Quarter 1, 2012 Suggestions, Alternates, & Other Considerations
So, now that you have a better understanding of CPU’s in general, and what is coming up in the near future, if you’re still interested in putting together a Sandy Bridge based system, or even just designing a Sandy Bridge based system currently as a place holder for a future Ivy Bridge build, below you’ll find my current recommendations as well as some other considerations and alternatives to think about when selecting your preferred CPU.
Suggestion: Intel Core i5-2400 (Quad Core, 6M Cache, 3.1-3.4 GHz, 95 W)
Intel’s Core i5-2400 should perform nearly on par with the with the highly popular Core i5-2500K. The Core i5-2400 is about as fast of a CPU as you can get without spending an additional $100 and stepping up to the core i7 series CPUs. The Core i5-2400 can currently be had for about $180 and, as such, it fits nicely into our $200 per component guideline. If you’re not waiting for Ivy Bridge this should provide adequate future-proofing in terms of its excellent performance for gaming (quad-core with a maximum clock of 3.3GHz per core!) and for nearly anything else you might throw at it!
Note: When purchasing any CPU consider purchasing the retail version even if you plan to replace the stock heat-sink and fan with an after-market solution. The retail versions of the processors often come with a much longer warranty period and may save you some money and hassle in the long run! Also, if you are interested in after-market cooling solutions, see my Cooling section towards the end of this guide (just before the Addendum).
Alternate: Intel Xeon E3-1230 (Quad Core, Hyper-Threading, 8M Cache, 3.2 GHz, 80 W)
Intel’s Xeon E3-1230 is an enterprise grade processor that will unofficially work on consumer grade motherboards and with consumer grade memory. The Xeon E3-1230 uses 15 W less energy compared to the Core i5-2400 and i5-2500k due to its lack of integrated GPU. It also brings with it 2 MiB more of Level 3 cache.
If you plan to use a discreet GPU for gaming or HD video decoding (as I will suggest) the integrated GPU is essentially a waste of power and a feature that you’re paying for but will never (or only rarely) use. Instead, you can spend about 20% more ($240, which is creeping up there in terms of our $200 dollar limit, but likely worth it!) and get this enterprise grade processor with 2 MiB more L3 cache and hyper-threading which, when combined with the four physical cores, gives the processor the ability to handle 8 threads (nearly) at once!
To boil this down a bit, to get these features (and this computing power) with a desktop or consumer CPU would require stepping up to the Core i7 series and paying at least $60 more! If you’re a bit techy and don’t mind the unofficial nature of using this CPU on consumer grade motherboards, I strongly suggest considering this option. This is the CPU I would buy myself and it will outperform the Sandy Bridge based core i5′s and will be just slightly under the Sandy Bridge based core i7′s!
Opting for a an enterprise grade Xeon over a consumer grade Core processor may also increase your system’s stability, or at least decrease the chance of a processor related issue (assuming quality control and quality assurance is more rigorous for enterprise versus consumer grade components).
Other Considerations: Intel Core i5-2540M Processor (Dual Core, Hyper-Threading, 3M Cache, 2.6-3.3 GHz, 35 W)
Just as it is possible to run consumer and enterprise grade processors on a desktop PC it is also possible to run select mobile grade processors ( such as the Intel Core i5-2540M). If your prime concern is a reduction in power consumption then this may be well worth considering. The mobile processors will be more expensive ($280), less powerful (dual core, 3 MiB L3 Cache), and it will be more difficult to pick compatible components (a mobile processor specific motherboard will be needed at minimum), but it is an option!
I would seriously consider this for a dedicated HTPC, Home Server, or general PC (anything that I didn’t care about the performance loss on) and for a system that was on consistently enough to make the power-savings offset the higher initial costs.
That’s it for the CPU, on the next page we’ll continue on with our next component, the all-connecting motherboard! Additionally, if you’re interested in a after-market cooling solutions for CPU’s and other components, I will get into that towards the end of this guide (right after we look at the system cases).