Sandy Bridge rumors

The numbers

AN INFAMOUS ENTHUSIAST at XtremeSystems called “JCornell” has posted what seems to be the first information about Intel’s next generation processor codenamed Sandy Bridge. Sandy Bridge is Intel’s 32nm tock and is essentially a Clarkdale 32nm CPU with the 45nm GMCH shrunken to 32nm and merged onto the CPU die. Thats right, while AMD has been talking a lot about fusion for half a decade, Intel seems to be getting there first.

The CPUZ and Everest screenshots show an “A2” stepping, dual core, four thread, Sandy Bridge processor.

So whats new? First of all and most importantly, the socket. While the socket looks pretty much identical to an LGA1156 socket, it’s not. Sandy Bridge will use the VRM 13 spec, which means it needs a PWM (power management) redesign and won’t work in older LGA1156 mainboards, while current socket LGA1156 CPUs won’t work in the new socket LGA1155 boards. Note how the CPU socket is actually labeled 115X. Maybe Intel will decide to remove a few pins shortly before the launch just as they did with the LGA1156 socket to confuse everybody once again.

The block is 100MHz instead of 133MHz and we heard confirmation that this time around Intel finally managed to get rid of the ck505 on the boards, something Intel wanted to do on socket LGA1366 already. This means all the clocks are created and managed internally, which has overclockers worried. According to rumors Sandy Bridge (115X) won’t overclock as nicely as Bloomfield (1366), Gulftown (1366), Lynnfield (1156) or Clarkdale (1156) processors, which have a default base clock of 133MHz and reach 200MHz with aircooling easily and up to 240MHz if you’re lucky.

The cache structure has apparently been updated and tweaked as well. Compared to Intel’s latest 32nm Clarkdale processor Sandy Bridge has double the L1 Instruction cache width, 8-way versus 4-way, a smaller L3 cache of only 3MB versus 4MB, and a narrower L3 cache interface of only 12-way associativity versus 16-way.

Sandy Bridge

It also supports AVX, an evolution of SSE which is going to replace that and doubles the vector registers’ width from 128-bit to 256-bit.

This should boost the processor’s floating-point performance, which is actually something games seem to like, but it is mostly aimed at the scientific field and is somewhat of a secret weapon for Intel against GPGPU. While Linux already supports AVX, Windows doesn’t. Windows 7 SP1 is supposed to support it, but that’s still at least a couple of months away and should come out at the end of the year. Which is another hint at the Christmas season.

And don’t expect a notable performance boost. This is pretty much the same step Intel has taken in its Atom CPU lineup from Diamondville to Pine View, that is, shrinking the chipset and merging it into the CPU core, so the main focus is cost and power consumption. While AVX should improve floating-point performance, which games do like, we don’t know whether the new registers will boost the performance of SSE code in current games as well, or if so by how much.

Where Sandy Bridge will be very interesting is in the mobile segment, which is where Intel is apparently planning to launch these chips first. This makes a lot of sense as Clarkdale in its mobile incarnation called Arrandale has so far failed to replace Intel’s CULV lineup, with UM processors nowhere to be found and laptops based on it being delayed with no ETA. There have been hints from industry insiders that Intel couldnt get Arrandale power consumption low enough, not at reasonable yields at least, and has told its customers to wait for a couple of months. It might just skip the ultra low voltage Arrandales and go for Sandy Bridge instead.

Since most of the chipset has been shrunk to 32nm and integrated onto the CPU die, it should offer better dynamic power control and consume much less power overall and especially in idle compared to the 45nm GMCH on Clarkdale processors. While Arrandale processors come in three different TDP groups – M (35W), LM (25W), and UM (18W) – Sandy Bridge processors might knock that down a couple of watts and offer additional power savings that can’t be expressed as TDP, such as idle power consumption and video playback power consumption, etc. Sandy Bridge has potential to enter Atom TDP territory while offering much better performance, something many people have been dreaming about ever since they bought a netbook.

In general there has been a trend of people getting netbooks, then realizing that they were too slow and looking for an alternative that just doesn’t exist so far. CULV offers better performance but is still rather slow and consumes more power than Atom, so batteries don’t last that long either. Sandy Bridge should fit perfectly here and should be fast enough. Equipped with the right battery, it might finally make the dream of a full working day long battery life come true.S|A

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