iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






3rd Generation Intel Core i5, i7 Processors

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Quadcore Ivy Bridge processors have gained much popularity, so it's high time we took a good look at those lineups. All the more, entry-level models spark buyer's interest for two reasons. First, they are cheaper, allowing you to save as much as 35-50 dollars (just like buying a Radeon HD 6670 instead of an HD 7750 or a Radeon HD 6930 instead of an HD 7770). For an economical user, this may be significant. We're not talking about Intel Core i5, because games might not be the only reason you buy a processor. The second reason is a large increase in heat dissipation in Intel 3x70K models (due to smaller dies). Because of that, overclockers may still consider going for 'old-timers' like Intel Core i5-2500K and i7-2600K which are easier to overclock with air coolers. The rest of buyers don't need to pay extra for unlocked multipliers. At the same time, there is no reason to buy regular Sandy Bridge processors because entry-level Ivy Bridge CPUs cost the same but consume less energy by default. They also work slightly faster at the same clock rates due to the improved Turbo Boost. Even if you don't have any serious overclocking in mind, you shouldn't forget you still have Limited Unlocked Core in 3rd Generation processors. It will easily provide extra 400 MHz, entry-level models included, while getting to about 5 GHz will be a challenge even on high-end models due to worse heat dissipation.

Thus we can conclude that entry-level Intel Core i5 and i7 processors are not the most mainstream, being a bit too expensive for the common user with a CPU budget maxed out at $200. Yet these models will surely be more popular than their higher-end counterparts.

Testbed Configuration

CPU Core i5-3450 Core i5-3550 Core i5-3570K Core i7-3770 Core i7-3770K
Core Ivy Bridge QC Ivy Bridge QC Ivy Bridge QC Ivy Bridge QC Ivy Bridge QC
Process technology, nm 22 22 22 22 22
Core clock (std/max), GHz 3.1/3.5 3.3/3.7 3.4/3.8 3.4/3.9 3.5/3.9
Initial multiplier 31 33 34 34 35
Turbo Boost mode 4-4-3-2 4-4-3-2 4-4-3-2 5-5-4-3 4-4-3-2
Cores/threads 4/4 4/4 4/4 4/8 4/8
L1 cache, I/D, KB 32/32 32/32 32/32 32/32 32/32
L2 cache, KB 4x256 4x256 4x256 4x256 4x256
L3 cache, MB 6 6 6 8 8
Uncore clock, GHz 3.1 3.3 3.4 3.4 3.5
RAM 2xDDR3-1600 2xDDR3-1600 2xDDR3-1600 2xDDR3-1600 2xDDR3-1600
Graphics core GMA HD 2500 GMA HD 2500 GMA HD 4000 GMA HD 4000 GMA HD 4000
Socket LGA1155 LGA1155 LGA1155 LGA1155 LGA1155
TDP, W 77 77 77 77 77

This is what the Ivy Bridge lineup looks like today, excluding power-efficient models. This processor generation has more of the latter and fewer regular ones. There was four at the launch of the Core i5-2xxx lineup and three remain in the 3xxx lineup. The number might grow in the future but will hardly catch up with the amount of Sandy Bridge CPUs. Just to remind you: nine Core i5 and three Core i7 models have been produced in the first year and a half since the launch of the Sandy Bridge family. The family we're reviewing today offers three and two models, respectively. At the same time, there have been more S and T modifications from the very launch. This is only logical: if Intel can fit even Core i7 CPUs into the 45 W envelope, why not do it? All the more, current S models differ from regular models by just 12 watts, not 30. They're really focused on power-saving, as you can see.

The results of Core i7-3770 and i7-3770K are perhaps the most interesting. As we can see, the higher reference clock rate of the latter means nothing, because in real life both will most likely work at the same frequencies when in same situations. If this confirms in our tests, you might as well forget about buying a Core i7-3770K for having it work in the reference mode.

In the previous CPU generation, the situation was different: Core i7-2700K had the highest clock rate in the lineup. Another reason not to buy a high-end albeit regular Core i7-2600 was the lack of GMA HD 3000 graphics (as in Core i7-2600K and i7-2700K). This time, there shouldn't be any difference between Core i7-3770 and i7-3770K in the nominal mode. Those extra 100 MHz is a minor bonus, so identical processor numbers are understandable. As for the lower-end Core i5-3570K, it still has a slightly higher frequency than Core i5-3550 has. Moreover, it's the only desktop Core i5 CPU with the GMA HD 3000 graphics core, so the different processor numbers can actually be justified.

CPU Core 2 Duo E8600 Core 2 Quad Q9650 Core i5-750 Core i7-860 Core i7-920
Core Wolfdale Yorkfield Lynnfield Lynnfield Bloomfield
Process technology, nm 45 45 45 45 45
Core clock (std/max), GHz 3.33 3.0 2.66/3.2 2.8/3.46 2.66/2.93
Initial multiplier 10 9 20 21 20
Turbo Boost mode - - 4-4-1-1 5-4-1-1 2-1-1-1
Cores/threads 2/2 4/4 4/4 4/8 4/8
L1 cache, I/D, KB 32/32 32/32 32/32 32/32 32/32
L2 cache, KB 6144 2x6144 4x256 4x256 4x256
L3 cache, MB - - 8 8 8
Uncore clock, GHz - - 2.66 2.8 2.13
RAM - - 2xDDR3-1333 2xDDR3-1333 3xDDR3-1066
Socket LGA775 LGA775 LGA1156 LGA1156 LGA1366
TDP, W 65 95 95 95 130

What processors should we use for comparison? For the sake of simplicity, we decided to conduct a kind of express testing with five 'old-timers.' Core 2 Duo E8600 and Core 2 Quad Q9650 are the best LGA775 processors save for Extreme Edition models. This platform has been the most popular up to 2009–2010. Core i5-750 and Core i7-860 are the most interesting LGA1156 models of the 2nd half of 2009. Finally, Core i7-920, a relatively affordable LGA1366 processor.

We're so interested in the years 2008-2009, because it's been 3-4 years, and users who haven't done so already might be thinking of upgrading, especially those with the old Sandy Bridge-based Core 2 Quads. From this angle, transition to Ivy Bridge may seem a practical move. Let's see if it's actually so.

Socket Motherboard RAM
LGA1155 Biostar TH67XE (H67) Corsair Vengeance CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9B (2x1333; 9-9-9-24)
LGA1366 Intel DX58SO2 (X58) 12 GB 3x1066; 8-8-8-19
LGA775 ASUS Maximus Extreme (X38) Corsair Vengeance CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9B (2x1333; 9-9-9-24)
LGA1156 ASUS P7H55-M Pro (H55) Corsair Vengeance CMZ8GX3M2A1600C9B (2x1333; 9-9-9-24)

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Page 1: Introduction, design, features

Page 2: Tests

Page 3: Tests cont'd, final thoughts

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