Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What you should know about Ivy Bridge mobile processors

Intel's third-generation Core-i processors, codenamed Ivy Bridge, go official today. The company is launching five new quad-core mobile processors, including an Extreme Edition Core i7-3920XM that's targeted at high-end gaming laptops.
Maximum frequency (when using a single core)
With the exception of the Extreme Edition, which is rated at 55W, the rest of these quad-core chips have a maximum TDP of 45W, which is identical to existing Sandy Bridge processors.



Although it's meaningless to talk about the price of these processors (as they won't be sold directly to consumers), the Extreme Edition is quoted at US$1,096, which should give you a rough base on what the ultimate gaming laptop would cost. The second most powerful chip here, the Intel Core i7-3820QM, will probably end up in mainstream notebooks or desktop replacements and is priced at US$568. 

In case you didn't know, Intel has been following a "tick-tock" microprocessor strategy. A "tick" refers to a die shrink, which basically allows more transistors to be crammed on the same chip, leading to more computing performance and lower power consumption. A new microprocessor architecture (tock) is introduced subsequently. Going by this strategy, Ivy Bridge is a tick that builds on what Sandy Bridge (tock) brought to the table.

Sandy Bridge was manufactured on a 32nm process, but Ivy Bridge brings this down to 22nm. Hence, while a quad-core Sandy Bridge processor has around 995 million transistors, a similar Ivy Bridge equivalent packs 1.4 billion. The size of the chip has also been reduced from 216mm2 to 160mm2. All things being equal, increasing the transistor count will lead to a performance boost, but that's not the only advantage of Ivy Bridge.

Ivy Bridge processors are also the first to feature Intel's Tri-Gate 3D transistor technology, which the company had previously hailed as a "major breakthrough and historic innovation in microchips". Thanks to this technology, Ivy Bridge processors are claimed to have a lower average power draw than the previous version.
Here's what you can expect from a mobile Ivy Bridge chip. (Credit: Intel)
For a start, it appears that Intel has dedicated a substantial proportion of the chip to processor graphics. In fact, the number of execution units (Intel's term for the processing elements responsible for handling graphics) has been increased from 12 to 16. According to Intel, it should lead to a performance gain of up to 50 percent for chips with Intel HD Graphics 4000. There's also a lower-end HD Graphics 2500 variant, found on more affordable Ivy Bridge models, that claims to be 10 to 20 percent faster than its previous version.
Both versions of the new Intel HD Graphics (4000 and 2500) add support for DirectX 11, which was previously only available on graphics products from AMD and Nvidia. While DirectX 11 isn't mandatory yet for the latest games, having this feature means you'll be able to get extra visual effects or eye candy that wouldn't have been there without.

For those who are used to multiple displays, you may be pleased to know that the new integrated graphics on Ivy Bridge now support up to three displays simultaneously, an increase from two.

Aside from the improved graphics, consumers can also look forward to even faster CPU performance. Part of that is due to the higher base clocks--the top Sandy Bridge quad-core mobile chip (that's not an Extreme Edition) starts at 2.5GHz compared with 2.7GHz on the Ivy Bridge equivalent. Intel is also likely to have made numerous tweaks to the microprocessor architecture to improve the performance.

What's Ivy Bridge good for?
Now, if you're wondering whether you need these new quad-core processors, especially when most consumer applications are unlikely to make full use of them, Intel has provided some scenarios where Ivy Bridge makes a difference. Of course, not many consumers fiddle with video editing software, but those who require more processing power may find these sample numbers a reason to upgrade.

For instance, in Cinebench, you can expect gains of around 20 percent, which could be significant for those working on a huge animation project.

Media transcoding is slightly more useful to consumers, especially if you intend to convert media for use in another device such as a smartphone or gaming console. Intel's Quick Sync video technology, which is responsible for this function, is claimed to be twice as fast on Ivy Bridge compared with Sandy Bridge.

Finally, gaming performance numbers from Intel for these new chip show improvements ranging from 18 percent to more than 100 percent. Obviously, these are synthetic benchmarks that may not translate accurately to the real world, but it seems very likely we will find better performance on Ivy Bridge. Which brings us to the next question.

Yeah, but can it run Crysis?

Crysis turns five this year, but the former poster child for high-end graphics remains a formidable test. In fact, not so long ago, you couldn't have played this game without a discrete graphics card.

We installed the game on a HP Pavilion dv6 with an Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM processor, 8GB of RAM and disabled the Nvidia GeForce GT 650M chip on the laptop. Basically, we forced Crysis to run on the integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 at its native 1,920 x 1,080-pixel resolution with medium settings enabled. The average frame rate was 19, which was less than smooth, but tolerable. With a few tweaks of the graphics settings, you could probably play the entire game.

According to Intel, the number of new games that are playable on its integrated graphics have doubled from 50 on the previous generation to around 100. The chip giant didn't provide a complete list of these games and it's possible that they simply added games that required DirectX 11 and called it a day. To find out how Intel HD Graphics 4000 fare in some modern games, we tested it on Battlefield 3, Dirt 3 and Shogun 2.

We also compared our results against a Samsung Series 5 Ultra equipped with a discrete Radeon HD 7550M graphics chip. Note that this Samsung laptop has 6GB of RAM and ran the games at its native 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution compared with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 on the HP Pavilion dv6.

Samsung Series 5 Ultra (Radeon HD 7550M)Total War: Shogun 2 (High preset)
While the Intel HD Graphics 4000 did well enough in the synthetic benchmark to almost match the Radeon HD 7550M, it isn't as capable in the actual games. You would likely be able to play Dirt 3 at high settings, but Battlefield 3 was laggy even at the lowest settings. Despite being DirectX 11 compatible, the integrated graphics was able to run the built-in Shogun 2 benchmark after we switched to DirectX 9 mode. In other words, with the exception of Dirt 3, we recommend that you get a laptop with at least a midrange discrete graphics chip.

With that said, the full-HD resolution on the HP laptop may have contributed to the lower frame rates. A typical 13- or 14-inch mainstream notebook will at best have a lower screen resolution of 1,600 x 900-pixel. Perhaps some games that were previously unplayable with Intel's integrated graphics may become otherwise with a lower resolution. You could also adjust the resolution within the game if you don't mind some blurriness.

When will we see laptops with Ivy Bridge inside?
Since the initial wave of Ivy Bridge processors are quad-core models, they will appear first in mainstream and gaming laptops, such as these refreshed Alienware models. Dual-core models that are usually found on Ultrabooks, Apple's MacBook Air and other such ultra-portable laptops will only be available sometime in June. These new laptops will also come with the latest 7-series Intel chipsets that adds native USB 3.0 support (up to a maximum of four ports).


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Source From CNET

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