It's finally 2011, which means it's Sandy Bridge time. At long last, Intel's new processor platform has been officially unveiled, and it's a biggee. There will be 29 new CPUs, 15 for laptops and 14 for desktops, that promise better performance at a lower price while using less power, thanks to a refinement of the company's 32nm manufacturing process.
While keeping the familiar Core i3, i5, and i7 nomenclature, an extra (fourth) digit is being added to each product name. This roll-out is heavy on higher-performing i5 and i7 chips, including a whopping 10 new i7 mobile processors. At the very high end, there's the i7-2920XM Extreme Edition laptop CPU, which has a 2.5GHz base clock speed for each of its four cores and will cost over $1,000. (Pricing is per thousand units, but gives you a ballpark figure for how much it will cost you at retail.) For nearly half that price, there's the i7-2820QM, or an even cheaper quad-core in the i7-2720QM ($378). Two more quad-cores were announced but without pricing: the i7-2635QM and the i7-2630QM. There are also a quartet of dual-core i7s that are low-voltage or ultra-low-voltage: the i7-2649M ($346), i7-2629M ($311), i7-2657M ($317), and i7-2617M ($289).
In contrast, there's only a trio of new i7 desktop chips, including one designed for low-power systems. The i7-2600K is notable for its overclocking friendliness (designated by the "K" in the product name) and can reach a factory-setting maximum TurboBoost speed of 3.8GHz for $317. If you don't want to tweak out faster speeds yourself, the i7-2600 offers the same four cores and eight threads for a little less ($294). Not priced is the i7-2600S, but it should provide a lot more power than the typical low-power desktop available today. Intel is adding four i5 and one i3 low-power processors to the desktop lineup as well.
There are four other i5 desktop chips, including the i5-2500K ($216) -- with unlocked multiplier like the i7-2600K -- and the i5-2500 ($205), i5-2400 ($184), and i5-2300 ($177). While these all have four cores, each only runs a single thread unlike the i7s' cores, which can run two threads simultaneously. The four new mobile i5s are only dual-core, but they support Hyper-threading.
The only new Core i3 laptop processor announced is the dual-core/four-thread i3-2310M, which lacks the Turbo Boost feature the other mobile chips possess. The same is the case for the trio of desktop i3s, with the i3-2100 costing a mere $117.
Testing sites got their hands on a handful of these new processors, and HotHardware rounds up the results (including its own benchmarking) here. While these were just a few of the 29 CPUs, the conclusions are convincing. The i7-2600K can't beat the six-core i7-900 series of Extreme Edition desktop processors at its factory settings, but can come close with overclocking, at a fraction of the price and using substantially less power. The Core i5s generally put a hurting on AMD's Phenom line, and the i7-2820QM is the fastest mobile processor tested (since the i7-2920XM hasn't been benchmarked) and its new integrated graphics are fast enough to compare to entry-level discrete laptop graphics cards.
If you want to take in the full press deck, Engadget has posted it here. Then get ready for a torrent of Sandy Bridge laptop announcements over the next week of CES coverage.