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Although the new Sandy Bridge architecture may not be revolutionary, it is a much improved version of Nehalem as it seems to do everything a little better. When compared to the Clarkdale Core i5 661 processor which we reviewed exactly a year ago, the Core i7 2600K and Core i5 2500K processors proved to be far more exciting products.
The Core i5 661 was the first Intel CPU to feature built-in graphics, however its performance, and particularly the features were quite lackluster. In terms of value we failed to see the appeal in desktop Clarkdale processors considering that AMD was offering powerful quad-cores for the same price that could then be paired with feature-rich chipsets, such as the 890GX, for very little expense.
This time around the GPU performance of the Sandy Bridge processors is quite impressive and unlike anything we've seen from an integrated solution before. Granted the performance won't blow gamers socks off, but it'll allow to enjoy titles such as StarCraft II with relatively modest settings. Perhaps most importantly, the much improved integrated GPU will play an important role in upcoming notebooks, nettops and HTPCs.
The media processing engine is also a big deal and with its video transcode support this is a feature that certainly makes the Core i5 2500K, Core i7 2600K and other Sandy Bridge processors very exciting.
When running our various encoding benchmarks such as HandBrake, TMPGEnc 4.0 Xpress and the synthetic x264 HD Benchmark 3.0, we were in awe of the performance. Both the Core i7 2600K and Core i5 2500K processors were considerably faster than the Core i7 975 Extreme Edition and Phenom II X6 1100T processors – at a fraction of the price.
Application performance was also excellent. We saw impressive results when testing with Microsoft Excel 2010, but Adobe Photoshop CS5 truly made them shine.
The gaming performance results also painted an encouraging picture. We didn't expect to see much gains here considering that we test using realistic gaming settings and not ultra-low resolutions that remove GPU limitations. When playing StarCraft II, the Core i7 2600K and Core i5 2500K processors were the fastest of the bunch, with the Core i5 2500K crushing earlier Core i5 models. Impressive results were also seen when testing with Civilization V.
All that said, the power consumption figures were the icing on the cake. The Core i7 2600K, which was faster than the Core i7 975 Extreme Edition in almost every test we ran, consumed 44% less power.
Outstanding products: Intel Core i5 2500K and Intel Core i7 2600K Processors
In terms of pricing consumers also appear to be getting more bang for their buck. The Core i7 2600K is priced at $317 with the standard version costing slightly less at $294. This is comparable to the Core i7 875K ($319) and Core i7 950 ($294), both of which are slower.
The Core i5 2500K costs $216, and $205 for the standard version. This places it alongside the Core i5 655K ($200) and Core i5 750 ($200) processors which we featured in this review, again the Core i5 2500K proved to be considerably faster than both.
Overall the new Sandy Bridge range looks impressive based on what we've been able to sample from the new Core i7 2600K and Core i5 2500K processors. Performance has been boosted in all areas, while power consumption has been significantly reduced and a number of impressive features have been added. The best part is consumers will enjoy the 2nd generation of Intel Core processors without paying a price premium.