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A Sandy Bridge too far

ComponentsAfter my questioning of the real need for Sandy Bridge last month, the new Intel chips arrived in force. And then they went again. The second-generation Core i5/7 chips themselves are blameless, but Intel’s quality-assurance team fell down on the supporting chipsets.

Read about Intel’s egg-meets-face moment, and how it affects you, in our news story. The takeaway message is that if you plan to buy or have already bought a PC with the dodgy chipset, expect problems in the future. Otherwise, wait until the fixed motherboards are in circulation.

On the desktop computing front alone, I think it’ll be worth the wait. But I’m more intrigued by the mobile possibilities of the multicore chip architecture. Previous attempts at quad-core processors in laptops have resulted in portables better suited as desktop replacements than true mobile companions.

The first-generation Core series was better, but not quite there. For example, the HP Envy 14-1195ea Beats Edition saw its battery life drop by a third when it got the quad-core ‘upgrade’. That might not be so bad, if performance hadn’t also fallen off – even with four cores on the case, the drop from 2.53GHz to 1.6GHz is a step too far.

Expect a slew of Sandy Bridge laptops to appear very soon. If the first-look review of an Asus N53SV-SX138V laptop is anything to go by, these chips will be extremely nippy.

Our colleagues at PCWorld US benchmarked a laptop with the slowest quad-core processor available, a 2GHz Core i7-2630QM. And yet, its WorldBench 6 result would have floored desktop PC systems from six months ago. How that raw power takes its toll on battery life remains to be seen, mind.

While that tease of incredible power in a mobile package has piqued my interest in these chips, more could be done to speed up our computing experience outside the processor. This was brought home when recently testing networking products, which under-fulfilled their promise. That’s not to say the products were useless – merely that you can’t believe what’s written on the box.

Take the Dane-Elec myDitto NAS drive. It’s fitted with a gigabit ethernet port, and a lazy reviewer would conclude it’s a fast storage device. Yet in our tests, its real-world throughput meant we wouldn’t have noticed if someone had slipped in a 20th-century 100Mbps port.

And then there’s the WD LiveWire, for which Western Digital stamps ‘200Mbps’ all over the box. Our lab research suggested it’s been fitted with 100Mbps controllers.

UPDATE: Western Digital later confirmed that the LiveWire is equipped with 100Mbps ethernet ports, as 'true throughput rarely goes over 100Mbps'.

For those of you who already have or plan to buy one of the fastest Core processors ever made, just remember the storage and connectivity bottlenecks all around you. Check PC Advisor for coverage of what you need to keep your computing up to speed.

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