak Geekbench score of 10,026, virtually tied with the six-core Phenom's high score of 10,601. Also in the same ballpark price-wise, Intel's integrated GPU gives it the edge both on cost and on versatility of data processing thanks to Quick Sync, the company's proprietary coder/decoder for acceleration of on-the-fly media conversions.

Of course, Intel's integrated graphics are not intended to replace a discrete GPU for machines intended to act as, say, a CAD workstation. When tested with SPEC's Viewperf 11, the vector processing capabilities of the Core i5 2500K were less than ideal. Still, the K-series chips will fulfill an important need to satisfy the graphics processing needs of a fast-growing number of amateur videographers populating today's media-hungry social networks. And both processors ran cool and consumed very little wattage.

Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini said recently that Intel's K-series parts will do for today's computing experience what its Pentium did in the 1990s. "What the Pentium did was enable the beginning of the multimedia computing era," he said during a keynote he delivered at COMDEXvirtual last November. Today, everything is about video, he said, be it for corporate or consumer, sharing or conferencing. "What this product was engineered for was the optimized video visual experience."

And Intel's new sharper prices will further grease the skids. We tested the Core i5 2500K on Intel's DH76BL motherboard, at $107 list. The Core i7 2600K was tested on its DP67BG motherboard, which lists for $184. We were running 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate with 4GB of Dominator GT 2000 MHz DDR3 memory. The new motherboards are equipped with the new LGA 1155 Socket H2 and H67 Express chipset, both of which are required to service the new processors.

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