Which CPU? Intel Sandy Bridge vs. AMD Fusion

We explain the ins and outs of Intel's 2nd Generation Core CPUs and AMD’s new Fusion APUs

Neighbour to the GPU is an upgraded video processing unit that dedicates actual silicon to encoding and decoding videos, improving the performance of both. (A demo at this year's Intel Developer Forum featured a three-minute 1080p source video converted to a 640x360 iPhone video in around 14 seconds — or roughly 400 frames per second.)

When it comes to video and photo editing, users can expect a speed increase of up to 50 per cent (compared to Intel's previous generation of chips).

The Sandy Bridge chips will be the first to include Intel's Advanced Vector Extension instructions (AVX), a technology aimed at intensive computing which makes video, image and audio processing speedier with improved colour and image clarity.

In essence, AVX's 256-bit vectors will allow your system to crunch more data by grouping it together in larger chunks. And that directly correlates to the power efficiency of the chip itself. In order to actually benefit from AVX however, consumers will have to be running Windows 7 SP1. (Expect to see the update hit sometime in the first quarter of 2011.)

Hyper-Threading is still present; this is the process by which one physical CPU core is split into two virtual CPU cores. Turbo Boost is back as well, but it's been kicked up a notch from Nehalem's designs.

So in summary, Sandy Bridge includes processing cores, a memory controller, cache subsystem and Intel's sixth-generation graphics processing core -- all on one chip.

Sandy Bridge: Overclocking

Not only can all four cores receive an automatic overclock depending on your system's workload, but the CPU will actually push past the rated thermal design power (TDP) of the chip itself for brief periods of time. The technological wisdom is that a CPU can get away with a bit of over-overclocking before it has to back off at the TDP limit — the CPU doesn't immediately jump up to said limit, for example, if the cores get clocked up to extreme amounts.

Sandy Bridge: Products and nomenclature

Support for Intel's new Sandy Bridge processors has been strong. At this year's CES, Asus and Sapphire revealed new Intel motherboard that use the Sandy Bridge processors (P8P67 and Pure Black P67 Hydra, respectively). MSI is also on the Sandy Bridge bandwagon, with 11 motherboards and 16 notebooks already announced.

The Sandy Bridge processor range will come in two- and four-core variants initially, with six-core and eight-core options to appear in the future.

Note that Intel hasn't dropped the ‘Core' designation from its CPU lineup (Sandy Bridge is just the codename). You'll still see Core i3, i5, and i7 branded chips in the marketplace: a '2' will indicate that the chip is part of the new generation.

Three more numbers will indicate the specific processor SKU. A letter appended to the end (K, S, or T) will detail whether the CPU is unlocked for overclocking, optimised for "lifestyle" computing, or optimised for power-savings.

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