Intel’s Sandy Bridge: Upheaval in the Mobile Landscape

You’re probably sick of me talking about Sandy Bridge in our notebook reviews, particularly since up to now I’ve been unable to provide any numbers for actual performance. Today, Intel takes the wraps off of Mobile Sandy Bridge and I can finally talk specifics. Notebooks have always been substantially slower than desktops, and prices for a set level of performance have been higher; that’s not going to change with the SNB launch, but the gap just got a lot narrower for a lot of users. The key ingredients consist of higher core clocks with substantially higher Turbo modes, an integrated graphics chip that more than doubles the previous generation (also with aggressive Turbo modes), and some additional architectural sauce to liven things up.

If you haven’t already done so, you’ll probably want to begin by reading Anand’s Sandy Bridge Architectural Overview, as well as our Desktop Sandy Bridge coverage. I’m not going to retread ground that he’s already covered, so the focus for this article is going to be solidly on the mobility aspects of Sandy Bridge. With notebooks now outselling desktops by almost two to one, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a greater emphasis is being placed on the new mobile offerings. For starters, most of the mobile SNB chips are getting the full 12EU graphics core, rather than a trimmed down 6EU variant. Toss in all of the improved power management features and what we end up with is a fast-when-needed, power-friendly, and efficient chip. We’ll get to the benchmarks in a moment, but let’s start with a recap of the mobile Sandy Bridge lineup.

Intel Mobile Sandy Bridge (Retail)
Model i7-2920XM i7-2820QM i7-2720QM i7-2620M i5-2540M i5-2520M
Cores/Threads 4/8 4/8 4/8 2/4 2/4 2/4
Base Frequency 2.5GHz 2.3GHz 2.2GHz 2.7GHz 2.6GHz 2.5GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.5GHz 3.4GHz 3.3GHz 3.4GHz 3.3GHz 3.2GHz
Max DC Turbo 3.4GHz 3.3GHz 3.2GHz 3.2GHz 3.1GHz 3.0GHz
Max QC Turbo 3.2GHz 3.1GHz 3.0GHz N/A N/A N/A
Memory Speed DDR3-1600 DDR3-1600 DDR3-1600 DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333
L3 Cache 8MB 8MB 6MB 4MB 3MB 3MB
Graphics Cores 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs
Base GFX Freq. 650MHz 650MHz 650MHz 650MHz 650MHz 650MHz
Max GFX Freq. 1300MHz 1300MHz 1300MHz 1300MHz 1300MHz 1300MHz
Hyper-Threading Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TDP 55W 45W 45W 35W 35W 35W
Package rPGA/BGA rPGA/BGA-1244 rPGA/BGA-1244 rPGA/BGA rPGA/BGA rPGA/BGA
Estimated Price $1096 $568 $378 $346 $266 $225

Up first, we have the retail SKUs for the quad-core and dual-core parts. Worth noting is that availability of the quad-core processors should start this week, but the dual-core and LV/ULV parts won’t show up for a few more weeks. The quad-core parts will also use a different BGA package than the dual-core parts. The above will be the most readily available Sandy Bridge parts, as well as the fastest offerings, but there are additional OEM and LV/ULV products as well.

Intel Mobile Sandy Bridge (OEM)
Model i7-2635QM i7-2630QM i5-2410M i3-2310M
Cores/Threads 4/8 4/8 2/4 2/4
Base Frequency 2.0GHz 2.0GHz 2.3GHz 2.1GHz
Max SC Turbo 2.9GHz 2.9GHz 2.9GHz N/A
Max DC Turbo 2.8GHz 2.8GHz 2.6GHz N/A
Max QC Turbo 2.6GHz 2.6GHz N/A N/A
Memory Speed DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333
L3 Cache 6MB 6MB 3MB 3MB
Graphics Cores 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs
Base GFX Freq. 650MHz 650MHz 650MHz 650MHz
Max GFX Freq. 1200MHz 1100MHz 1200MHz 1100MHz
Hyper-Threading Yes Yes Yes Yes
TDP 45W 45W 35W 35W
Package BGA rPGA rPGA/BGA rPGA/BGA

We might get some of the above in OEM systems sent for review, and if so it will be interesting to see how much of an impact the trimmed clock speeds have on overall performance. The only mobile chip without support for Turbo Boost is the i3-2310M, so it will be interesting to see how that compares with current-generation i3 processors. Sandy Bridge should still be faster clock-for-clock than Arrandale/Clarksfield, and pricing on OEM parts might get these down into some very affordable notebooks and laptops. We’ll have to wait and see.

Intel Mobile Sandy Bridge (LV/ULV)
Model i7-2649M i7-2629M i7-2657M i7-2617M i5-2537M
Cores/Threads 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4 2/4
Base Frequency 2.3GHz 2.1GHz 1.6GHz 1.5GHz 1.4GHz
Max SC Turbo 3.2GHz 3.0GHz 2.7GHz 2.6GHz 2.3GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.9GHz 2.7GHz 2.4GHz 2.3GHz 2.0GHz
Memory Speed DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333 DDR3-1333
L3 Cache 4MB 4MB 4MB 4MB 3MB
Graphics Cores 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs 12EUs
Base GFX Freq. 500MHz 500MHz 350MHz 350MHz 350MHz
Max GFX Freq. 1100MHz 1100MHz 1000MHz 950MHz 900MHz
Hyper-Threading Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
TDP 25W 25W 17W 17W 17W
Package BGA-1023 BGA-1023 BGA-1023 BGA-1023 BGA-1023
Estimated Price $346 $311 $317 $289 $250

What’s interesting to note about the ULV parts is that even the slowest i5-2537M (yeah, those code names are going to be easy to remember!) comes clocked higher than the outgoing i7-640UM, with more aggressive Turbo modes and a 1W lower TDP. Perhaps we’ll see an M11x R3 with 400M (or 500M?) graphics and one of these ULV chips?

But enough about other products; let’s take a look at the preview system we received and see how this thing stacks up to the current generation notebooks. As this isn’t final hardware, we won’t be focusing all that much on the laptop design and features but will instead concentrate on performance. So, come meet our mobile Sandy Bridge test notebook.

Meet the Compal Sandy Bridge Notebook
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  • tipoo - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Sorry if I missed this somewhere in the review, but does the graphics component support OpenCL? Reply
  • RyuDeshi - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Second to last paragraph on the "Extended compatibility and performance results:"

    "Ultimately, Sandy Bridge’s IGP is far more capable than many would have expected. Sure, it doesn’t even try to support DX11 or OpenCL, but at least for gaming DX11 is typically too much for even midrange GPUs."
    Reply
  • CharonPDX - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    An Intel rep has said that Sandy Bridge will support OpenCL. (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13924_3-20024079-64.html ) The trick is that it may be a combo CPU+GPU to do it. So it may not be what you are thinking by OpenCL being solely GPU, but OpenCL code should be able to run.

    And in the end, what does it matter, really, as long as it runs? As the desktop Sandy Bridge review points out, video encoding is just as fast using solely the x86 codepaths as using nVidia's CUDA or ATI's Stream.
    Reply
  • Voldenuit - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    OpenCL was designed from the outset to run on heterogenous resources, including CPU.

    So intel claiming that they "support" OpenCL is nothing special - they just needed the right drivers/API.

    However, don't expect OpenCL code running solely on the CPU (my guess as to how SB will handle it) to be any faster than the x86 codepath running on the same CPU.

    Checkbox feature.
    Reply
  • jameskatt - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    What Intel wants to do is to have the CPU run OpenCL code.

    This totally defeats the purpose of OpenCL.

    OpenCL is suppose to allow both the GPU and the CPU to run code simultaneously. This is to allow significant acceleration in running OpenCL code compared to using just the CPU.

    Sure. OpenCL code will run. But it will run MORE SLOWLY than with a discrete GPU. And the 16 GPUs in Sandy Bridge will be wasted.

    Intel's Sandy Bridge has non-programmable GPUs. This is a serious limitation and deal killer when it comes to running OpenCL code.

    I expect Apple to continue use nVidia's or AMD's discrete GPUs with the MacBooks and Mac Book Pros.

    This is very disappointing. It shows that Intel still doesn't have the talent to produce decent GPUs.
    Reply
  • PlasmaBomb - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    And the 16 GPUs in Sandy Bridge will be wasted.


    *cough* I think you mean 12 EU *cough*
    Reply
  • Guspaz - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    <i>What Intel wants to do is to have the CPU run OpenCL code.

    This totally defeats the purpose of OpenCL.

    OpenCL is suppose to allow both the GPU and the CPU to run code simultaneously. This is to allow significant acceleration in running OpenCL code compared to using just the CPU.</i>

    No, this is the *primary* purpose of OpenCL. The goal of OpenCL is not to "allow the GPU and CPU to run code simultaneously", but to provide a single unified code path that can be used with any hardware, be it CPU or GPU. There are/were already code paths specific to each vendor/type (CUDA for nVIDIA GPUs, Stream for AMD/ATI GPUs, x86 for Intel/AMD CPUs). The problem is that fully supporting all three platforms requires three separate code paths.

    OpenCL unifies this, and allows a single codepath to be used regardless of the GPU's type or existence. You've completely misunderstood the purpose of OpenCL.
    Reply
  • Wiggy McShades - Tuesday, January 04, 2011 - link

    You need to ask what applications on a desktop actually use OpenCL in a meaningful way? Intel added hardware for media transcoding, which makes transcoding on something besides the cpu useless and that was roughly all openCL can be used for on the desktop, laptop, or cellphone.
    OpenCL is for vector calculations, AVX is for vector calculations. All four cores running AVX instructions would just be a faster choice than OpenCL on a low end gpu. Intel most likely could get sandybridge's gpu running OpenCL, but it would be pointless. OpenCL just is not a desktop feature.
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, January 05, 2011 - link

    Given how much money they have, I doubt Intel is lacking the "talent" to do anything they want. OpenCL execution on the GPU portion of the SNB chips was probably just not that big a deal to them, and given the number of other things (such as speed and battery life) SNB brings to the table they probably won't have trouble selling lots of these to the average consumer. Reply
  • 8steve8 - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    which mobile cpus on pg1 support TXT or VT-d or AES-NI or VT-x or Quick Sync? Reply

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