Sandy Bridge Core i7-2600K and H67 Chipset: A Home Server Focused Review

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Posted January 25, 2011 by Patrick Kennedy in Workstation Hardware

A lot has been made of the new Intel Sandy Bridge parts. For HTPC’s they are really great CPUs as they offer low power consumption, in line with Clarkdale, and have a slew of new features. Since there has been a lot of discussion regarding the new CPUs already in terms of overclock ability and general performance, I am going to stick to a home server/ HTPC related review of the Core i7-2600K which is the top-of-the-line January 2011 Intel Sandy Bridge part.

Test Configuration

This test configuration took me literally hours of thought to put together. Intel released the new 32nm process based Sandy Bridge CPUs alongside two chipsets, the P67 and H67 which map fairly well to the predecessor parts the P55 and H57 chipsets. The main differences between the H67 and P67 are:

Intel Sandy Bridge Launch Chipsets
H67 P67
Multiplier Overclockable? No Yes
Allows PCIe x16 split to two x8? No Yes
Utilizes ondie GPU? Yes No
Allows for Intel RAID? Yes Yes

After looking at the available launch motherboards, I decided to purchase a H67 based ASUS P8H67-M EVO motherboard for this review, primarily so I could test the onboard GPU and Quick Sync technologies. The final configuration ended up being:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-2600K
  2. Motherboard: ASUS P8H67-M EVO
  3. Memory: 4GB 1600MHz CL9 DDR3 (4x2GB)
  4. Hard Drive: OCZ Agility 2 120GB
  5. Additional NICs: Intel Gigabit CT PCIe x1 network adapter
  6. Enclosure: Supermicro SC731i-300B
  7. Power Supply: PicoPSU 150XT

One word of warning, I would STRONGLY advise against getting an unlocked multiplier CPU (denoted as a “K” series CPU in the model number) for the H67 platform. You cannot utilized the unlocked multiplier with the H67 chipset.

The Qualitative take on the Intel Core i7-2600K

It would have been nice to see Intel match AMD’s affinity towards providing ECC support on consumer platforms. Perhaps when memory sizes on consumer PCs were smaller, ECC was less of an issue, but at what point might a consumer (the primary market for the desktop CPUs) want to start using ECC DRAM in their day-to-day workstations? For all the work Microsoft has put into making Windows 7 stable, it would be nice if we could have this basic level of protection for the hardware. Ask an average user if a few crashes a year could be prevented for the $20 differential for UDIMMs and I bet the answer would be yes. Of course, in short order Intel will be launching the Xeon parts that will have ECC support enabled for a price premium over the desktop counterparts. This is part of Intel’s segmentation strategy which has been successful in the x86 space.

One important thing to note is that the Intel Core i7-2600K does NOT support Intel VT-d, just like the i7-2500K. Although one may be relatively safe in the assumption that the desktop uses for VT-d are limited (since this is primarily for passing through add-in cards to virtual machines) it turns out the non-“K” variants of the Sandy Bridge desktop line do in fact support VT-d. My only guess here is that Intel did not want someone willing to forgo ECC DRAM to also have an overclocked 4GHz+ server CPU for around $330.

New Core i5 and I7 Sandy Bridge CPUs
VT-x VT-d AES-NI Trusted Exec.  Tech
Intel Core i7-2600K Yes No Yes No
Intel Core i7-2600 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intel Core i5-2500K Yes No Yes No
Intel Core i5-2500 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intel Core i5-2400 Yes Yes Yes Yes
Intel Core i5-2300 Yes No Yes No

The AES-NI inclusion is a great feature for those that utilize compatible encrpytion on their storage. One example would be Oracle Solaris Express 11 where the included ZFS v31 can utilize Intel’s AES-NI accelerator. I was fairly surprised that Intel Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) was left out of the flagship Core i7 part, but TXT and VT-d are fairly closely related so this makes sense.

Finally, the H.264 encoding engine which is a big feature of the new Sandy Bridge CPUs is great… provided you shell out $40 for an application that can use Intel Quick Sync, and you use a H67 motherboard. I will not be using this for the performance numbers since there are plenty of reviews that show it adds 40% or more to encoding speeds. For most users, purchasing something like an i5-2400 for H.264 encoding makes a lot of sense because it is no longer clock speed bound. Personally, I prefer the image quality of the CPU path over the Quick Sync image, but a lot of people may disagree here. As a bonus, the Core i5-2400 supports VT-d making it better for an ESXi or Xen installation once Sandy Bridge is fully supported.

Performance

Given it is 2011, I have done a slight tweak to the x264 test from 2010. First, Handbrake 0.9.5 was released, so I will be switching to the new version for future reviews. Also, since DVD quality video is not as exciting as it once was, with 200+ FPS encoding performance of today’s chips, I decided to change the test over to 1080p source video to iPhone 4 presets in Handbrake. Other than that, the WEI component will remain.

Windows Experience Index

This is a quick Windows 7 benchmark that allows a user to get a decent gauge of how fast a CPU is from the built-in benchmarking functionality. It should be noted that WEI is not linear in scoring so the difference between a 3.0 and a 4.0 is not equivalent to a 6.5 to 7.5 jump. Two notes here. First, the CPU score is nothing to balk at. Even at stock clocks the Core i7-2600K is really fast.

Core i7-2600K WEI Score

Core i7-2600K WEI Score

Frankly, Intel’s integrated GPU, hailed by many a review site is in this weird state of limbo. On one hand, it is a nice integrated GPU that can sip power. On the other hand, it is not fast enough to game one with any decent display (1920×1080 or better or 1680×1050 really.) One can drop the texture detail but let’s face it, one of the main reason to play a game on the PC versus a console is better graphics. The new Intel GPU does not deliver on this. Furthermore, the P67, which allows for multiplier based overclocking does not support video outputs and the Z68 chipset (which I am excited for) is not here. 6.4 does seem awesome, but I would argue that the performance is still nowhere where Intel needs to be to replace the need for a discreet GPU for gaming, and is overkill for 2D and Windows Aero interface applications. With that being said, kudos to Intel for finally getting back into the game.

Handbrake 0.9.4 and 0.9.5 Performance

This is a favorite of readers, but may eventually be replaced by technology like Quick Sync. For the below tests the Blu-Ray Quality to iPhone 4 Handbrake presets were done on Handbrake 0.9.5 while the legacy DVD quality tests were done on Handbrake 0.9.4. Unfortunately I was unable to tests every CPU under the new scenario, but one should get the idea from the below graph.

x264 Handbrake Encodes (0.9.4 and 0.9.5)
DVD Quality Blu-Ray to iPhone 4 Quality
CPU fps fps
Atom N330/ION 21
Atom D510 23
Sempron 140 29
Athlon II X2 260 62 9
Q6600 84 13
Core i3-530 90
Athlon II X3 445 93
Core i5-650 97
Athlon II X4 640 126 18
Phenom II X4 955 BE 151 23
Xeon X3440 155 24
Phenom II X4 965 BE 160
Xeon X3460 179 27
Core i7 920 179 28
Core i7 940 212 33
Core i7-2600K 263 40

As one can see, the Core i7-2600K is fast, really fast. With that being said, I actually do not think the i7-920 is an outdated part at this point, especially given the X58’s ability to accept six DDR3 DIMMs and the additional X58 PCIe lanes. On the other hand, the Q6600 really shows its age. As perhaps the defining Core 2 65nm quad core part, the Q6600 is quite far behind the curve now. With all of this being said, processors based on Bloomfield, Clarkdale, and Lynnfield are probably not worth upgrading, and the same holds true for the quad core AMD parts when looking at raw CPU performance. AES-NI and Quick Sync may be game changers for a lot of people though.

Power Consumption

With all of the ASUS motherboard’s power saving technologies like the EPU turned on and only a SSD installed, the max power consumption I saw from the platform was 122w. That means it can be powered by a PicoPSU 150XT if one uses a 150w power brick, not anything smaller.

Intel Core i7-2600K Max Power Consumption

Intel Core i7-2600K Max Power Consumption

In most home server environments though, a new quad core Sandy Bridge CPU will spend most of its time at idle. Here is a snap of the setup without the Intel NIC (not used in any of the power consumption figures) and using the PicoPSU.

Core i7-2600K Min Power Consumption PicoPSU

Core i7-2600K Min Power Consumption PicoPSU

Just for reference, the max power consumption of the H67 motherboard and CPU are very close to the PicoPSU 150XT’s max output. Using the 300w PSU in the Supermicro SC731i-300B led to a 2w greater figure which is negligible.

Core i7-2600K Min Power Consumption SC731i-300B

Core i7-2600K Min Power Consumption SC731i-300B

This was not too bad, and this is out of the box idle power consumption at the Windows 7 desktop after the desktop loaded on a fresh Windows 7 installation including patches and drivers from the ASUS driver DVD. Odds are one could get a bit better with some tuning. This makes power consumption very similar to Clarkdale and a bit better than Lynnfield. Then again, with the higher cost of the newer chips, and the difference of a few watts, I am not sure that the idle power savings would warrant a re-build of an existing machine unless super-fast H.264 encoding was needed.

Conclusion

Overall, if LGA 775 was not already dead (and it was last year for all intents and purposes), it is now. Sandy Bridge and the H67 chipset do provide a compelling case for new builds only sipping a few idle watts more than an Atom D510 platform while having the ability to scale to be one of Intel’s fastest desktop CPUs to date. The big negative is that the H67 chipset boards and Sandy Bridge CPUs cost a lot at the moment. Minimum combined entry costs are in the $300 range for a Core i5-2400 and a decent mATX H67 board. Compare this to the $125 to $150 range for a Athlon II X4 640, or about $230 for a Core i3-530/ i3-540 and a LGA 1156 board and one must justify the extra expenditures on the added performance and features not the power savings. For LGA 1366 users, if one does not need AES-NI acceleration and Quick Sync, there is little reason to make a switch to Sandy Bridge, except for power consumption savings. At the end of the day, Sandy Bridge and the Intel Core i7-2600K represent a solid move forward for video transcoding home servers. One may wish to wait for the Z68 and Q67 consumer boards to come out for home servers, or wait for Sandy Bridge Xeons to roll out before planning new systems.

Feel free to discuss this article on the ServeTheHome.com forums!


About the Author

Patrick Kennedy

Patrick has been running ServeTheHome since 2009 and covers a wide variety of home and small business IT topics. For his day job, Patrick is a management consultant focused in the technology industry and has worked with numerous large hardware and storage vendors in the Silicon Valley. The goal of STH is simply to help users find some information about basic server building blocks. If you have any helpful information please feel free to post on the forums.

6 Comments


  1.  
    Nataq

    “One word of warning, I would STRONGLY advise against getting an unlocked multiplier CPU (denoted as a “K” series CPU in the model number) for the H67 platform. You cannot utilized the unlocked multiplier with the H67 chipset.”

    Sorry to say, but if what you want is to use the IGP (integrated graphic processor) I would in fact suggest to buy a K series CPU because they offer the HD 3000 graphic processor VS the non K CPU that has the HD 2000 processor. Difference in price is about 10$ for the 2500k VS 2500, so yes, get it.




  2.  

    Nataq, any OS GUI will not respond better with the HD 3000 v. HD 2000 making the only real perceptible difference between the two (I have machines running with both) in games. However, with the HD 3000 you can play some games at non-native resolutions for most modern desktop monitors/ HDTVs, and with graphics settings on low. Framerates are improved over the HD 2000 but if you try playing games on the HD 3000 it is a bad experience. While the HD 3000 is faster, it is not the difference between playing a game at modern LCD native resolution and not playing the game. Basically, the extra performance is there, but not necessarily useful for the time being.




  3.  
    Michael S.

    This p67 motherboard recall really screwed me over. I had about half the components already bought for a new build the day of this recall. I wasn’t sure what I should do so I waited. That wasn’t the right decision. Now I want a p67 mobo since the SATA problem wont really effect me with just 1 HDD. Problem is I can’t find one anywhere! Looked into some Sandy Bridge alternatives and they are either more expensive or underpowered in comparision. Guess I will have to wait a couple more monthst to finish a build I started in the middle of January. Thanks Intel :(




  4.  
    David

    Once the trim problem is fully sorted and I can mirror raid a couple of SSDs, I think this will provide the foundations for a great server




  5.  
    Matt

    I have a 2500K brought it for my home server as for the imporved graphics and encoding… but now I want to virtualise with ESXi 4.1

    —Any one wanna buy a next to brand new 2500K off me, or swap for a next to brand new 2500?—





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