As a part of Intel's "Tick Tock", the new Core i5-2500K and Core i7-2600K are a new design on a tested process. What does that mean? Well, Intel typically moves to a new process or die shrink with an existing design (with some improvements) to help alleviate problems that could arise from trying to reduce transistor size AND build a new CPU. The first CPUs built on the 32nm process that Sandy Bridge will use were the Nehalem based Westmere CPUs. Again, this was an extension of the Nehalem microarchitecture while Sandy Bridge is something new.
The first new item on the list (besides the 32nm process) is the inclusion of a GPU right inside the CPU die. This is not like the Clarkdale CPUs where the GPU was tacked onto the CPU packaging. Here we see the GPU as an integrated part of the CPU (it even shares the same cache as the CPU cores). The new HD 2000/3000 GPU is capable of supporting 3D Stereoscopic Blu-ray playback at 1080p over HDMI along with the usual HD audio. You also get DX10.1 (sorry no DX11 just yet) and Open GL 3.0 support and 3D gaming support.
The HD 2000/3000 not only shares the cache of the CPU, but also is directly connected to the CPU cores. This allows for much faster response and processing of data between the two components as well as fast access to the shared system memory. For those of you thinking about OpenCL and GPU processing, we are not sure if you will be getting that at this stage. After all, you do not get full OpenCL support until DX11. That does not mean you are not getting some in hardware processing, though.
Looking things over, it seems that Intel has made some significant changes to the way certain items are handled by the GPU. On the Clarkdale most of your video processing was done by software. With Sandy Bridge everything is moved into hardware; Intel calls this Quick Sync Video. This new GPU bound technology will be available in more than a few software titles this year.
Another new feature (and one we expect from new CPUs) is an improved power design. Intel has created a new power algorithm that allows them to combine the CPU, GPU and many functions of the Northbridge into a single monolithic die that still fits into a 95W TDP envelope (even less on the mobile CPUs). This new power algorithm is tied into the Turbo Boost 2.0 feature and can dynamically allocate power to both the CPU and GPU as needed. This comes into play with single threaded applications that may be graphics intensive (like some older games), but does have a small drawback.
If you remember with Clarkdale there were certain issues with overclocking if you were using the built-in graphics. This was due to the way the CPU allocated power between the two separate pieces (CPU and GPU). With Sandy Bridge the CPU and GPU are part of one monolithic die. They share cache and also power gates. Because of this Intel has had to lock the power gates to the BCLK; this prevents almost all BLCK overclocking as any adjustment to the 100MHz BCLK can throw the power system into disarray.
That does not mean you can't overclock, it just means that you will have to stick with kicking up the multiplier instead of adjusting the internal BCLK. We will show you what we mean a little later in our overclocking section.
Next up on the "new" list is a new set of instructions called AVX or Advanced Vector Extension. This new set of instructions allows for "enhanced floating point intensive application performance". This is an extension of the existing x86 instruction set and pushes the SMID registers from 128 to 256-bits. Additional features of this new set of instructions are the ability to combine two operands (instructions) to be combined into a three part group where the destination or outcome is a completely different register than exists in the original two instruction group.
For example, if you have X:=X+Y, AVX can change this to Q:=X+Y. This maintains the integrity of the operands in the original two registers. This type of instruction is great for workloads that require intensive number crunching. It also happens to be great for multi-media and content creation; both of which happen to be about number crunching when you boil everything else away.
There are other items that are in the new Sandy Bridge, things like a new socket where they've moved from the 1156 to 1155 (because of the inclusion of the GPU). But when it all comes down to it, Sandy Bridge is all about multi-media. Whether it is watching a Blu-ray movie, encoding video for YouTube, or playing a game, Intel has built this new CPU with those features and market demands in mind. Even the new AVX instructions are aimed at content consumption and creation. Now it is up to us to see if it can live up to Intel's claims.