Intel Core i5 3570K £170
23rd Apr 2012 | 16:01
The new go-to gamer's chip, but is it a Sandy Bridge upgrade?
Introduction and architecture
This is it. The biggie. The replacement for our favourite CPU of the past year or so. The new quad-core Intel Core i5 3570K, one of two new processors from Intel's new 22nm Ivy Bridge family of CPUs, has plenty to prove.
Our old favourite that sets the standard this new chip will be measured by is the Intel Core i5 2500K from the Sandy Bridge generation, the best all round gaming CPU ever and all the chip most people need.
Or maybe that should be the Core i5 2550K which was a very minor clockspeed bump over the 2500K. In truth, they're much of a muchness.
At first glance, you might wonder whether the Intel Core i5 3570K is actually a new chip, so similar are the headline specifications to its predecessor.
With four cores and no Hyperthreading support, there's not a lot of extra CPU hardware. The clockspeeds and cache haven't budged an inch, either. As before, we're talking 3.4GHz nominal, 3.8GHz Turbo and 6MB of cache.
Dig a little deeper and the differences emerge.
For gamers and performance enthusiasts, the most important upgrade is the shrink from 32nm to 22nm process technology and the introduction of Intel's 3D Tri-gate transistors.
The upshot is what Intel is calling a "Tick-plus".
A "Tick" in Intel-speak means a die shrink of an existing processor architecture, where a "Tock" is a new design using the old manufacturing tech.
So, the existing Core i5 2550K is part of the Sandy Bridge Tock family and the new Intel Core i5 3570K is an Ivy Bridge Tick.
Anywho, whether the Tick-plus label makes any sense, it'll be Intel's own CPUs that the Core i5 3570K will have to beat.
AMD's FX Bulldozer chips, such as the AMD FX 8150, simply cannot compete when it comes to per core performance and that's what you need for a great gaming CPU.
Which is what the old 2500k and 2550K were all about and what the Intel Core i5 3570K will have to deliver to take over where those two left off.
Clockspeed - 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo)
Cores - 4
Threads - 4
Cache - 6MB
Process - 22nm
Socket - Intel LGA 1155
Old and new
So, the new Intel Core i5 3570K is an intriguing mix of old and new.
What does it look like when you lift the bonnet? The CPUs cores themselves are pretty much the same as before, barring a few very minor changes.
It's the process tech that promises the most. Intel reckons the new 22nm 3D Tri-gate transistors are more than just your typical process shrink. They offer much better current control, less leak and improve flow.
In theory, that gives Intel lots of options.
Firstly, with each core consuming less power and taking less space, it could add more cores.
But it didn't.
Alternatively, Intel could have ramped up the clocks.
But it didn't.
Finally, the new Intel Core i5 3570K could be more power efficient than the old Sandy Bridge 2550K.
Here, finally, we some tangible evidence that the new process delivers as billed.
Where the 2550K is rated at 95W, the Core i5 3570K has a 77W TDP. That said, with the core count, clocks and 6MB cache carried over, one thing is clear. If the Intel Core i5 3570K is to deliver improved performance, those minor core revisions are going to have to do the work.
Shift your attention to the graphics part of the new Ivy Bridge architecture, however, and things look a lot more interesting.
If you care about integrated graphics, that is.
The Core i5 3570K gets the full fat HD Graphics 4000 core, so that means 16 execution units where the old 2550K had just 12. Each unit gets an upgrade too, with more processing power and an upgrade from DX10 to DX11 suppport.
The final change of note is the addition of PCI Express 3.0.
As before, the main PCI Express controller is integrated into the Core i5 3570K's die and as before you get 16 lanes to play with regards discrete graphics cards. But with double the bandwidth of PCI Express 2.0, the Intel Core i5 3570K and other Ivy Bridge chips make a more robust platform for multi-GPU graphics.
With AMD not really turning up to this party, the comparison is with Intel's existing Sandy Bridge chips and most notably our old favourite, the Core i5 2500K.
We've ticked our usual benchmark boxes with Cinebench rendering, x264 HD video and gaming on the CPU side.
Overclocking is a key competence for the Core i5 3570K and we're pleased to note it's another near-5GHz chip.
We've also had a look at the performance of the integrated HD Graphics core, both in games and its hardware-accelerated QuickSync transcode engine.
It's a decent step forward compared to the previous core, but it's still not a great gaming solution.
Single threaded CPU performance
Multi-threaded CPU performance
CPU encoding performance
Processor graphics performance
We've established the CPU side of the Intel Core i5 3570K is little changed but big things have happened with the graphics. How does Intel's new mainstream crowd pleaser perform when you fire her up?
With the clockspeeds and cache staying mostly steady and the cores revised rather than redesigned, we didn't have high hopes for a dramatic boost in performance.
That's pretty much how it plays out.
In the Cinebench 11.5 professional graphics rendering test, the Intel Core i5 3570K edges the old Core i5 2500K 1.6pts to 1.49tps. Factor in the 100MHz clockspeed advantage of the Core i5 3570K and it's clear Ivy Bridge isn't doing anything dramatic.
It's a similar story of very modest performance gains in x264 HD video encoding and the CPU-intensive World in Conflict game benchmark. The Core i5 3570K is quicker, for sure, but the difference isn't nearly enough that you're ever going to feel it.
That said, we have been expecting some showbiz moves when it comes to overclocking.
After all, Intel has been bullishly bigging up is fancy new 22nm transistors in all their 3D Tri-gate glory. Oh, and as before, that 'K' suffix indicates a full unlocked CPU multiplier for easy overclocking. Time for them to deliver.
What you make of the 4.9GHz result depends on the angle you're coming from.
On the one hand, that's 1.5GHz higher than the Intel Core i5 3570K's guaranteed clockspeed for four loaded cores, which is one hell of an overclock with a simple air cooler.
On the other, it's just 100MHz higher than the old 2500K manages. So much for that fancy 22nm tech, then?
Perhaps, but what's really interesting for existing Sandy Bridge owners is that Intel's new Z77 platform seems to release more overclocking potential from the outgoing 32nm generation.
We reckon the Z77 is worth a good 200MHz to 300MHz with Sandy Bridge chips, which is intriguing even if it undermines the attraction of the new Core i5 3570K and its Ivy Bridge brethren.
As for the graphics, Intel has indeed upped its game.
World in Conflict at 1,280 x 800 jumps from a sluggish 19 frames per second on the 2500K to a borderline playable 27 frames per second on the new Core i5 3570K, for instance. Skyrim performance is up from 21 frames per second to 25.
In reality though you still need a discrete graphics card for enjoyable gaming.
It's hard to know what to make of the QuickSync video transcode core though.
Performance is up by roughly 10 per cent. It's certainly impressive to observe a whole hour-long HD episode of a TV show crunched down for smartphone consumption in just a few minutes.
But with application support remaining somewhat limited, QuickSync still isn't the killer feature it could be.
The new Intel Core i5 3570K has everything that made its Core i5 2500K such a winning CPU.
Per core performance is the best you can buy.
It overclocks like there's no tomorrow and it's relatively affordable. We're also pleased that it remains compatible with Intel's LGA1155 socket
Intel has created a rod for its own back in recent years by delivering ever more performance.
The new Ivy Bridge generation basically puts on the brakes.
No more cores. No more clocks. And no more overclocking headroom.
The improved graphics don't make up for that.
A great chip, but Core i5 2550K and i5 2500K owners have nothing to worry about.