Intel inaugurated its third-generation Core (aka Ivy Bridge) line of processors in April with the Core i7-3770K, a higher-end mainstream chip aimed at those who wanted a taste of top performance but couldn't afford (or didn't want to splurge on) a more powerful Sandy Bridge-Extreme model. With its latest releases Intel is now rounding out the rest of the family, focusing in the mid-range. Step up the Core i5-3470 , a desktop processor priced at around £160 that's intended to bestow the benefits of the new technology to everyday users who don't quite need every possible bell and whistle. The chip succeeds at this, but don't expect it to deliver miracles.
Like all Core i5 chips, the Core i5-3470 is a quad-core CPU that doesn't feature Hyper-Threading-in other words, it delivers four processing threads rather than the eight you may see with something like the Core i7-3770K. (To get eight threads, you have to move up to Core i7.) The Core i5-3470's base clock speed is a reasonable 3.2GHz, though this can rise to as much as 3.6GHz when Turbo Boost is activated and you have the proper electrical and thermal headroom. The chip has a cache size of 6MB, which is par for the Core i5 course.
Additional features comprise all the standards you get on Ivy Bridge chips using Intel's newest 22nm fabrication process. The integrated video system is Intel HD Graphics 2500 (as opposed to the higher-end 4000), which can render DirectX 11 (DX11) video and has a base render frequency of 650MHz and a maximum dynamic frequency of 1.1GHz. PCI Express (PCIe) 3.0, DDR3 memory up to 1,600MHz, and USB 3.0 are all supported natively, as are the full range of Intel's other technologies, including Quick Sync Video for faster video transcoding, InTru 3D for stereoscopic 3D, Secure Key, OS Guard, vPro, and so on. And, like other Ivy Bridge processors, although the Core i5-3470 is designed for Intel's 7 Series chipset, it is fully backward compatible with second-generation Core (Sandy Bridge) motherboards using the LGA1155 socket as well.
As far as performance is concerned, it's worth noting that this release is not an exact repeat of what we saw last year with Sandy Bridge. There, Intel's flagship was the Core i7-2600K , but the hidden jewel was the Core i5-2500K -which offered closely matched speed and a fully unlocked overclocking multiplier for considerably less money. (We saw this process repeated, on an even grander scale, with the Sandy Bridge-E Core i7-3960X Extreme Edition and Core i7-3930K.) Here, however, the Core i5-3470 is not in the direct line of succession, as it were, so the same situation can't occur. (The multiplier on this chip is not fully unlocked, for one thing.) The chip in the equivalent position now would be the Core i5-3570K, which we have not yet tested.
Still, the Core i5-3470 represents a bit of an improvement over the Core i5-2500K in some key areas. Our Adobe Photoshop CS5 test, in which we apply a dozen filters and effects to a large image, took two seconds faster on the newer chip (three minutes, two seconds, as opposed to three minutes, four seconds); exactly the same thing was true of converting a video using Handbrake (the time dropped from 40 to 38 seconds). Rendering an image in POV-Ray 3.7 took four minutes 18 seconds on the Core i5-3470 and four minutes one second on the Core i5-2500K. CineBench R11.5 returned a multicore CPU score of 5.67 for the newer CPU and 5.41 for the older one, with an even tighter gap present between the two when we only used one core for the test (1.48 for the Core i5-2500K, 1.51 for the Core i5-3470).
The biggest jumps we saw in our testing were both with regards to encryption: AIDA64 took full advantage of the Core i5-3470's expanded AES instructions, returning a score of 473,754 for that chip as opposed to 373,772 for the Core i5-2500K; and in TrueCrypt 7.1a the Core i5-3470 attained an AES-Twofish-Serpent mean rate of 162MBps, compared with the Core i5-2500K's 142MBps. There was also a striking differential in power usage: Under full load, our test system drew 137 watts when equipped with the Core i5-2500K - roughly the same as the Core i7-3770K achieved - but only 120 watts with the Core i5-3470. Intel's tweaks in this area have clearly paid off.
When it comes to the integrated graphics, though, the benefits aren't quite so clear. Despite some improvements since the last generation, you're still not going to be able to play serious 3D games with just the processor, so if you plan to play any games, you'll still need a discrete graphics card. We played around in three games-Batman: Arkham City, DiRT 3, and Lost Planet 2-to see if we could get acceptable frame rates (30 frames per second (fps) or above) and had some trouble. At the games' lowest visual settings, only DiRT 3 came through (with 47fps); Batman: Arkham City came close (27fps), but Lost Planet 2 didn't (17.6fps). A chip with HD Graphics 4000, like the Core i7-3770K will get you closer, but you're still better off adding a video card than depending on your processor to do all the work.
This means that, for most everyday usage models, the Core i5-3470 is a strong choice. But remember that it doesn't offer an unlocked multiplier, so you'll have a lot less leeway in adjusting your system speed if you need (or want) to. This remains the Core i5-2500K's big advantage and, we'd say, more than worth its slight price premium-with that processor and a small investment of time, you can have a system that will get its work done even more quickly.
So if you're even a moderate enthusiast, we'd still recommend checking out the Core i5-2500K instead-it remains superlative value, even given Ivy Bridge's other tweaks. But given its general (if gentle) speed increases in most situations, the Core i5-3470 is more likely to be the better buy if overclocking just isn't your thing.
Pros: Good performance for the price. Backward compatible with Sandy Bridge motherboards.
Cons: Multiplier not fully unlocked. Few major performance increases over previous-generation counterparts.