Sandy Bridge, Part 4: Core i5-2400, i5-2500K and i7-2600K CPUs

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SPCR Score

In our opinion, CPU selection should be based on a combination of performance, cost, and energy efficiency. With this in mind we created a weighted scoring system, with each aspect having equal worth. The best performing processor in each category received 33.33 points and the rest scored proportionally. The perfect CPU would ideally have a total score of 100. For the energy efficiency portion of score, we assumed that half of its operating life would be at low load (the average of idle and video playback consumption) and the other half at high load (the average consumption during our timed tests).

When all three aspects are taken into account, the i5-2400 and i5-2500K seem to be the best all-around CPUs on the market. The i7-2600K doesn't pack as much of a punch for its higher price, but it still scores very well. The Core i5-750 and dual core Core i5-661 are solid choices, depending on your usage pattern. Multitasking and threaded-applications obviously favor the quad core i5-750. As for AMD, they were struggling to remain competitive before the launch of Sandy Bridge, and now they've fallen further behind.

Not all of our readers will agree with our weighting system, but it gives you a good starting point. If you care more about performance, pad the score of the Sandy Bridge processors and the i7-870. If you believe energy efficiency is more important, knock the Phenom II's down a peg or two. If cost is an issue, bump the AMD chips up instead, as well as the LGA1156 chips.

FINAL THOUGHTS

With Sandy Bridge, Intel has set new standards in both performance and power consumption. Not only is the new hardware faster and more efficient, it is also not that expensive. These LGA1155 chips obliterate their comparably priced competition, with the Core i5-2400 and i5-2500K offering the best overall value. The i7-2600K offers a slight clock speed bump and Hyper-threading, but with most applications, the performance boost is generally not worth the US$100 extra over the i5-2500K. However as premium Intel processors go, the markup is fairly low. Also note that the "K" series reportedly overclocks very well.

With all this goodness, end-users will rejoice, but there are also those who will be ticked off. Enthusiasts who bet on LGA1366 (and paid a healthy premium doing so) are now stuck with hardware that is worth significantly less than what they invested. LGA1366 motherboards and processors still start at about US$170 and US$300 respectively, but LGA1155 has made the platform almost dead in the water unless serious price cuts are enacted. The only LGA1366 processors that haven't yet been cannibalized by Sandy Bridge are the uber-expensive six core/twelve thread models. Ultimately, however, even deep price cuts are not likely to help, nor are the likely to be in Intel's plans — the replacement for socket 1366 is scheduled to appear in Q3 this year.

Meanwhile AMD fans are seeing their horse fall even further behind in the race. The top-of-the-line Phenom II's can't touch Sandy Bridge's speed, nor can they compete in energy efficiency. There is a possible light at the end of the tunnel as AMD is slated to launch the new processor, Bulldozer, this summer. But given the prowess of Sandy Bridge, AMD has to knock it out of the park. This is especially true as Intel has yet another CPU line coming out in Q3 for socket LGA2011, the official successor to LGA1366. Currently, AMD on the desktop seems advisable only if you're on a tight budget.

Our thanks to Intel and AMD and for Core i5/i7 and Phenom II X4/X6 samples used in this review.

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Articles of Related Interest
Sandy Bridge, Part 3: Gigabyte P67A-UD4 & Intel DP67BG P67 Motherboards
Sandy Bridge, Part 2: Intel DH67BL & Asus P8H67-M EVO H67 Motherboards
Sandy Bridge, Part 1: Intel GMA HD 3000/2000 Graphics
AMD Athlon II X3: Affordable Compromise
Athlon II X4 610e & Phenom II X4 910e: 45W & 65W Quad Cores
Intel Core i5-661: A 32nm CPU with Integrated Graphics

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