Should Sandy Bridge Users Upgrade? Evaluating the 2600K Against Modern CPUs

 

The funny thing about legendary chips is that it’s not always clear at launch which CPUs will go on to power enthusiast systems for years to come. Intel’s Sandy Bridge, like the Celeron 300A of old, has been an incredibly long-lived enthusiast part. SNB was the first major overhaul of the Nehalem architecture Intel debuted in 2008. It included a number of enhancements and improvements to the first-generation Core i7, including a micro-op trace cache, AVX instruction support, Intel Quick Sync video support, and a new GPU integrated directly on-die.

Eight years later, Sandy Bridge has proved quite popular — popular enough, that Intel has struggled to haul enthusiasts off of the product. But the question of just how much of an improvement enthusiasts might see if they did so hasn’t gotten tons of investigation. Anandtech decided to find out how invincible the 2600K is, eight years after launch. To capture the fact that the CPU was quite popular for overclocking, the site also included a graph of the chip running at 4.7GHz.

The results of the cumulative testing are shown below, though the full article is absolutely worth a read. Keep in mind as you look that Kaby Lake is actually running well below the Sandy Bridge clock on the overclocked variant (~4.0-4.2GHz, compared with 4.7GHz).

CPU Results

If you don’t overclock, the improvement from Sandy Bridge to Kaby Lake is considerable. Given that scores are normalized to the OC’d variant of the chip, we see that Kaby Lake is far faster than Sandy in certain cases — 1.65x faster than a stock-clocked SNB in rendering, and 1.39x faster in compiling. Gains, if you are overclocking, are very small, and generally in the 1.14x range.

This isn’t entirely fair to Kaby Lake, which is operating at a substantial frequency advantage (4.1 – 4.2GHz max, versus constant 4.7GHz), but since it was generally harder to get a 7700K up to 4.7GHz than Sandy Bridge, it’s still a fair look at the situation. If you’re running a 7700K at, say, 4.7GHz, however, you can make a reasonable assumption of a significant uplift in KBL’s favor.

The Core i7-9700K, on the other hand, is far faster than overclocked Sandy Bridge, and much, much better than the non-overclocked version. It may have taken eight years, but if you work with well-multi-threaded software, you can look forward to very strong gains. The 9700KSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce is more than twice as fast as a stock-clocked 2600K at compiling, for example.

Gaming Results

I’m only going to discuss the gaming results in frames per second; if you want to see frame time data, hit the original story. This chart illustrates why there’s tension in the community between testing CPUs at low resolutions, where meaningful appearances in performance appear and high resolutions, where those differences are compressed.

At 720p, the 9700K is 1.85x faster than the 2600K. At 1080p, the gap has fallen to 1.54x. (the gap between the OC’d 2600K and the 9700K is 1.26x). At 1440p, there’s just a 1.21x gap between SNB stock and 9700K. At 4K, the gap is five percent — generally speaking, considered below the threshold we’d expect you to consistently notice.

Ironically, this suggests that gamers with low-end displays and high-end CPUs might benefit much more from CPU upgrades than gamers who want to play at the latest detail levels. If you’re still gaming in 1080p, a new CPUSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce may be a much stronger update than if you play at 1440p or 4K.

Either way, it’s an interesting look at how much additional performance can be gained by upgrading one of the most popular CPUs of the past decade. It also shows off just how much the rate of improvements has slowed. A 1992 machine — even an absolute top-end one — was a wheezing, arthritic wreck by 2000, not matter how aggressively you deployed upgrades in the interim. Today, a 2600K is still running games just fine, in at least some cases.

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