If you haven't yet heard of Intel's Ivy Bridge processors, you might be living under the proverbial rock: between Intel's own boasts of having invented a new 3-D transistor, countless leaked roadmaps, and overeager OEMs intent on deploying the silicon, we've known practically everything there was to know about the company's 3rd Generation Intel Core Processor (codename Ivy Bridge) for weeks, if not months. Today, however, Ivy Bridge is official, and Intel's announcing its first fifteen chips: six quad-core mobile powerhouses, five full-voltage desktop parts, and four low-power desktop CPUs.
Here's what you need to know:
- Though it's built on Intel's new 22nm architecture and uses 3-D transistors, Ivy Bridge is more of a refresh than a brand-new thing. It's a lot like the Sandy Bridge line of processors that came before, with a number of behind-the-scenes tweaks... except now Intel claims the integrated graphics are up to twice as potent as those in Sandy Bridge machines.
- You can generally tell an Ivy Bridge processor by a "3" in front of its name. For example, a "Core i7-3820QM" is a 22nm Ivy Bridge chip, while a "Core i7-2860QM" is a 32nm Sandy Bridge model from the previous generation. (There are some Sandy Bridge-E series chips with a "3," as well, but they use a different socket.) The Core i7, Core i5 and Core i3 branding continues on, and letters at the end of a CPU's name still tell you a bit more: M for mobile, QM for quad-core mobile, X for Extreme Edition, S and T for low and lower-voltage, and K for unlocked overclocking.
The 2.9GHz Core i7-3920XM, 2.7GHz Core i7-3820QM, 2.6GHz Core i7-3720QM, 2.3GHz Core i7-3615QM, 2.3GHz Core i7-3610QM and 2.1GHz Core i7-3612QM are the first Ivy Bridge laptop chips. See these two slides here and here for comparison charts.
- For desktops, there's the 3.5GHz Core i7-3770K, 3.4GHz Core i7-3770, 3.4GHz Core i5-3570K, 3.3GHz Core i5-3550, 3.1GHz Core i5-3450, 2.5GHz Core i7-3770T, 3.1GHz Core i7-3770S, 3.0GHz Core i5-3550S, and 2.8GHz Core i5-3450S. The major differences are small bumps in clockspeed.
- Intel's only introducing quad-core parts today, and only standard voltage laptop chips at that. Dual-core and ultra-low-voltage (ULV) silicon suitable for ultrabooks won't be ready until "later this spring," and we're hearing a multi-month delay. However, most of today's desktop chips have a 77W TDP (compare to last gen's 95W TDP standard) and the company's introducing its first 35W TDP quad-core processor, the 2.1GHz Core i7-3612QM, which can turbo up to 3.1GHz. It's still not in ultrabook territory, but it's definitely better.
- There are two new flavors of integrated graphics, the Intel HD Graphics 4000 and the Intel HD Graphics 2500, and you can probably guess which one you'd want. Early benchmarks are already showing a pretty significant boost in game framerates with the HD Graphics 4000 — up to 50 percent in real-world tests — but the HD Graphics 2500 is only "expected to perform approximately 10%-20% higher" than the already-inferior HD Graphics 2000 that came with some previous generation Intel chips. Both nominally support DirectX 11, three independent displays (you can theoretically have two external monitors as well as your laptop screen), and Quick Sync Video 2.0 for even faster video transcoding.
Graphics aside, the new CPUs don't seem to be much more powerful at all in early tests, which gives us hope that Intel is focusing the brunt of the 22nm improvements on laptop battery life instead. Given the TDPs listed above, though, we may not be seeing major improvements there until Intel's low-voltage parts come out.
- Intel WiDi 3.0 (Wireless Display) is here, with a latency improvement, and Intel Insider 2.0 (the firm's on-chip DRM technology) is slated to provide UltraViolet support sometime later in 2012.
Core i5 desktop chips can have Hyper-Threading now, something that was previously reserved for Core i7. All of today's Core i5 desktop chips save the Core i5-3450 and Core i5-3450S have four cores and eight threads.On the desktop side, the main distinctions now for Core i7 seem to be an extra 2MB of L3 cache, and guaranteed HD Graphics 4000. Update: There was a misprint in an earlier slidedeck: though the original shows eight threads for the Core i5-3570K, Core i5-3550, and Core i5-3550S, Intel confirms that there are actually four threads for each of the new Core i5 CPUs.
- You don't necessarily need a new motherboard for an Ivy Bridge desktop processor, as they use the same LGA-1155 socket as previous generations. It certainly wouldn't hurt, though: the new Panther Point chipset designed for Ivy Bridge adds native USB 3.0 support, PCIe 3.0 support for faster future graphics cards and the like, and (in the case of the Z77 Express) there will be Thunderbolt support too. Plus, Intel's made it a lot easier to take advantage of new features without buying a top-shelf motherboard this time around. This time, every board supports the onboard processor graphics, as well as graphics switching, and regular consumer H77 boards can do Intel's "Smart Response Technology" brand of SSD caching, too. So far, the only obvious reasons to buy pricier boards are for overclocking, multiple discrete graphics cards, or corporate features.
On paper, there don't seem to be many compelling reasons to choose a third-generation Intel Core processor if you're already running second-generation Sandy Bridge silicon — yet — but we're eagerly awaiting the first batch of real-world reviews to cement that. By the same token, there certainly don't seem to be any reasons not to buy if it's time to upgrade your rig, unless you're waiting for dual-core, ultra-low-voltage, or perhaps the promises of AMD's Trinity.
Update: Take a look at some of the first Ivy Bridge reviews right here.