If you are in the market to buy or build a new laptop or desktop computer, you might want to wait a few weeks, for several reasons. First, Intel is going to formally roll out the brand new Sandy Bridge family of processors at the Consumer Electronics Show on January 5, 2011. Second, after the Sandy Bridge machines become available in mid to late January, there should be some very good clearance sales available on the remaining “Core 2010” based machines (Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7) on store shelves.
If you have either a laptop or desktop machine that is more than about 18 months old, you will still see a nice improvement if you decide to snap up a clearance “Core 2010” machine in a few weeks. I really like the Core i3 380M and the Core i5 460M for laptops, and the Core i7 950 for desktops. Actually, Intel won’t be replacing the desktop 45nm Bloomfield and 32nm Gulftown socket 1366 machines until later in 2011, so the high-end desktop market may not be affected that much by Sandy Bridge for a little while longer.
AnandTech had a nice Sandy Bridge Preview back in August, with some benchmarks of some engineering sample Sandy Bridge processors. He followed this up with a post in September called Intel’s Sandy Bridge Architecture Exposed that goes into much more detail about the new Sandy Bridge architecture (which is a Tock Release for Intel). One interesting quote from the second AnandTech article is:
“Mobile Sandy Bridge is significantly faster than Arrandale/Clarksfield”
For you non-hardware geeks out there, Arrandale is the current mobile 32nm Core i3 and Core i5 (which are dual-core plus hyper-threading) and Clarksfield is the current mobile 45nm Core i7 (which are quad-core plus hyper-threading). Personally, I cannot recommend the Clarksfield since they tend to run very hot and have pretty poor battery life (typically less than two hours).
If I were going to buy a new laptop today, I would be looking for something sporting the 32nm 2.53GHz Intel Core i5 460M, which will give you 80-90% of the performance of a mobile Core i7 (for most workloads) with much better battery life.
Unlike database servers, I think you should aim for the “sweet spot” when it comes to the price performance ratio on a laptop or a desktop machine. You end up paying a very high premium for that last little bit of performance that you will probably not even notice in most real life tasks.