Though not due to be released for several more months, an early copy of an Intel Sandy Bridge quad-core processor has reached the bench of enthusiast site AnandTech, which has duly reported the results of its testing. While those result s are extremely preliminary, it looks like it can lap most of today's Core i7 processors at a lower price point and requiring less power. Its integrated graphics -- built straight onto the die -- are also impressive enough that budget discrete video cards could be headed toward extinction.
AnandTech obtained the Core i5 2400, which runs at 3.1GHz, but its version did not have Turbo Mode enabled (which will boost each core to 3.4GHz when needed). It did, however, have Hyper-Threading enabled for Intel partners who may require it for their own internal testing. So the site could test something the finished product won't have (Hyper-Threading), but couldn't test the Turbo Mode feature the final version will possess. AnandTech believes it has determined that its test CPU has two graphics cores, each with six execution units (EUs), which will apparently be standard on mobile Sandy Bridge units, but only select desktop processors will be similarly configured. (Otherwise, only a single-core GPU will be included).
In the off chance that AnandTech tested a version with only a single-core GPU, AMD and Intel frenemy Nvidia should be truly concerned. That's because the graphics benchmarks not only showed that Sandy Bridge's integrated graphics are far superior to previous integrated graphics solutions, but were also on par with a budget discrete card like the Radeon HD 5450. In other words, it can offer playable frame rates at low settings (and low resolutions) for games like Batman: Arkham Asylum, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, and Dawn of War II. It won't satisfy most gamers, but it means you can smoothly play World of Warcraft on a mainstream laptop without a lot of hiccups (though not with many graphical flourishes).
As for the CPU itself, the i5 2400 managed to play runner-up to the Core i7 980X Extreme in most benchmarks, though in some cases it trailed the Core i7 880 when Hyper-Threading wasn't enabled. It routinely bested the AMD Phenom II X6 1090T, AMD's fastest desktop processor.
Since this isn't a final production chip, there's bound to be some discrepancies between these first benchmarks and test results produced from Intel-delivered evaluation copies. Nonetheless, this "mainstream" CPU (according to Intel's own roadmap) could be providing most of the performance of a $1,000 Extreme six-core one for a fraction of the price. That will put enormous pressure on AMD's forthcoming Bulldozer architecture, as AMD may not be able to play the "more for less" card against Sandy Bridge. That should make next year a fascinating one for followers of the latest processor skirmish developing between AMD and Intel.