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Intel Sandy Bridge. Microarchitecture

Intel Sandy Bridge microarchitecture overview


If you had enough patience, then you managed to read the whole article. However, the major part of readers prefer to go straight to conclusions, therefore, I will try to interpret the content as loosely as possible.

In general, Sandy Bridge microarchitecture was inherited from Nehalem, but every block was significantly re-worked (so to say, polished to almost mirror finish) which allows certain superiority in performance, while reducing power consumption at the same time — so fashionable nowadays. One of the most interesting innovations is Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (Intel AVX) — a key expansion in Sandy Bridge architecture — it replaces 128-bit SSE instructions to 256-bit AVX. Major part of changes in processor core are associated with the expansion of instructions to 256 bits. Currently it won’t help us much, however, Sandy Bridge — is the fundamental basis of a new era of floating-point computing, with every next generations of Intel’s micro-processors will be focus on. Real benefit of AVX won’t be seen until there is full support of this extension on a software level. I believe these applications will appear shortly after the big announcement, since in early 2008, Intel has published all documentation necessary as well as compiler itself. Except for one thing — the set of AVX instruction must be supported by Operating System too. Among Windows series operating systems, only Windows 7 (and future ones) has support for AVX. Those who still uses Windows XP won’t see mach differences, more like small performance decrease due to “stretching” of SIMD FP over SIMD INT. AVX extension will also be supported by Linux OS — starting with kernel version 2.6.30 Linux operating systems are “AVX friendly”.

What to expect from Sandy Bridge processors:

  • Productivity by 15-20% higher than solutions based on the previous microarchitecture in everyday tasks. Part of the merit of these figures lies in cool Next generation Turbo Boost technology
  • Significant increase performance in demanding applications that support AVX
  • Low heat dissipation (TDP levels for new processors are listed in first part of the review )

Basically, that’s it. Some words about integrated graphics. Graphics core supports DX10 API and has only improved tessellation, as support for DirectX 11 was not implemented in graphics core. On the other hand, such graphics system coupled with low TDP processor can be a perfect solution for your home multimedia PC. But, what about gaming? Well, you can play games, but not all of course. Let’s say, it will be enough for some RPG games including monitor size reasonable for integrated graphics. And if your spent time by computer playing mainly the latest First Person Shooters with all its DX11 beauty, then you better follow news in the world of discrete graphic cards. Integrated graphics core automatically disables when you use discrete graphic card which makes PCIe 2.0 x16 bus available for needs of the card.

Materials used:

Part One: Intel Sandy Bridge. Expansion

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