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Intel Core i7-2600K (Sandy Bridge) review

£251 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Intel

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5

The Intel Core i7-2600K processor is a worthy successor to the i7-860 and i7-920 chips at default clock speeds. On balance, paying about the same amount for a higher-end processor and getting a 25 per cent increase in performance (besides overclockability) is a deal that is very hard to pass up.

The Intel Core i7-2600K 'Sandy Bridge' processor is a worthy successor to the i7-860 and i7-920 chips at default clock speeds. On balance, paying about the same amount for a higher-end processor and getting a 25 per cent increase in performance (besides overclockability) is a deal that is very hard to pass up.

With the Sandy Bridge line of processors, such as the Intel Core i7-2600K, Intel isn't looking to introduce a new speed monster, but to provide near top-level performance at mainstream prices. The Sandy Bridge processors remain at 32nm fabrication. But they do bring in quite a performance improvement, with large jumps over the previous generation of mainstream Intel processors.

Intel Core i7-2600K specifications

One of the big changes in the Intel Core i7-2600K is the requirement of an entirely new processor socket - LGA1155, which requires a new set of motherboards, based on the Intel P67 or H67 chipset. The model numbers have undergone a change too, with four digits being used now instead of three. The 'K' suffix at the end denotes that it is a multiplier-unlocked variant, which you'd have to pay a premium for, as overclocking has been rendered more difficult now. Intel still uses DDR3 memory, of course.

Intel Core i7 2600K

The quad-core Intel Core i7-2600K offers a 95W TDP, an 8MB L3 cache, 256KB L2 cache per core (making it 1MB in all) and 64KB L1 cache per core (256KB in total). It supports HyperThreading (thus allowing for 8 threads simultaneously), operates at 3.4GHz by default, and offers TurboBoost upto 3.8GHz.

Intel Core i7 2600K

For the curious, a CPUID screenshot of the Intel Core i7-2600K

Intel Core i7-2600K performance

Our colleagues at PC World India tested the Intel Core i7-2600K processor on a test rig comprising of the following components - an Intel DP67BG motherboard, stock Intel heatsink and cooler, 8GB of Silicon Power DDR3 RAM in dual-channel mode, a Radeon 5970 graphics card, an Intel X25-M 80GB SSD, a Tagan BZ-1300W PSU, a 1080p monitor, Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit Edition and Radeon Catalyst 10.12 graphics drivers.

All test scores on record were run at default clock speeds. For comparison, we have here the Intel Core i7-965 with a DX58SO motherboard and 12GB of DDR3 RAM in triple-channel mode. Storage input/output, USB, RAM and processor cache speeds measured up to the level expected. We then ran synthetic benchmark tests. First off, was our own WorldBench 6 benchmark suite, with points scored as seen in the graph below:

Intel Core i7 2600K benchmarking

The Intel Core i7-2600K manages to pull far ahead. The clock speed may not be the only factor, as the 1100T is also clocked at the same base speed (we disabled all power management and TurboBoost for the purposes of this test)

Intel Core i7 2600K benchmarking

The synthetic system tests did not quite have such a runaway difference, but the Intel Core i7-2600K again performed well

Intel Core i7 2600K games benchmarking

Intel Core i7 2600K games benchmarking

Real-world gaming tests for the Intel Core i7-2600K

In brief, the mainstream Intel Core i7-2600K processor manages to class itself among the top performing processors, even overtaking AMD's six-core on occasion.

Intel Core i7-2600K overclocking

Most people who pass over the standard i7-2600 and buy the Intel Core i7-2600K will do so for overclockability. The variant with a 'K'has an unlocked multiplier, and we decided to see how high it could go, retaining stability as verified by an AIDA-64 stress test.

With a tiny voltage increase, the Intel Core i7-2600K managed 4.33GHz and ended up being 'throttled' for thermal reasons by the Bios, so that was all we could attain from a simple manual overclock 'on air', but this number is still a full gigahertz higher than its normal speed. At the increased speed, there was a further performance jump in real-world game benches, varying from 15 percent  to almost zero depending on the game in question.

The entire Sandy Bridge line-up now has graphics onboard the processor (not DirectX 11, though). The Intel HD Graphics 3000 has enhanced performance by upto 3 times, with its 'Execution Units' model, which will mean a lot for lower-end PC gaming and be a potent threat to low-end graphics cards. As with the previous generation the 'P' performance-oriented boards cannot make use of the IGP, while those marked in the 'H' series can. Check back in a while to see how it performed in video encoding and gaming tests.

Intel Core i7 2600K

Next page: Our expert verdict >>

See also:

Processor reviews

CES: Intel's new tablet chip gaining momentum

Intel: Sandy Bridge chips to take laptops into the future

How to upgrade your PC to run cooler and quieter

Speed up your PC: A beginner's guide to overclocking

Intel Core i7-2600K (Sandy Bridge) Expert Verdict »

Intel Sandybridge i7-2600K Scores 9.2 out of 10 based on 28 reviews
3.4GHz clock speed
max TurboBoost speed 3.8GHz
four cores
HyperThreading up to eight threads
LGA1155 socket
32nm manufacturing process
100MHz external bus
256KB Level 1 cache
1MB Level 2 cache
8MB Level 3 cache
supports DDR3 1066/1333 RAM
max TDP 95W
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

The Intel Core i7-2600K is a worthy successor to the i7-860 and i7-920 chips at default clock speeds. If Sandy Bridge permeates the entire market, the (relatively) lower-end LGA1156 motherboards and processors can walk away. In fact, even the X58 line (including the hexacores) can now be scratched off the wish-list of most aspiring gaming/performance PC buyers, replacing the same with a Sandy Bridge board and processor instead. On balance, paying about the same amount for a higher-end processor and getting a 25 per cent increase in performance (besides overclockability) is a deal that is very hard to pass up. Despite the rapid socket changes Intel is going through, we can safely say that those looking to build a performance PC won't regret a Sandy Bridge purchase.

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