Intel's Ivy Bridge Processor Platform: What You Need to Know

This spring, Intel will roll out its latest generation of processors for laptops. Dutifully following Moore’s Law, these Ivy Bridge processors are smaller, faster, and more efficient than their predecessors. But what else are they capable of? Here’s a quick guide to their abilities.

What is Ivy Bridge?

Ivy Bridge is the code name for next generation of Intel processors. Most notably, Intel has shrunk the size of the die to 22 nanometers from 32 nm on the previous generation, known as Sandy Bridge.

The biggest advance is the introduction of a “3D” transistor design. Placing gates on three sides of the vertical fin on each transistor (as opposed to just one gate on a “2D” transistor) lets more current through when those transistors are in the active or “on” state and even less when it’s inactive. As a result, Intel says that these transistors will provide a 37-percent increase in speed while using less than half the power of traditional transistors. Basically, this means that Intel was able to cram more transistors into a smaller area, which means notebooks themselves can become smaller.

Other benefits of Ivy Bridge include native support for DirectX 11, Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, and Near-Field Communications technology.

What will Ivy Bridge do?

Unlike Sandy Bridge, which saw Intel switch to an integrated CPU and GPU on a single chip, the new Ivy Bridge processor will only provide modest increases in both performance and power consumption. Intel expects that users should see up to a 20 percent improvement in CPU performance, and up to a 30 percent increase in the integrated GPU performance.

The first Ivy Bridge processors to ship will be Core i5 and Core i7 chips. Two chips—the 1.8-GHz Core i5 3427U and the 2.0-GHz Core i7-3667U—look like they will be destined for ultrabooks. Mainstream processors include the 2.6-GHz Core i5-3320M, the 2.8-GHz Core i5-3360M, and the 2.9-GHz Core i7-3520M chips. Performance CPUs will include six quad-core Core i7 chips, ranging from the 2.3-GHz 3610QM to the 2.9-GHz 3920XM processor.

When will Ivy Bridge be available?

The first notebooks with Ivy Bridge processors will start shipping in April 2012, and will generally be middle to higher-end systems. The first Ivy Bridge processors to ship will be Core i5 and Core i7 chips.

How will Ivy Bridge affect me?

By Q3 of 2012, nearly all new notebook models with Intel chips should use some form of Ivy Bridge, displacing the current Sandy Bridge platform we see today. In terms of hardware design, Ivy Bridge processors should help further the proliferation of inexpensive Ultrabooks—systems that are less than 0.8 inches thick, weigh less than 4 pounds, and cost less than $1,000—meaning it will be easier than ever to take your laptop with you.

Native support for Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 also means that, like current MacBook Air owners, consumers will be able to connect the latest high-speed peripherals, such as hard drives and external monitors.

NFC support could mean that users could pay for things online simply by tapping a PayPass-enabled credit card or phone to their laptop. However, there’s no confirmed partnerships yet.

Performance-wise, consumers should see slightly faster times when converting photos and videos, and, with the inclusion of DirectX 11 support, there is the potential for much greater detail when playing video games. However, titles that can best take advantage of DirectX 11 require much more powerful discrete GPUs to begin with, so it’s unlikely that the everyday consumers will benefit from this.