Intel Sandy Bridge for laptops review

26 Jan 2011

Intel's Sandy Bridge goes mobile, and brings high-end power to mid-range laptops

Price when reviewed: 
680inc VAT
5

With the market for desktop PCs shrinking every year, more and more people are abandoning their PCs in favour of laptops. It's easy to see why: with Intel's Core architecture cramming desktop levels of power into affordable portables, even a budget laptop is often all anyone will ever need. Now, with the advent of Intel's latest microarchitecture, Sandy Bridge, its mobile Core processors promise to soar yet further into the performance stratosphere.

Sandy Bridge is set to take pride of place in everything from affordable budget notebooks to premium mobile workstations, and Intel's gone back to the drawing board for the 15-strong range of Core-i3, i5 and i7 processors.

The first flush of models are built on a 32nm process, with Intel's integrated HD graphics squeezed onto the same silicon die as the CPU, and support for DDR3 memory of up to 1600MHz. In addition, Intel's Turbo Boost technology has reached its second generation, and a new instruction set, Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX), serves to accelerate repetitive operations such as those required by media conversion software.

There's a baffling array of options too, with dual-core, four-threaded Core i3, i5 and i7 processors aimed at the mainstream audience, plus Performance and Extreme Edition models sporting quad-core, eight-thread architecture.

A quiet revolution

It's perhaps fitting that our first sight of a Sandy Bridge laptop didn't exactly bowl us over. Indeed, those expecting visual fireworks will be seriously disappointed. Acer's Aspire 5750G is shod in an understated dark grey chassis and, were it not for the specification sticker ruining the surprise, we could have mistaken it for any mid-range 15.6in notebook.

Acer Aspire 5750G

Beneath that mild-mannered exterior, however, lies Intel's Core i7-2630QM processor. Sat squarely in the upper echelons of Intel's newly revamped line-up of Core i7 processors (see table for full details), the Q in the processor's name denotes that the 2GHz i7-2630QM is one of the four-core, eight-thread models, and with a 45W TDP it's a processor you can expect to see making its debut across many manufacturers' desktop replacements and mobile workstations in the coming months.

While that base clock of 2GHz might not sound particularly quick, Intel's Turbo Boost 2 technology is now capable of pushing clock speeds much higher than previously; up to a maximum of 2.9GHz in the case of the i7-2630QM. As ever, the maximum speed increase is reserved for single threaded applications, but Turbo Boost 2 now allows for the CPU speed to be increased while all four of the processor's cores are working flat out.

Details

Price ex VAT Processor can't be bought separately; laptop:
Price inc VAT £680
Overall rating 6
Features & Design 6
Value for Money 6
Performance 6

Physical specifications

Dimensions 385 x 254 x 38mm (WDH)
Weight 2.510kg
Travelling weight 3.1kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i7-2630QM
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 0
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 15.6in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,366
Resolution screen vertical 768
Resolution 1366 x 768
Graphics chipset Nvidia Optimus (Intel HD 3000 graphics/Nvidia GeForce GT540M)
Graphics card RAM 2.00GB
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 1
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 640GB
Hard disk usable capacity 596GB
Spindle speed 5,400RPM
Internal disk interface SATA/300
Hard disk Toshiba MK6465GSX
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Optical drive Slimtype DVD A DS8A5SH
Battery capacity 4,400mAh
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support no
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no
Bluetooth support yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 2
FireWire ports 0
PS/2 mouse port no
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader yes
MMC (multimedia card) reader yes
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader yes
Pointing device type Touchpad
Audio chipset Realtek HD Audio
Speaker location Above keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Camera megapixel rating 0.3mp
TPM no
Fingerprint reader no
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 5hr 43min
Battery life, heavy use 1hr 26min
Overall application benchmark score 2.06
Office application benchmark score 1.51
2D graphics application benchmark score 2.33
Encoding application benchmark score 1.81
Multitasking application benchmark score 2.58
3D performance (crysis) low settings 81fps
3D performance setting Low

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OS family Windows 7
Recovery method Recovery partition
Software supplied N/A