Intel Sandy Bridge Core i5-2500K & Core i7-2600K Processors Review

Author: MAC
Date: January 2, 2011
Product Name: Intel Core i5-2500K & Core i7-2600K
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Intel’s launch of Sandy Bridge definitely comes at an interesting time since it has dropped at a time when many believe the CPU and GPU markets are at a crossroads. Each brings a number of strengths and weaknesses but combined, the potential of serial processing on the CPU and parallel processing on a dedicated multi core GPU is literally boundless. The gradual blending of these two once-separate is a foregone conclusion; it is not a question of whether it will happen but rather WHEN this combination will come to pass. Meanwhile, Sandy Bridge seems to be a tentative step towards a seamless integration of both serial and parallel processing nodes onto a single die – a goal which Intel’s competition is well on their way to achieving. Where Sandy Bridge will be in terms of competitive performance in a few months time is anyone’s guess but for the time being, it seems well suited for most current and upcoming market trends.

Overall, both the 2600K and 2500K showed a great amount of potential and really did impress more often than not. In most situations, both chips ran circles around similarly-priced solutions from both Intel’s and AMD’s stables. However, does great performance on paper really make much of a difference for people already using Bloomfield, Lynnfield or higher-end Clarkdale chips? Probably not, unless you've been bit by the upgrade bug, but the newest K-series chips do act as a perfect replacement for consumers still using late model Core 2 products.

While overall performance was extremely good, Sandy Bridge’s efficiency is what really stood out for us. Both the power consumption and thermals really allowed the 2600K and 2500K to stand out from literally every other CPU out there from a performance per watt standpoint. Considering these are two of the higher clocked SKUs in Intel’s Sandy Bridge lineup, the numbers bode extremely well for the mid range chips as well.

Overclocking was an interesting affair to say the least and it is expected that the vast majority of these new processors will have the ability to reach between 4.4Ghz and 4.7Ghz. Anything much more than 4.7Ghz may be hard to achieve initially, but things might change once additional work is done to improve the BLCK and multiplier situation. We know of at least one or two tweaks being worked on right now that have shown some promise in helping raise the max multiplier on chips with an abnormally low max multiplier. On the plus side, those who don't necessarily fall into the hardcore enthusiast category will be glad to know that reaching very high clock speeds has never been simpler than on Sandy Bridge chips, and it doesn't require any fancy cooling since these chips run so cool, even when overclocked and overvolted by a hefty percentage.

Talking about overclocking naturally brings up the Achilles’ Heel Intel has now saddled themselves with. Two CPUs were sent to us: both of which are K-series chips with the unlocked multipliers necessary for any type of meaningful clock speed increases. All of the other “standard” processors have fairly limited overclocking abilities while the P67-based motherboards are the only ones which can actually use the abilities found in the 2600K and 2500K. This basically backs would-be enthusiasts into a corner: choose a P67 motherboard and a premium priced K-series processor or forget about seriously tweaking performance. It seems the days of true budget friendly overclocking are officially dead on the Intel platform and believe us, it will be sorely missed. Now that isn't to say that you can't get a tremendous amount of value out of these new i5-2500K and i7-2600K processors. With a bit of overclocking, you can achieve performance levels that are vastly superior to either of Intel's two six-core 'Gulftown' models, which retail for $900 and over.

Intel has an interesting year coming up with the upcoming LGA 2011 enthusiast processors rearing their heads in Q4 along with (hopefully) increased competition from the AMD side of the fence. For the time being though, Sandy Bridge represents a step in the right direction in terms of performance per watt, integrated GPU performance and feature sets.


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