You've heard about those chips, codenamed "Sandy Bridge" for a long time. Now, you will finally get your hands on them

[CES 2010] CES is the perfect announcement platform for Intel because this is the time for the bi-annual “PC Refresh” that has happened like clockwork for more than a decade now (February/October). The second generation Core Processor, codenamed “Sandy Bridge” improves the performance across the board (sometime in a dramatic way) and lifts the base graphics performance (and compatibility, up to DX10) appreciably, thanks to the graphics processor embedded directly into the CPU itself. In the end, any computer equipped with a 2nd Generation Core Processor should have the horse power to play HD movies, encode HD video faster, and stream protected 1080p HD content wirelessly to a remote display.

What the final computer capabilities are, however, will depends on the actual configuration and software that each PC manufacturer will choose to equip the computer with. For example, the wireless display feature powered by WiDi (Intel Wireless Display) is supported by the chip, but requires the transmission hardware that might or might not be there.

Dramatically faster video compression will only happen if the video software has been designed to use the latest hardware features of the “Sandy Bridge” generation of processors. There’s little doubt that software makers will increasingly rely on the new video hardware as it is embedded in every new Intel processor. These are the things that you should be aware of, so keep an eye out for bundled software.

On the 3D (gaming) graphics side, Sandy Bridge is much (much!) better than Intel’s previous graphics products, there’s no doubt about that. Back then, there was a substantial chance that a recent game might simply not load, or that it might look funky. Now, most games “run”, although not with the highest graphics setting, but it works.. This is a *huge* improvement (ask any game developer). Essentially, PC buyers don’t have to worry (much) about graphics incompatibility anymore, at least for up-to DirectX 10 titles.

Finally, Intel keeps improving on its “X86” processor architecture, and performance for single-core or multi-core applications is up. While its first “Turbo Boost” technology allowed a single core to be “overclocked” (run at a higher frequency), Turbo Boost 2.0 can run up to 4 cores beyond their normal frequency, as long as thermal requirements allow. This is great to not only provide better “absolute” performance, but it also helps save the battery because tasks are executed faster, then the processor can return to a state where it consumes much less energy. From a perceptual perspective, the user feels like using a faster machine – everybody wins.

You can be sure that all computer manufacturers will switch to the Second Generation Core Processor (aka “Sandy Bridge”) pretty quickly because 1/it’s too good to pass on 2/Intel will stop producing the previous ones anyway ;) .

In our own tests, the mid-range Core i5 2500K (3.3Ghz) performed particularly well. In fact, it almost hits the performance level of the Core i7 940 (3.2Ghz), which was a high-end CPU when Core iX processors were introduced. The 2500K does land in the sweet spot in terms of price/performance.

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