More of What's New in Intel's Sandy Bridge
While manual overclocking should give you the most speed from a Sandy Bridge CPU, Intel has also updated its Turbo Boost technology to Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0. We’ve previously referred to the Turbo Boost of Lynnfield and Clarksfield as Turbo Boost (rev 2), as it was so much more effective than the Turbo Boost abilities of the LGA1336 CPUs, but we’ll now refer to the Turbo Boost of Sandy Bridge CPUs as Turbo Boost 2. The reason for the updated name is the significantly updated technology.
Turbo Boost works by calculating how much heat a CPU is outputting from the amount of work it’s doing and the power that it’s consuming. Using these measurements, Turbo Boost allows some CPU cores to overclock themselves – if not all the cores are in use, they can run faster without causing the CPU as a whole to exceed its TDP or power draw limits. However, Turbo Boost 2 can push a CPU beyond the boundaries of its rated TDP and power draw by taking advantage of the ‘thermal latency’ of the cooler.
Intel has updated its successful Turbo Boost feature
Coolers don’t heat up to maximum load immediately, and good coolers never do this, so a CPU can safely exceed its rated TDP for ages (or forever) before its operating temperature becomes potentially damaging.
The last upgrades to the CPU are the AVX extensions, which are analogous to SSE instructions for video – it’s a set of hardcoded logic in the CPU that can execute common but lengthy vector-specific code very quickly.
This, plus other architectural upgrades such as the ability of Sandy Bridge CPUs to execute
two load/store commands simultaneously, leads Intel to claim that the Sandy Bridge architecture is 10-15 per cent faster than any previous architecture clock for clock. Considering that the range also sports much higher frequencies, and Turbo Boost 2 boosts the frequencies more than Turbo Boost 1, the performance results are suitably impressive.
The memory controller of a Sandy Bridge CPU is a dual-channel DDR3 unit, capable of speeds of up to 1,333MHz. As with previous LGA1156 CPUs, you need memory rated up to 1.65V – this means that if you currently have an LGA1156 system, you can carry the memory across to your new LGA1155 rig.
Next-Gen BIOS for Sandy Bridge
Most LGA1155 motherboards will use a new system to allow its owner to control its hardware at a basic level. The EFI, or Extensible Firmware Interface, is an update to the BIOS technology to which we’ve become accustomed over the past 20 years or so. The new system still carries out the core functions of a BIOS, such as regulating your PC, setting frequencies and managing the pre-boot data flow between an OS and hardware, but it’s a more flexible framework than current BIOS programs.
For example, there’s support for complex graphical menus and even animations, meaning that motherboard manufactures will have a greater ability to differentiate between their motherboards. Gone are the low-resolution text menus and in their place are icons, drag and drop lists, and even mouse support.
EFI also supports network connections, so in theory you should be able to update an EFI BIOS directly from the Internet. Whether or not we’d trust our motherboard to select and install the correct BIOS update all by itself over the Internet is another matter, however.
EFI technology has been around for many years but has struggled to take off due to the extra cost and time needed to develop EFIs and a lack of public demand. Intel has attempted to remedy this situation by making EFI a requirement of LGA1155 motherboards, but from what we’re hearing, some motherboard manufacturers have proved reluctant to comply.
These companies are rumoured to be using a workaround to allow them to continue using legacy BIOSes, although we haven’t seen such a board to verify this. The two boards we’ve played with so far both use EFI rather than a BIOS, so it seems Asus and MSI have cracked the EFI nut at least.