When it comes to Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors, there are two kinds of people. Those who are happily running one since the year 2011, laughing at how little incentive they have to upgrade to something newer. And those who did not buy one in 2011, but looked in awe and disbelief when their fast and powerful socket 1366 and 1156 Nehalem systems were smoked by something even more unbelievably fast and powerful.
Well, I did not buy a Sandy Bridge chip in 2011. As far as I was concerned, my Core i7 860 Nehalem system from 2009 was still plenty fast for my needs, but I would just have to get used to not seeing my CPU at the top of the benchmark charts any more. And remarkably, that sentiment still holds in 2018. But when I started this Pixel Workbench website and video channel with the intent of testing, reviewing, and benchmarking all kinds of hardware, suddenly it did matter what kind of benchmark score my CPU could put up.
And to make matters worse, Intel and Microsoft it seems were doing everything they can to force people to “upgrade” to Windows 10, and even AMD headed in that direction. So if you want to benchmark and test a wide range of hardware, going back to Windows 7 and even Windows XP, one does not simply get by with some Skylake CPU. No, it had to be fast and yet still compatible with older software and hardware. That’s where Sandy Bridge comes in.
But why settle for a Core i7 2600k that everyone and their grandma were running back in 2011? In 2018, those were still selling for a not-so-bargain price, while spending a bit more could get you something that would make even a 2600k user jealous. The Xeon E5 for socket 2011 was a six core, 12-thread, 15MB L3 cache monster Sandy Bridge CPU that cost about a thousand dollars when new, and ran on a platform with an ungodly amount of memory bandwidth and PCI-Express lanes. In 2018 these were sold as heavily discounted used parts, from decommissioned high end corporate servers. The Xeon E5 1660 was among the faster clocked of such models, and to my amazement, it even had an unlocked multiplier. Slap on a beefy tower air cooler, and it overclocks to 4.4GHz or higher, right up there with newer processors.
Combined with a modern Geforce GTX1070 video card, the Xeon plowed through every game I threw at it. Yes, it would be a massively overkill CPU for many older video cards I plan on testing. But if you’re going to build a fast test platform, it better be overkill than the other way around.
Watch the video of the Xeon E5 in action: