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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  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    All of the mobile chips list AES/TXT/vPRO support, unlike the desktop chips. They also all support Quick Sync and have 12 EUs. Reply
  • DesktopMan - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    What about virtualization? Not sure why you are mentioning vPro, the requirement for vPro is usually the chipset, in this case QM67. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    They don't specifically break out VT-d and VT-x on the mobile products; all the slides state is that the mobile products support virtualization. On the desktop slide, they have a line saying "vPro/TXT/VT-d/SIPP" but on mobile slides the line says "AES/TXT/vPro". There's a second line for both desktops and mobile chips that just says "Intel Virtualization Technology" but it's not too useful since it just says "Yes" on every single Sandy Bridge CPU listed. :-\ Reply
  • Hrel - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    finally gaming on IG. Sooo, when do new Nvidia Gpu's come out for laptops? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Check back on Jan 6. :-p Reply
  • mobomonster - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    AMD is toast. Those are blistering performance numbers that even I did not expect. Incredible that it manages near 30 fps in several games at medium detail settings.

    The lower power dual core Sandy Bridge models will really put the squeeze on AMD. Even a regular 2520M will give AMD's Brazos a lot of trouble.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    Bah, AMD has been toast for years now, if they really were, they would be buttered and eaten already.

    yes, horrible metaphor is horrible.
    Reply
  • Kangal - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    I'm a tech enthusiast especially in the portable device scene, and I always nit-pick things.
    Which is the reason why I own the Acer 4810TG.

    The Core i7 640-UM would be my favourite processor, until I saw this.
    The successor, 2657M, seems to have (theoretical) performance improvement of 19% and battery saving of 6%, which is very amazing.

    From pure guestimation, this is ~200% (or slightly more) performance of the SU7300 at the same battery life. Whoa!

    This would mean new ultra-portable devices (less than 14" and over 6 hours battery life).
    If this gets partnered with the ATi 5650 (or its successor), this will bring serious gaming potential to ultra-portable devices *drools*

    ------

    BUT, I wish they could add another chip on that (ULV) list.
    The exact same thing as the i7 2657M but tossing the dual-core setup for a single core, if it meant they could increase the down the battery life by 70%. (Name it the 1357M?)

    I mean, how about real 10 hours battery life (6 cell) on something about as fast as the SU7300 ??

    Something like that (Core i7 1357M?) could make Windows7 tablets a more viable option.
    Reply
  • davepermen - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    I'd prefer a dualcore with 1ghz, or even 800mhz. as it could still clock to 2ghz or so, it would be fast when needed, but very battery saving else.

    if intel would go down further, it would most likely by now kill atom in the netbook and tablet area. and in the phone area, atom isn't there yet.

    personally, i hate atom for being in the way. ultralow core i1 would be AWESOME.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    SpeedStep lets all the SNB processors (mobile versions at least) run at 800MHz when they're not doing anything else. So you've already got what you're asking for, more or less. Reply

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