Intel Ivy Bridge review

23 Apr 2012

A small step forward for application performance, but a faster GPU and lower power draw will make it ideal for the next wave of Ultrabooks

It’s fair to say Ivy Bridge – or 3rd Generation Intel Core to give the family its proper name – has stretched our patience these past few months. By Intel’s annually alternating tick-tock schedule – where a tick brings a die shrink and a tock, as Sandy Bridge was, means a whole new architecture – this tick was due to arrive several months ago. Perhaps that’s why Intel wants us to view it as more of a “tick-plus”, with added extras included.

It would have been sooner, but the industry’s first ever 22nm core was delayed due to manufacturing difficulties. Ivy Bridge uses Intel’s groundbreaking 3D Tri-Gate transistors, and with such advances often come poor early yields. But it’s finally ready for a full launch, and Intel has ensured the first batch of hardware is a big one.

The hardware

On the desktop, there are three Core i5s and two Core i7s, while laptops benefit from four Core i7s and the first Ivy Bridge Extreme Edition processor. Every one of them is quad core, with all but the three i5s also using Hyper-Threading.

Intel Ivy Bridge

Ivy Bridge introduces the new HD Graphics 2500 and 4000 cores, the latter of which is found on the majority of the first processors. It supports DirectX 11 and OpenGL 3.1, and features a built-in AVC encoder for hardware video encoding and transcoding. Plus, for the first time it can access the processor’s L3 cache to boost performance.

We also need a new 7 Series chipset to control the Ivy Bridge CPUs. The HM75, HM76, HM77 and UM77 chipsets cover laptops, with the desktop split between the mainstream H77, the enthusiast Z75 and Z77, and the business B75. Motherboards are already widely available, with two more enterprise chipsets due in June.

There are no physical changes to the existing LGA 1155 socket, so Sandy Bridge processors will work in Series 7 motherboards. It may also be possible to plug an Ivy Bridge CPU into some recent Sandy Bridge motherboards with the right firmware updates, but that’s down to manufacturers.

Intel Ivy Bridge

Four integrated USB 3 ports come as standard on every chipset bar the mainstream HM75, and Intel has implemented support for Thunderbolt. Note, however, it will be up to manufacturers to add their own controller and hardware to complete the picture. The 7 Series also ups the display pipes to support three screens, but the catch is that two of them must connect via DisplayPort. For now it’s more relevant for new laptops, whose screens commonly connect internally via DisplayPort; the two external displays can therefore use one DisplayPort and HDMI, D-SUB or DVI.

Ivy Bridge brings a few other platform benefits. There’s a handful of new Centrino Wi-Fi adapters, complete with Bluetooth 4 support. Ultrabooks will reportedly resume from hibernation in less than seven seconds, and can poll email servers and the like without fully waking. They’ll also get access to Intel’s Anti-Theft Technology to remotely disable lost hardware, and any vPro systems will benefit from enhanced Identity Protection Technology, masking password login from keyloggers.