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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

sandybridge 2011

If you’re eying one of Asus’ new Sandy Bridge motherboards for your next PC build, mark January 5, 2011 on your calendar, because that’s when Intel will launch their new CPU/GPU line at CES. The company claims that they’ll have the “world’s fastest processor” on display there, but does that mean you should become a Sandy Bridge early adopter?

Let’s look at what these CPU/GPU hybrid chips are all about, and how they’ll compare to Intel’s current models.

Sandy Bridge, like competitor AMD’s upcoming “APU” chips, puts graphics on the same chip as the processor. The idea behind this move is to bring your hardware closer together, allowing the CPU and GPU to share resources and work in tandem with one another.

To get a better grasp on the concept at work here, think of your computer’s processing like a human brain. On one side you’ve got the left-brain, the heavy number-crunching CPU. On the other side, you’ve got the visually-oriented GPU right brain. Both sides are part of your computer’s “thinking,” but each one has its own specialty. Until recently, the GPU has been located either on a separate card or wired into the motherboard—kind of like having your left brain in your head, and your right brain in one of your legs. Intel’s previous Arrandale and Clarkdale models closed that distance by putting the CPU and GPU into the same processor package, though still on separate dies. But hybrid chips like Sandy Bridge truly bring the two hemispheres together into the same 32nm skull, letting them intelligently work together.

This close association between the CPU and GPU is a point of confusion among many techies, who assume that hybrid chips are a forced replacement of the usual discrete PCI Express hardware they’re used to. But a quick glance over the new Asus Sandy Bridge motherboard lineup should clear up that point: Many of the new Asus boards are built with a graphics card (or more than one) in mind, and don’t even support the integrated Sandy Bridge graphics.

Another common misconception is that the Sandy Bridge on-chip graphics will be more of the usual low-end you’ve come to expect from integrated graphics. But early Sandy Bridge testing demonstrates that the built in graphics processing shouldn’t be brushed aside. According to Anandtech, Intel’s hybrid performs “like a low end discrete part, not an integrated GPU.” That could mean the gradual extermination of integrated graphics , and much better game performance on mid-level hardware.

For high end gaming rigs, however, Sandy Bridge is important to you as a whole new architecture of Intel processors. You can expect to see the same i3 (low end), i5 (mid level), and i7 (high performance) naming convention , only with a “2” before the model number to designate the new generation. So, for instance, the i5-2540M is a Sandy Bridge chip, while the i5-540M is an older Arrandale model.

Until the full line of Sandy Bridge processors can be thoroughly benchmarked, it’s difficult to know exactly how they’ll compare to Intel’s older line. But early indications are that we can expect better performance with lower power requirements, and integrated graphics beyond anything we’ve seen before.

Do you think your next computer will use a Sandy Bridge processor? Or will you wait until it can be benchmarked against AMD’s upcoming APUs?

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