Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs have breathed new life into the computer industry by providing an incredibly fast and smart processor that can appeal to mainstream users by condensing and simplifying a lot of options. The biggest barrier to entry in the PC realm has been the complexity issue, and this was definitely a step in the right direction. However, this was not something everyone was too happy about, as many enthusiasts disliked the way Intel had limited overclockability by only allowing K-series CPUs to be modified, and even then, were limited to the very basic of options.
(My personal opinion is that Intel has brought overclocking down to a wider audience – and this is good news for those of us in the motherboard industry, as we can widen the demographic and present enthusiast options in a ‘step-up’ process that can keep us in business. This will be the subject of my next editorial.)
The biggest notable change to the Intel CPU is the addition of the on-chip GPU, eliminating the need for some users to purchase a separate card just for display purposes. Unlike previous iGPUs which were a part of the motherboard, Sandy Bridge’s integrated GPU is actually quite good (equivalent to a Radeon 5xxx) and provides a few practical benefits for most users, such as being optimized for HD playback, transcoding and casual gaming. Going forward, expect all CPUs to have some form of integrated GPU, eliminating the low-end graphics card segment completely (and being a serious threat to some companies’ bottom line!).
The only limitation on this is that you cannot use this feature with the higher-end P6x boards and MUST use the H6x series, which are typically mid-range at best. Generally speaking, this makes sense as an enthusiast would rather use a discrete GPU to provide additional performance, while the microATX form factor of the H6x allows a bit more flexibility.