If you are in the market for a new laptop or desktop computer and can afford to put off your purchase for a little while longer, it might not be the worst idea in the world. Intel has finally released its third-generation Core processors, dubbed Ivy Bridge. The first wave of these chips is targeting high-end systems, though processors for mainstream and budget desktop and laptop computers will soon follow. Eventually, all but the cheapest cheap computers will sport the new technology. And Apple users aren't being left out; if rumors are accurate, a new generation of Ivy Bridge powered Apple laptops and desktops could begin appearing as soon as this coming May or June. Let's see some of the major improvements these new chips bring to the table.
Last year's second-generation (Sandy Bridge) Core processors turned personal computing on its ear. Leaps in overall and graphics performance allowed even budget systems to handle any everyday task thrown at it without breaking a sweat. High-end systems with top of the line Sandy Bridge Core processors put more computing power in the hands of users than any mere mortal -- extreme gamers and actual rocket scientists excepted -- should ever need.
The first reviews are coming in, and reports say that systems sporting the latest Ivy Bridge quad-core i7 processors indeed show increased performance over their predecessor, though the performance boost for everyday computing is not as earth-shattering as the ones seen when Sandy Bridge first debuted. CNET, for example, benchmarks an Origin EON17-S high-end gaming laptop and an Asus N56V demonstration laptop (a laptop designed to show off a technology's abilities, but that might not ever be offered for sale). Scott Stein reports that the "subtle" performance improvement claimed by Intel is reflected in CNET's benchmark testing, though that's enough of a boost to make the systems the fastest they had seen to date.
The chip's new architecture brings a number of enhancements that might get technology enthusiasts enthusiastic, and if that describes you, check out the very detailed analysis of these chips at sites like TomsHardware.com. But for many end users, a big plus is that Ivy Bridge can deliver more computing power while consuming less actual power, which should translate to smaller batteries or longer lasting ones in portable computers. PC World sees that in its benchmark testing, leading Melanie Pinola to say "Ultrabooks -- and laptops in general -- seem to be the real winners when it comes to upgrading to Ivy Bridge." She notes that while ultrabook-appropriate Ivy Bridge processors aren't part of Monday's first wave, they are on the way and that reports peg the first Ivy Bridge ultrabooks to launch in early June. (If you are unfamiliar with ultrabooks, see this blog post.)
Then there are the new graphics capabilities. Ivy Bridge processors offer integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics in higher-end chips like the ones just released, and HD 2500 graphics for lower-end processors in the series. CNET looks at how well HD 4000 graphics performs, and calls it "credible." Rich Brown and Scott Stein add, "You will still have a better gaming experience with a budget graphics card, but for at least the HD 4000, Intel finally has an onboard graphics processor with some 3D processing muscle." PC World takes things a step further, declaring that Ivy Bridge HD 4000 graphics makes entry-level video cards "obsolete."
While a few high-priced, high-power, "early adopter" systems are now available, the next few months will see a flood of mainstream and budget Ivy Bridge equipped computers. As that happens, we'll be updating our reports on laptops and cheap laptops, desktop and gaming computers, and Apple laptops and desktops, so stay tuned.