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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  • marioyohanes - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    Intel should learn from Apple users for the keyboard design... We all know how much Apple users hate white keyboard in previous MacBook models, that's why Apple is using black keyboard now... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    Hahaha... I realized I never took a picture of the open laptop and so I used the image Intel sent along. I'll post an updated picture to the article in a moment, but suffice it to say that the review sample doesn't have a white keyboard. Reply
  • marioyohanes - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    I love the keyboard design on your new pic... :) Reply
  • kamalppc - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - link

    You can find the reviews here -

    http://cpudistro.com/intel/core-i5-3427u/
    http://ultra-book.co/core-i5-3427u-review/
    Reply
  • mcquade181 - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    I guess Apple users must value asthetics over funtionality!
    From a useablity point of view black keyboards are horrible.
    In low light conditions it is very difficult to see individual keys, which, unless you can touch type, makes them very hard to use.
    I suspect that's why there is so much desire for backlit keyboards.
    Reply
  • Concillian - Sunday, June 03, 2012 - link

    We should make keyboards for people who can't touch type?

    This is 2012 dude, if you can't touch type you have a problem. Everything you do in the business world and half the things in todays social world require using a keyboard of some kind as an input.

    Catering hardware (and software) to the people who can't use them right ends up hindering productivity for those who are actually productive on their computer.
    Reply
  • Argedut - Sunday, June 10, 2012 - link

    You're totally right. Also if you don't understand the dewey decimal system don't even BOTHER looking for a job. Am I right? Reply
  • iwod - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    I am amazed by the Chipset TDP and die size, But as transistor shrinks but I/O lanes remain constant, may be we could further include things inside the chipset? Things like an SSD Controller? Or few years down the road there will be no more Chipset, just a SoC. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    The SSD controller should be right on the CPU die right next to the memory controller. But I guess Intel doesnt mind getting totally devoured by Apple, who was actually smart enough to make a chip with a flash controller. Granted its not a very fast one, but at least it is there.

    There is no reason why every new computer should not have at least 32GB of flash that reads just as fast as DRAM, and with DRAM caching, would basically write just as fast too. With the controller in the cpu it lowers the cost of 32GB to just a few dollars.... the current spot price of four 8Gbitx8 MLC NAND chips is just $18. With a good integrated flash controller, the lower latencies on random reads could bring the real world random read speeds well past even a Vertex 4.
    Reply
  • ZeDestructor - Thursday, May 31, 2012 - link

    What exactly is the difference between the QS77 and the QM77? As far as I can see, there's no reason to use the QM77 at all since the QS77 has a better TDP and power usage than the QM77 while retaining all the features... Reply

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