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Upgrading from an Intel Core i7-2600K: Testing Sandy Bridge in 2019
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One of the most popular processors of the last decade has been the Intel Core i7-2600K. The design was revolutionary, as it offered a significant jump in single core performance, efficiency, and the top line processor was very overclockable. With the next few generations of processors from Intel being less exciting, or not giving users reasons to upgrade, and the phrase 'I'll stay with my 2600K' became ubiquitous on forums, and is even used today. For this review, we dusted off our box of old CPUs and put it in for a run through our 2019 benchmarks, both at stock and overclocked, to see if it is still a mainstream champion.

Why The 2600K Defined a Generation

Sit in a chair, lie back, and dream of 2010. It's a year when you looked at that old Core 2 Duo rig, or Athlon II system, and it was time for an upgrade. You had seen that Nehalem, and that the Core i7-920 was a handy overclocker and kicking some butt. It was a pleasant time, until Intel went and gave the industry a truly disruptive product whose nostalgia still rings with us today.

That product was Sandy Bridge. AnandTech scored the exclusive on the review, and the results were almost impossible to believe, for many reasons. In our results at the time, it was by far and above a leap ahead of anything else we had seen, especially given the thermal monstrosities that Pentium 4 had produced several years previous. Built on Intel’s 32nm process, the redesign of the core was a turning point in performance on x86, one which has not been felt since. It would be another 8 years for AMD to have its ‘Sandy Bridge’ (or perhaps more appropriately, a 'Conroe') moment with Ryzen. Intel managed to stand on the shoulders of its previous best product and score a Grand Slam.

In that core design, Intel shook things up considerably. One key proponent was the micro-op cache, which means that recently decoded instructions that are needed again are taken already decoded, rather than wasting power being decoded again. For Intel with Sandy Bridge, and more recently with AMD on Ryzen, the inclusion of the micro-op cache has done wonders for single threaded performance. Intel also launched into improving its simultaneous multi-threading, which Intel has branded HyperThreading for generations, slowly improving the core by making more of it dynamically allocated for threads, rather than static and potentially losing performance.

The quad-core design of the highest processor of the family on launch day, the Core i7-2600K, became a staple through Intel’s next five generations of the architecture, all the way through Ivy Bridge, Haswell, Broadwell, Skylake, and Kaby Lake. Since Sandy Bridge, while Intel has moved to smaller process nodes and taken advantage of lower power, Intel has been unable to recreate that singular jump in raw instruction throughput, with incremental 1-7% increases year on year, using that power budget to increase operational buffers, execution ports, and instruction support.
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