Early 2011 is the expected release date for Intel’s new line of processors, codenamed “Sandy Bridge”. The new chips are not replacing the high-end, six-core, “Gulftown” models but will fall in below them on the performance scale. Intel is maintaining the Core i- designations from the last generation of processors but is adding a fourth digit to the model number along with a single letter suffix. The new “Sandy Bridge” processors will also require a new motherboard with a LGA1155 Socket.
So, what does this mean for ITX gamers?
Well, it’s good news all around and not just because of a new processor. New processors mean new sockets, which in turn mean new chipsets, and some manufacturers are previewing mini-ITX models with both, right from the start. A welcome change for mini-ITX enthusiasts who are usually stuck hoping someone will throw them a crumb. Not this time. Even with the “Sandy Bridge” official release not for a few more months, motherboard manufactures are already teasing us with specs and images of upcoming mini-ITX boards. Not only do these boards have all of the great features from the 1156 boards that made ITX gaming possible, but the new Intel chipset allow for native support of features like SATA 3.0.
As for the CPU itself, besides the new 32nm process, the biggest performance improvement was to the integrated graphics. As far as most gamers are concerned, if you have Intel HD graphics of any flavour, you might as well have no graphics at all. While that’s a bit of an overstatement, the Intel HD Graphics on the current generation “Arrandale” chips are far from stellar. They manage only about 1500 3DMark06 points. It’s enough to play most DirectX 10 flash games, but only on lower settings.
Enter “Sandy Bridge” with its new 32nm graphics core than can be clocked up or down independently of the CPU. Add in the Graphics Turbo mode and the fact that the GPU has its own fair share of access to the L3 cache, and it means that the new graphics engine is expected to easily double the performance of the current model. Some testing on a preview Core i5 put the performance in the ballpark of a Radeon HD 5450. While still nowhere near the performance a mid- or high-end discrete GPU, it will be enough for gamers on a tight budget or those HTPC builders that want to play some games on their silent PCs.
Bottom line for ITX gamers, “Sandy Bridge” offers better performance and lower power consumption in a more refined package. Whether it’s an upgrade for your system, or not, will depend on your desire to replace your motherboard. If a new build is in your near future, perhaps it’s time to try your first mini-ITX project. “Sandy Bridge” processors will provide many options for a new gaming system when they hit the market, as there will be a good selection of mini-ITX motherboards right there with them.