February 28, 2011, 11:58 AM — Intel rang in 2011 with its second-generation Core processors, promising vastly superior performance, better graphics capabilities, and improved energy efficiency. How much of a difference can a new CPU generation really make? If our tests of the first systems to use these revamped CPUs are any indication, the answer is "quite a lot." The new processors--formerly code-named Sandy Bridge--deliver stronger performance than their predecessors did, and at palatable prices.
Intel's integrated graphics have come a long way, too, with support for 3D Blu-ray and smooth playback of 1080p content. But video game fans shouldn't toss out their discrete graphics cards just yet--the graphics processors built into the new CPUs stumble on many modern titles. Bad news for upgraders, too: Intel has reworked the socket for the platform, so if you're looking to upgrade aging hardware, you must also factor a motherboard purchase into your budget.
The second-gen Core launch was not without hiccups. In late January Intel issued a recall of Sandy Bridge's 6 Series chipset due to a design flaw. According to Intel, this flaw in the motherboard chipset would cause performance of the SATA ports to degrade eventually.
Despite those concerns, Intel's new hardware remains a force to be reckoned with. If you're considering a new desktop or laptop with an Intel processor, chances are good that it'll be a Sandy Bridge model. We'll help you understand the strengths and weaknesses.
New CPU Features
The new CPUs retain the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 monikers that Intel has used for a few years, but the naming scheme is a bit misleading: These processors have a whole new architecture, and aren't simply a revision.