I haven't built any computers based on the Sandy Bridge core, which of course includes the integrated GPU Intel calls the "Intel HD 3000" in some of their mid to high end CPUs (Core i5 and i7). The "Intel HD 2000" are found on some of the low end CPUs such as Core i3. Besides the difference in GPU performance, they are basically the same in terms of architecture.
Fry's Electronics had an amazing sale on some Patriot 16GB DDR3 memory ($59.99 after mail-in rebate), but none of my computers uses DDR3. The memory sparked a whole new computer build, which led to my experience with the Intel HD 3000 and Sandy Bridge.
Currently, I have a PC serving as my virtual machine farm and file/print server (a Drobo is attached to it). It's a Core 2 Quad Q6600 (2.4 GHz) and has 8 GB of DDR2 RAM. There is no onboard video, so I picked the slowest, fanless ATI PCI-E video card at the time. It is running a RAID 0 of 500GB laptop HDDs to further save on power while allowing for some protection. The computer itself sucks down 70 to 100 W depending on load. Of course, that doesn't take the power consumption of the external Drobo unit into account.
My HTPC runs Windows Media Center, streams from my server, and is a Core 2 Duo E7200 (2.53 GHz) and also has 8 GB of DDR2 RAM. When I chose the video card at the time, only the high end ATI cards had bitstreaming audio, so I went for a budget and fanless nVidia GeForce 8500GT. It had an HDMI jack and a SPIDF passthru, so that was the best choice at the time. I have a single 1TB HDD because it was on sale for $99 (which was cheap at the time) and because I didn't feel my HTPC was all that critical. It sucked down about the same amount of power as my server.
So I figured if I could build a single powerful but green PC based on the quad-core Core i5 2500K (3.3 GHz) and have it do the job of both of my PCs that run 24 hours a day, I would be doing the planet a favor. Indeed, as I was putting it together, I measured a low idle of 38 W, while peaking to 100 W on load. This would be awesome!
Besides the Patriot 16 GB of DDR3 memory and the Intel Core i5 2500K CPU, I also bought Gigabyte's Z68MA-D2H-B3 motherboard. It uses the new Z68 chipset for the LGA 1155 CPUs and allows for both integrated GPU and discrete GPU to function simultaneously, while still allowing the CPU to be overclocked (which I didn't plan on doing anyways). I would be reusing the RAID 0 setup from my server, and the HTPC case, Blu-Ray drive, and PSU from my current HTPC, all in the name of saving a few bucks.
Of course, I would not dare to take down the server and HTPC until I was good and ready, otherwise my household occupants would revolt. Instead, I put everything together in a barebones way. No case. Just a PSU, a hard drive, and a USB DVD-ROM drive for installing Windows 7. My plan was to install Windows and all drivers to get the OS and software down properly, migrate my Windows Media Center settings and schedules to the new PC, then finally bring down the server and HTPC to harvest their parts. I would then transfer the new PC's image to the RAID 0 drives. Minimal downtime was the goal.
I thought I was home free after Windows 7 was done installing. I installed all the drivers, rebooted, and then was staring at a black screen with a mouse cursor that I could move. Unfortunately, that's all I could do with the mouse. When out of frustration, I would sometimes leave it in that state, only to come back to find different behviors. One time, I would see a grabled desktop, but it was a hard freeze. Other times, it would reboot on it's own, where Windows would boot into it's own recovery partition to repair or do a System Restore.
I was going nuts! I reinstalled Windows from scratch, played with BIOS settings (maybe I accidently overclocked it?), updated the firmware, replaced memory, stomped my feet... same results.
After much troubleshooting, I found that if I were to install the driver for the Intel HD 3000 video, Windows would bomb on the next reboot. It didn't matter if it was the included driver on the CD, Gigabyte's website, or the ones found on Intel's own website.
Some say it was bad drivers, and that getting the oldest version would work. The oldest version available on Intel's website did not work for me. Gigabyte's site actually had something newer than Intel's own site! And the CD? Forget it.
Their stories were similar - BSODs, hard crashes, or sometimes just random pausing.
There were others that told stories of motherboard RMAs, memory RMAs, and eventually after 3 CPU RMAs, one person found that it worked without changing anything else!
Was that it? The GPU core on the Core i5 that is bad? That's odd. CPUs rarely comes out bad from the factory. But all signs point to either a bad GPU core on the CPU or just bad drivers.
People who have Z68, H67, and H61 chipsets (not P67s because they do not even use the integreated GPUs) are reporting the same thing, from all different motherboard manufacturers.
Intel hasn't responded to the complaints. It may not be happening to everyone, but there seem to enough people experiencing this to warrent some kind of response.
So the lesson here? Wait for a response from Intel before buying your next Sandy Bridge CPU, especially if you plan on using the integrated graphics. Or hedge your bets and go for it anyways. After all, not everyone got bad GPU cores, right?
Your's truly returned everything and just gave up on the project. I'll just wait.
Related links (including Intel's own forums):