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She's finally here. At last, Intel is taking the wraps off of one of the most anticipated bits of silicon we've seen in years: Sandy Bridge. We've known the architectural details of the processor code-named Sandy Bridge for months-they are formidable, new, and different-but we haven't known exactly how the changes would translate into performance and power efficiency, which is the big question about any product overhauled this extensively. Fortunately, Damage Labs has been churning away for weeks in anticipation of this moment, and we have a pleasantly extensive look at Sandy Bridge's-ahem, I mean "the second-generation Core microprocessors'"-performance ready for your perusal.
Sandy takes the stage
Sandy Bridge is, essentially, a next-generation replacement for Intel's primary CPUs for desktops and laptops, including those based on quad-core Lynnfield and dual-core Clarkdale silicon. Because so much information about Sandy Bridge has been available for months, we're going to skip the architectural deep dive in this review, give you a quick overview of Sandy's key features, and then focus on our test results. The thing is, even a quick overview of this new chip will take some time, simply because so very much has changed.
At the heart of Sandy Bridge is an essentially new processor microarchitecture, the most sweeping architectural transition from Intel since the introduction of the star-crossed Pentium 4. Nearly everything has changed, from the branch predictors through the out-of-order execution engine and into the memory subsystem. The goal: to achieve higher performance and power efficiency, even on single-threaded tasks, where the integration of multiple CPU cores hasn't been much help. Additionally, each of those cores holds a revamped floating-point unit that supports a new instruction set called AVX. These instructions allow the processing of vectors up to 256 bits in width, and the hardware supports them quite fully. The result should be much higher sustained rates of throughput for floating-point math, giving new life to media processing applications and other sorts of data-parallel computation.
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