Intel has launched a new Central Processor Unit family every year for the last few years with Tick/Tock regularity. Each Tick is a new architecture with the Pentium, Pentium Pro, Pentium MMX, Pentium II, Pentium III, Pentium IV, Prescott, Core, Core 2, Dual Core, Core i7 and so forth. The last major launch was the Nehalem family with the Core i7 launch in 2008.
Intel launched the Clarkdale family of processors which was the “Tock” of the Nehalem family. This added graphics onto the processor die as a separate chip. The issue with that is there are still two separate chips on the processor meaning that a separate memory controller for the graphics chip was required. Today marks the launch of a new family of processors, called Sandy Bridge. This is the first Intel processor to have the graphics chip integrated into the CPU core meaning that caches and memory will be shared by the same chip rather than a separate chip on the same die. This is the start of a new paradigm of processors where every processor sold will have integrated graphics on the same chip as the processor and the graphics performance will be leaps and bounds above the previous generation.
That is what Sandy Bridge is all about and today we have a new processor on the review bench, the Core i7-2600K. It should be an interesting review as it is a major change to the architecture for Intel and a new direction for processors that will be joined by AMD in upcoming months. To coincide with the new processor launch, Intel is also launching a new motherboard chipset family, the 6 series family of motherboards. This is the latest chipset integrating support for the new LGA-1155 Sandy Bridge CPUs and support for SATA 6 Gb/second devices. As the new CPUs are not compatible with the older P55/Q57 chipset, this is a recurring theme with new processor family launches. Intel generally releases a new motherboard chipset to support new processor transitions. On the one hand this helps bring the latest technologies into the chipset, like support for SATA 6 Gb/second. On the other hand, this method of upgrade paths means you can’t just drop in a new CPU into an older motherboard as you could with the AMD processors. In any event, this is about the new CPU/motherboard combination and not on the upgrade path for the different platforms (Intel/AMD).