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Inside the unassuming shell of Intel's 3.4GHz Core i7-2600K, which has four cores and an 8MB cache, is a brand-new architecture, the second to be introduced on Intel's 32nm manufacturing process after Westmere. Sandy Bridge is the latest 'tock' in Intel's 'tick-tock' CPU development process. It includes Hyper-Threading, which enables multiple threads to run on each CPU core and so improves overall performance on threaded software, and a new version of Turbo Boost, which allows all cores to overclock simultaneously for ten to twenty seconds if the chip was previously running cool. The Core i7-2600K will boost to 3.8GHz, if doing so will not overheat the chip.
Unless you count them, you may not notice the reduction in the number of connection pads (1,155) from the previous generation of Core i7 chips (1,156). On the CPU die, in addition to the four cores, is Intel's HD Graphics module, which is fully integrated on the ring bus and shares the top-level cache with the processing cores, boosting performance. We haven't made use of that in our system, however, opting instead to install an nNvidia PCI-E card. The range-topping Core i7-2600K supports overclocking and is aimed at those requiring maximum performance, yet consumes only 95W.
Installed in a brand-new (also top-of-the-range) Intel DP67BG motherboard, this Sandy Bridge processor needs a new 1,155-pin socket, one fewer than the previous generation. Intel's argument for the change is that the new architecture is too different to make compatibility worth maintaining and that the performance increase is worth it. The DIMM sockets, supporting a maximum of 32GB of DDR3 memory up to 2,400MHz, sit right next to the CPU as you'd expect, while at the bottom you can just see the first of the two PCI-E slots. The header at the top of the photo supplies the CPU fan, while the one lower down supplies the rear chassis fan.