Conclusion: A Good Step Forward for Ultrabooks

All indications right now are that Ivy Bridge is far more important for Intel’s laptop division than for their desktops. Yes, we'll eventually get dual-core Ivy Bridge on the desktop as well, but many of those chips will be saddled by less than impressive HD 2500 graphics, which Anand discusses in his i5-3470 review. So why would Intel put all that die space and energy into their IGP if they’re just going to disable half of it on most desktops? Because on desktops, integrated graphics performance isn’t particularly important; you can always add a discrete GPU (unless you’ve got a really small/proprietary system). On laptops, a large percentage ship without any sort of dedicated GPU, and it’s often a bottleneck for home users.

So just what does Ivy Bridge bring to the party that you couldn’t get with Sandy Bridge Ultrabooks? In a word: more. More CPU performance—the i5-3427U we tested today is typically close to i5-2410M performance, and often 20% faster—or more—compared to Sandy Bridge Core i7 Ultrabooks. More GPU performance: HD 4000 in IVB ULV is generally faster than HD 3000 in SNB standard voltage CPUs. And you get all that with similar or slightly better battery life. You also get less: far less bulk and weight to carry around. We’re basically looking at the performance of a laptop that used to weigh six pounds in a three pound chassis. If you’re someone who carries their laptop around a lot, an Ultrabook would make for an excellent companion—whether for business, school, or some other use. They’re light, fast enough, and get great battery life, and they’re small enough to fit in a purse or a small laptop bag—no more giant laptop carry ons, thank you very much!

One of the other aspects of Ultrabooks that you can’t overlook is that they all include some form of SSD or SSD caching. While we’re not as sold on SSD caching, running an SSD on a laptop often results in an end-users experience that’s better than running an HDD on a desktop. Boot, sleep, resume, and hibernate times are all excellent: the Ivy Bridge Ultrabook takes just 11 seconds to load Windows and 10 seconds to resume from hibernate, and waking up from sleep is essentially instantaneous. Couple that with features like Intel’s Smart Connect Technology that lets your laptop periodically wake up, download email/content from the Internet, and then go back to sleep and you have a system that’s ready to go whenever you open it.

With all the good, what’s not to like? Well, there’s the price. Intel wants people to buy more expensive laptops with more expensive CPUs, and if they’re lucky they can even get an Intel SSD in there as well. Ultrabooks are a great way to do all that, but they don’t come cheap. The lowest cost Ultrabooks typically start at $800, which is good compared to, say, and Apple MacBook Air, but that $800 is still more than you’ll pay for slightly larger/heavier laptops. We’ve seen Llano A8 laptops going for $500, and even Sandy Bridge laptops with switchable graphics start at under $700 (with some currently on a fire sale for $600). Get one of those and add a decent SSD and you’ll still come out ahead, with a potentially more flexible system. It just won’t look as sleek as an Ultrabook.

We’re also still waiting to see exactly how AMD’s lower voltage Trinity parts perform. Given the 17W and 25W TDP on the A6-4455M and A10-4655M, they could easily fit in similar sized laptops (e.g. HP’s “Sleekbooks”). Of course, without an SSD you’d lose a lot of the responsiveness of an Ultrabook, and with an SSD the price point would likely be within $100 of where Ultrabooks start. Along with the lower TDPs of Trinity are lower CPU and GPU clocks, though, so while Trinity is clearly more potent for graphics applications at standard voltages, don’t expect the low voltage Trinity parts to be quite as fast—and the A6-4455M loses a large number of Radeon cores, so its performance is really hard to guess at without hardware in hand.

If you’ve been eying the various Ultrabooks and haven’t quite taken the plunge just yet, the performance improvements are certainly welcome but may not be the most important item to consider. Instead, it’s the second generation Ultrabook designs that are likely to turn heads. We liked the looks of the original ASUS Zenbook, but for all the premium materials they shipped pretty mediocre LCDs. As we discussed in our preview of the UX21A, ASUS is looking to fix that in a major way with their Ivy Bridge Ultrabooks, with 1080p IPS panels available on all three models. All I have to say is: it’s about time someone finally offered a tablet quality display in a small laptop! Anand also found the keyboard travel depth to be improved over the original Zenbook, which makes the Zenbook Prime a potentially perfect Ultrabook. We’re still waiting to see what others do with their new Ultrabook designs (not to mention Apple’s MacBook Air line), but ASUS has thrown down the gauntlet in a big way and they’ll be hard to beat this round.

Ivy Bridge Ultrabook Battery Life and Thermals
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  • Oatmeal25 - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    Shift+End.

    Ultrabooks are almost there (for anyone doing more than web.) They just need to take fewer shortcuts with screen, GPU and storage and put less emphasis on CPU. Consistent build quality and lower prices wouldn't hurt either.

    Wish Intel would work harder on their Integrated GPUs. I have an HD3000 in my Lenovo Y570 and when it's in use (also has a GT 555M with Optimus switching) dragging windows in Win7 is choppy.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    But there's no "End" key, which is why I list the Fn+Right key combination. Just using Shift+Right, or Control+Shift+Right doesn't trigger the issue I experienced much if at all; it's when I have to hit a lot of keys that it gets iffy. Like Fn+Control+Shift+Right to do "select to end of document" frequently ends up with the Control key registered as pressed when I'm done. So then I have to tap it just to let the OS know I've released the key. Reply
  • mikk - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    JarredWalton: "The HD 4000 ULV clocks are interesting. Base clocks are very low, but maximum clocks are quite high. WIth better cooling and configurable TDP (e.g. TDP Up or whatever it's called), it's possible there will be Ultrabooks that manage to get within 10% of the quad-core HD 4000 for graphics performance. However, Intel is only guaranteeing a rather low 350MHz iGPU clock, so in practice I bet average gaming clocks will be in the 700-900MHz range"

    Why you don't record the frequency used in games with gpu-z? This would be interesting. And it would be also interesting to see how it performs with a disabled cpu turbo to give more headroom for the iGPU.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    Working on it (see above). I'll update the article when I have some results. Reply
  • thejoelhansen - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    I see that next gen quad core part, 3720QM (2.6 GHZ), in the mix. However, there wasn't a quad core from last gen. Any chance of an update with a 26xx - 27xx part?

    I realize the article was more about the ULV and new dual core IVB chips for ultra books, but I'm kinda curious how all these new duals stack up to last gen's quads. Might be interesting... ?

    Anyway, thanks for the well written and documented article and benchmarks (as always). :)
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    There's always Mobile Bench. Here's the comparison you're after:
    http://www.anandtech.com/bench/Product/608?vs=327
    Reply
  • Yangorang - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    So do you guys know what kind of frequencies the GPU was running at while benchmarking games? I am curious as to whether better cooling / lower ambient temps could actually net you signaficantly better or worse framerates. Reply
  • name99 - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    "There is an unused mini-PCIe slot just above the SSD, which might also support mSATA"

    The last time we went through this (with comments complaining about companies using their own SSD connectors, not mSATA) the informed conclusion seemed to be that mSATA was, at least right now, a "proto-spec" --- a nice idea that was not actually well-defined enough to translate into real, inter-compatible, products. The wikipedia section on mSATA, while not exactly clear, seems to confirm this impression.

    So what's up here? Is mSATA a real (as in, I can go buy an mSATA drive from A, slot it into an mSATA slot from B, and have it work)? If not, then why bother with speculation about whether slots do or don't support it?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    It was more a thought along the lines of: "If this were a retail laptop, instead of an SSD they could use and HDD and put an mSATA caching drive right here." Can you buy mSATA drives and use them in different laptops? I don't know -- Apple and ASUS for sure have incompatible "gumstick drive" connections. I was under the impression that mSATA was a standard but apparently it's not very strict if that's the case. It would benefit the drive makers to all agree on something, though, as right now they might have to end up making several different SSD models if they want to support MBA, Zenbook, other mSATA, etc. Reply
  • Penti - Friday, June 01, 2012 - link

    mSATA is a standard, that Apple and Asus don't use. You can normally use the mSATA slot for a retail mSATA SSD or any conforming product. Some mSATA-slots can also support PCIe obviously, but they should be few in todays laptops. Lenovos, HPs and DELL should be just fine running a real SSD instead of a cache drive there. Just look at what other users have done on the same model to be sure. They only appear to be stupid about it mSATA SSD + HDD is an almost perfect solution. mSATA is specified by SATA-IO in SATA 3.1 specifications and an earlier JEDEC specification specifies the mechanical design i.e. same size as a normal mini PCIe card. Not all mSATA slots will have PCIe though and not all mini PCIe slots will support SATA, you really have to know before hand, it requires some additional circuitry to have a switchable/multisignal slot. It's not like it is costly for Asus and Apple to order their custom designs. You can question Asus decision though. Apple made theirs before mSATA had made any headway. It's not like 256GB mSATA SSDs aren't around. Sandisk (that Asus uses) have theirs in various form-factors though, both custom and standardized, but including mSATA sandisk.com/business-solutions/ssd/form-factor-development It's they who finance and produces different boards for different customers, as it's fairly easy PCB's and they know the electrical requirements already it's not a big deal. Reply

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