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Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

Posted October 21, 2010 12:00 AM by Kaplin

I've been asked by more than one of my friends lately to help them pick out a new PC. The only advice I could give to them was DON'T... at least not right now (unless of course, you really can't wait).

The reasoning for this is that Intel is gearing up to launch a new family of processors in early 2011 called Sandy Bridge. The new processors are being touted as the single largest increase in computing performance in Intel's history.

Tick-Tock
Intel will be following its Tick-Tock schedule with the release of Sandy Bridge. Tick-Tock is a model Intel adopted in 2007, which alternates a die shrink in the fabrication process (Tick) with new processor microarchitecture (Tock)

Sandy Bridge fits in as a Tock in Intel's roadmap, which means it will still be made with the same 32nm fabrication process as the previous Westmere chips, but with a completely new chip design. This will be followed by the Sandy Bridge architecture being shrunk down to 22nm, in late 2011, with chips that are being called "Ivy Bridge" as the Tick in Intel's cycle.

CPU + GPU = True Love 4 Ever?
The biggest change with the upcoming Sandy Bridge architecture is the fact that Intel has included the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) on the same chip. Although it has been tried before, this is the first time the graphics included on the main processor should be sufficient for average users, who will no longer need a dedicated video card.

Some people have said the inclusion of a GPU on the same silicon as the CPU is a death knell for graphics card makers, such as Nvidia. Although I'm sure this will put a dent in Nvidia's sales, anyone who plays games or does graphics-intensive work will surely still require a dedicated graphics card, which can deliver much better performance than the built-in GPU.

AMD Bulldozer
Intel's main competitor, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), manufactures chips that are known to boast decent performance at a price significantly lower than Intel's chips. However, AMD has had trouble matching the speed of Intel's Core2 family of chips launched last year, with Intel benchmarks consistently beating AMDs.

Intel is not alone in their quest to combine the CPU & GPU as AMD has seen that future years ago when they purchased ATI in 2006. Since merging with the 2nd largest video processor company, AMD has catapulted ahead of Intel in the graphics department, which Intel hopes to change with the release of Sandy Bridge. AMD is not just treading water as they gear up to introduce their own new line of chips in 2011 named Bulldozer. These processors boast a full 8-cores, which might seem to be overkill as most applications still don't even take advantage of 4-core machines.

Conclusion
There are still a few uncertainties regarding the launch of Sandy Bridge -- the foremost being cost, which Intel has made no inclinations. Another big question mark is whether there is a real performance boost from having the GPU on the same chip as the CPU, and if mainstream users will be happy with its results.

Personally, my home desktop is five years old and is on its last legs as I have had to rebuild it four times in the past six months. It is a little more stable now that I downgraded from a 64bit operating system to a 32bit OS, but I am hopeful that it will last me until I can take advantage of a system sporting one of these new chips.

Anyone else in the market for a new desktop or laptop?

More Info:
Intel's Sandy Bridge Graphics: How Good Is It?
Intel's Sandy Bridge Info, SSD Roadmap Leaked

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#1

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/21/2010 4:54 AM

I was under the impression that most programs don't even use dual core processors effectively.
Pencil me in for my usual whingeing about MS's abysmal operating system full of bloatware. I'll bet most 5 year old machines would still work like a dream on something like Win 98 version several with service pack 23.5 and the "it would be fine but we're working on the next unnecessary OS so we can't be bothered to do 'em "fixes.
Now look what you've made me write...
Time for tea and bickies
Del
BTW, offering advice about purchasing almost anything is pretty much a no win situation.

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#3
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Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/21/2010 8:07 AM

That was true about 8 years ago when dual core processors were first released but at this point virtually every machine sold has at least 2 cores. Looking online at NewEgg, they sell over 90 different processors and only 1 Intel single-core Celeron processor is left on the market. Everything else Intel makes is dual, quad, or hex core. At this point most software has been rewritten to take advantage of 2 cores, as for the 4 and 6 core processors, you are right about most software not using it yet.

I do say I was impressed when I was using a music converting program that would convert tracks two at a time due to the dual-core processor.

As for the Windows comments, I think they made a few big missteps but are mostly back on track now. FYI - Windows XP and older systems won't recognize hard drives larger than 2TB. (2.5 and 3TB just released this week.) But that is another discussion.

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#9
In reply to #3

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 3:41 AM

I reckon one could count the number of PC users who generate a file bigger than 2 TB on the thumbs of one hand. If you have a drive of that size you will find it much easier to work with two or more partitions.

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#10
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Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 7:49 AM

Not saying the files are larger than 2TB but if the drive is that large then Windows XP won't even be able to recognize the drive in order to partition it... being that I keep all my movies, TV and music on my PC, my 5TBs of space is running low.

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#13
In reply to #10

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 9:47 AM

Are you sure? In servers NTFS supports volume sizes up to almost 256 TB, see http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc784748(WS.10).aspx. Why is XP limited to 2TB?

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#14
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Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 10:05 AM

It has to do with 32-bit systems using Master Boot Record (MBR) to partition drives which cap at 2.19TB. Newer 64-bit OS use GUID Partition Table (GPT) which doesn't have that cap.

XP systems can only use the entire drive in an external enclosure with special drivers that "trick" the OS. (Which is why Seagate has 3TB external but has been hesitant to release an internal version)

Check out this article from Wired: WD's New 3TB Drive Packs More Storage Than 32-Bit Can Handle

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#2

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/21/2010 6:38 AM

I'm hoping to build myself a new desktop PC at some point next year... my current one is showing signs of aging. Thanks for the info on the new chips on the horizon - I figured that the Core i7's would be on top for a while.

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#4
In reply to #2

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/21/2010 8:08 AM

Actually i7s will still be on top as the new Sandy Bridge chips will use the same overall naming convention of i3, i5, and i7 but will be followed by a 4 digit model number instead of the older 3 digits.

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#5

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/21/2010 10:00 AM

It will be interesting to see how much power this new architecture uses before the die shrink. With a TDP of up to 95W this thing will need serious cooling. My Radeon 5870 based card already needs two dedicated power connections and sucks up a significant amount of power. Also if it's using DDR3 system RAM for graphics I expect that to be sluggish compared to GDDR5 memory used in graphics cards. Fine for the average user but terrible for newer games.

One troubling aspect of the new design is the inclusion of a new "security" feature :

From the Wikipedia article : "It has security features that include the ability to remotely disable a PC or erase information from hard drives without permission from the current operator of the PC. This can be useful in the case of a lost or stolen PC. The commands can be received through 3G signals, ethernet, or internet connections" This is a wet dream for hackers.

Finally I would be remiss without pointing out the distinction between silicon and silicone. Silicon is an element that is used for integrated circuit substrates. Silicone is a chemical compound used in adhesives and boobs.

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/21/2010 5:47 PM

Your power consumption remarks are noteworthy. Intel's six core "Gulftown" i7 has a TDP of 130 watts, and a top-line video card such as ATI's HD 4870 X2 can pull as much as 300 watts. By the time you throw in HDDs, RAM, etc, a cutting edge work station or gaming rig can draw more power than a refigerator.

Please understand that I am not a "green freak" but, I personally think that Intel, AMD and nVidia would be doing everyone a favor if they concentrated on making their entire lines as thrifty as their mobile models. My 14.1" Lenovo T61 with a 2GHz Core2Duo and nVidia Quadro NVS 140M runs at an average of 35 watts. Makes for much small electric bills.

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#11
In reply to #5

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 8:44 AM

Intel should only consider coupling the CPU/GPU on mobile chip versions. For a desktop it makes more sense to use a standalone graphics card. Try running Solidworks on an integrated graphics chip, forget it....

The silicone / Silicon thing drives me nuts too. I had a boss that I was pitching an idea to and it used silicone for one of the parts and he was against it right away because he thought I was talking about using silicon. I had to explain the difference!

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#7

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 12:05 AM

1. One should never EVER buy the latest version of hardware or software- wait a bit and let them work out the bugs (I don't remember which generation it was, but it wasn't all that long ago that one of Intel's releases had a divide-by-zero fault that wasn't caught until after release).

2. After my experiences with Intel integrated graphics chipsets, I am not sure I trust Intel to get the drivers right...NVIDIA knows how to write a proper graphics driver.

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#8
In reply to #7

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 2:26 AM

Bravo, sanity at last, of course your comment doesn't apply to KrisDelTM products which are all rigorously churned out without testing, debugged.
Del

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#12

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/22/2010 9:12 AM

While 'waiting' for the newer architecture chips to come out before buying a new computer is sane advice, buying this 'older' stuff right now is actually a good deal. I just recently put together a system, including X58 motherboard, i7-950 and 6GB RAM using my existing case, hard drives and OS for less than $700. Quite a performance increase for a very reasonable cost. I would expect the prices to continue to come down as the 'newer' stuff gets released.

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#15

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/28/2010 1:30 AM

Does not matter if they have 2 cores, 4 cores or 8 cores. As it is software has hit the wall and can not make use of all the cores. They have also come against the hard drive wall and can not cope effectively with 3 TB hard drives let alone anything beyond that. Until and when software passes hardware we are not going to see much in the way of improvements.

Kinda like giving a Porsche to a 90 year old woman. She does not have the capability to make full use of it.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Sandy Bridge Computers - Worth Waiting For

10/28/2010 1:37 AM

Actually, there are some sophisticated software packages that can deal with multiple cores quite handsomely- specifically, Code_Saturne, a CFD package (also included in the CAELinux Multiphysics package). Of course, one needs to look to the OpenSource community for state-of.-the-art performance...I think Code_Saturne may be limited to eight cores, but I am not sure...

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