Chip manufacturer Intel's new range of processors, codenamed Ivy Bridge, will soon be popping up in all kinds of laptops and computers. But what exactly are these new processors and why on Earth should you care about them?
The name Ivy Bridge is purely the behind the scenes moniker Intel has given to the third generation of its Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. They aim to combine better performance with lower operating power than the previous models, named Sandy Bridge.
The Sandy Bridge chips -- which you'll find in recent laptops like the Samsung Series 9, Asus Zenbook UX21 or the Toshiba Qosmio X770 -- were built on a 32-nanometre process, which basically means it could fit a greater number of more efficient transistors into the same space than was previously possible. Ivy Bridge chips are built on a 22-nanometre process, resulting in even more transistors -- and therefore better performance -- on a physically smaller area.
Intel has been busy boasting that this new range of chips will provide considerably better built-in graphics -- twice as good, to be exact. That'll certainly be beneficial if you play a lot of high-definition video and will also lend a hand when it comes to editing pictures and video clips.
Intel's own benchmarks claim that the new Core i7-3820QM -- which sits at the top of the i7 range -- could encode the test video file for an iPod twice as fast as the previous top dog, the i7-2860QM. How that score stacks up in different machines remains to be seen in our own tests.
Our buddies over at CNET.com have had a play with some test models packing the new chips and concluded that the step-up from the built-in Intel HD 3000 graphics to HD 4000 was particularly noticeable during gaming.
Their hands-on test showed that even some of the more recent titles could be played with the settings set fairly high -- although they were playing with the top-end Core i7, which will make a difference. The performance increases with general processing were less pronounced, although still noticeable.
A boost to graphics processing will also come as a welcome addition to the gamers among you, although the built-in graphics are still unlikely to properly handle elite titles such as Skyrim or Battlefield 3 at their maximum quality settings, so you'll still need a dedicated graphics card in your chosen system if you hope to tackle those games.
Luckily then, Nvidia has also been busy updating its range of chips, using what it calls a Kepler architecture that also strives to lower power usage while increasing performance. We've seen this in action already in the Acer Aspire Timeline U M3 ultrabook, which managed to chomp through top games with gusto. Mix in the graphics boosts of Ivy Bridge and you'll no doubt have a seriously potent games system.
Another welcome addition is the integrated USB 3.0 support. The previous range didn't come with this as standard, so extra chips had to be fitted in order to offer the faster transfer speeds USB 3.0 offers. All the new models will be able to offer the standard without any extras, which should help keep overall chassis sizes down. That also means we may well see USB 3.0 cropping up in Apple's MacBooks, which are due a refresh to Ivy Bridge later this year.
The physically smaller size of the new Ivy Bridge chips means they can be slapped into smaller bodies. Recent ultrabooks such as the UX21 and the Toshiba Satellite Z830 are already extremely slim, but Intel is hoping to reduce the sizes even more. These chips can operate at a slightly lower power, so they shouldn't need fans quite as powerful in order to keep them cool -- and smaller fans means a hopefully smaller overall chassis for laptops and ultrabooks.
The real excitement for the new range lies in seeing just what different manufacturers manage to do with them. We'll have to wait and see what comes out, but all the big names -- Dell, Sony, Asus, Acer and Lenovo -- will be getting on board, so expect some pre-order pages to appear sometime in May. Make sure to keep it CNET UK for all the latest news, and let me know what you think in the comments, or over on Facebook.
Update 24 April: Added link to CNET.com's hands-on test and information on USB 3.0.