Amidst much fanfare at a Sydney event, Intel officially launched Ivy Bridge, their latest CPU that uses 3D transistors and shrinks everything down to a mind-boggling 22 nanometres. Though we may have become used to hearing about chip makers making things increasingly tiny, 22nm is a real milestone.
Considering that the first transistor ever made was only just able to be held with two hands, a staggering 4,000 of the transistors used in Ivy Bridge are able to fit around the diameter of a single strand of human hair.
Smallness aside, another big bonus with Ivy Bridge processors is that they are in theory supposed to be backwards-compatible with existing previous generation Sandy Bridge motherboards (but a BIOS update from the motherboard maker might be required). Intel has also released what they call the Panther Point chipsets which feature integrated USB 3.0
Ivy Bridge is being made available in the now familiar Core i3, i5, i7 range with quad-core models aimed at the power user market and a dual-core version for notebooks.
Whilst a none too significant amount of hype has seen Ivy Bridge garnering attention, it is worth remembering that Ivy Bridge is more of a CPU overhaul rather than a full-on architecture upgrade which in plain English means a substantial graphics boost and the ability to deliver decent performance levels whilst running cooler and using less power.
At the launch event Intel streamed 15 windows of HD video simultaneously on the sane ultrabook PC, demonstrating how Ivy Bridges improved graphics tweaks provide moderate improvements to HD video editing and playback as well as gaming. Whilst we've all become used to 5+ hours of computing on the move, Ivy Bridges 22nm design is more energy efficient which translates into substantially improved battery life on notebook PCs.
Because Ivy Bridge can also run cooler, it should be able to run higher core clock speeds, which should also help boost its performance compared to 2nd generation Intel CPUs. At this early stage however, the jury is however still out on how well the Ivy Bridge will overclock.
If like many you're slightly flummoxed and feeling somewhat blinded by science by the whole Ivy Bridge launch, here's a quick primer on just what the fuss is all about:
Energy Efficiency/Performance: Because the Ivy Bridge uses 22nm 3D Tri-gate transistor technology, it can consume up to 50 per cent less power whilst delivering similar levels of performance to the previous generation of CPUs such as the Sandy Bridge.
Graphics: Whilst Ivy Bridge's integrated graphics won't rival those of a dedicated graphics card any time yet, some significant improvements have been made. There's now support for DirectX 11, OpenGL 3.1 (OpenGL 4.0 is also supported with 126.96.36.19929 beta and later drivers.),
Depending on whether you chose a Core i3, 15 or i7, The Ivy Bridges built-in GPU (graphics processing unit) will have 6 or 16 execution units compared to Sandy Bridge's 6 or 12, which is great news for casual gamers. Multiple HD video streams can also be played back with relative ease which could also see Ivy Bridge gaining favour with media centre box builders seeking to avoid the additional cost a dedicated graphics card.
Performance: Compared to Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge is able to typically deliver a 5 per cent to 15 per cent increase in CPU performance, as well a 25 per cent to 68 per cent bump up in integrated graphics performance.
So while Ivy Bridge is shaping up to be a faster CPU option over existing CPU choices, Intel have also used its launch to tweak the ultrabook specification that they coined less than a year ago. There's still a lot of ambiguity surrounding just what an ultrabook is, so confusion for those in the market for a notebook PC is probable. Bearing this in mind, here's the key specs Intel announced for Ultrabooks powered by Ivy Bridge:
Thin: As with the original Ultrabook spec, the 3rd generation spec requires that Ultrabook hardware with a 14" or smaller display be 18mm or thinner while ultrabooks with larger displays are allowed to 21mm thin waistlines. Thin however needn't result in skimpy performance, with many of the ultrabooks on display at the launch event barely breaking a sweat rendering HD video or playing graphics laden first person shooters. For anyone wanting portability not to mention avoiding visits to their chiropractor, an Ultrabook is a complete no-brainer.
Responsiveness: All third-generation Ivy Bridge ultrabooks must be able to wake up and be usable in a near instant fashion, going from a deep sleep to full usability (e.g. responsive keyboard input) in under 7 seconds. When powered up and running, they should also go like a cut cat, meaning they should run most applications quickly. A host of processor design tweaks and improved integrated graphics performance to the mix and 3rd generation ultrabooks are set to do some serious heavy lifting when it comes to crunching data. Notebooks should no longer translate hobbled performance .
Battery life: The original Ultrabook spec called for Ultrabooks to survive at least 5 hours away from a mains socket. This said, many Ultrabooks are already able to run for up to 8 hours (or more with power management settings tweaked) which definitely isn't too shabby. With Ivy Bridge's energy efficient deign, 3rd generation ultrabooks are not only shaping up to be more battery friendly, but will also generate far less heat whilst delivering the goods on the computing front.
Connectivity: All third gen ultrabooks must make use of either USB 3 and/or Thunderbolt technology to enable incredibly fast data transfer capabilities. In practice this should make shifting large amounts of data significantly faster. Whilst thunderbolt is still in its infancy, it will deliver an astounding 10Gbps of bi-directional data throughput. Thunderbolt is shaping up to be a real game changer once a decent amount of Thunderbolt capable peripherals finally hit the market.
Security: All 3rd generation Ultrabooks will also all have Intel Anti-Theft technology baked in (which consists of a combination of both hardware and software that confers people who've lost their Ultrabook with the ability to it lock down or even wipe it remotely). Another related (but lesser known) part of the ultrabook spec is what Intel has branded "Identity Protection technology", Which provides hardware level authentication (which is regarded by many in the computer security game as far more secure approach to authentication compared to software-only techniques).
You'd be forgiven for thinking that Intel's new Ivy Bridge CPUs are all about speedier laptops and desktop PCs But vendors and Intel themselves have hinted at the Ivy Bridge CPUs will also spawn new PC form factors to take advantage of Windows 8 touchy feely features.
Based on what I was able to see both at the Ivy Bridge launch event and recently at CES, ultra-thin clamshell designs will continue to dominate, and some will also incorporate a clever twist in what Intel has branded "convertible" systems which can switch from a typical laptop screen and keyboard configuration into a tablet, making them insanely useful in the process.
It's not just laptops either that are getting funky in the form factor department either. Lenovo's IdeaPad Yoga and Samsungs new all-in-one PCs both look like a bog standard all-in-one desktop PCs out of the box, but can cleverly fold their screens down to 180 degrees to into a table like computing surface that all but removes the need for keyboards and mice. Coupled with Windows 8, this should make for some pretty interesting PC designs.