Note: This preview was not sanctioned or supported by Intel in any way.

I still remember hearing about Intel's tick-tock cadence and not having much faith that the company could pull it off. Granted Intel hasn't given us a new chip every 12 months on the dot, but more or less there's something new every year. Every year we either get a new architecture on an established process node (tock), or a derivative architecture on a new process node (tick). The table below summarizes what we've seen since Intel adopted the strategy:

Intel's Tick-Tock Cadence
Microarchitecture Process Node Tick or Tock Release Year
Conroe/Merom 65nm Tock 2006
Penryn 45nm Tick 2007
Nehalem 45nm Tock 2008
Westmere 32nm Tick 2010
Sandy Bridge 32nm Tock 2011
Ivy Bridge 22nm Tick 2012
Haswell 22nm Tock 2013

Last year was a big one. Sandy Bridge brought a Conroe-like increase in performance across the board thanks to a massive re-plumbing of Intel's out-of-order execution engine and other significant changes to the microarchitecture. If you remember Conroe (the first Core 2 architecture), what followed it was a relatively mild upgrade called Penryn that gave you a little bit in the way of performance and dropped power consumption at the same time.

Ivy Bridge, the tick that follows Sandy Bridge, would typically be just that: a mild upgrade that inched performance ahead while dropping power consumption. Intel's microprocessor ticks are usually very conservative on the architecture side, which limits the performance improvement. Being less risky on the architecture allows Intel to focus more on working out the kinks in its next process node, in turn delivering some amount of tangible power reduction.

Where Ivy Bridge shakes things up is on the graphics side. For years Intel has been able to ship substandard graphics in its chipsets based on the principle that only gamers needed real GPUs and Windows ran just fine on integrated graphics. Over the past decade that philosophy required adjustment. First it was HD video decode acceleration, then GPU accelerated user interfaces and, more recently, GPU computing applications. Intel eventually committed to taking GPU performance (and driver quality) seriously, setting out on a path to significantly improve its GPUs.

As Ivy is a tick in Intel's cadence, we shouldn't see much of a performance improvement. On the CPU side that's mostly true. You can expect a 5 - 15% increase in performance for the same price as a Sandy Bridge CPU today. A continued desire to be aggressive on the GPU front however puts Intel in a tough spot. Moving to a new manufacturing process, especially one as dramatically different as Intel's 22nm 3D tri-gate node isn't easy. Any additional complexity outside of the new process simply puts schedule at risk. That being said, its GPUs continue to lag significantly behind AMD and more importantly, they still aren't fast enough by customer standards.

Apple has been pushing Intel for faster graphics for years, having no issues with including discrete GPUs across its lineup or even prioritizing GPU over CPU upgrades. Intel's exclusivity agreement with Apple expired around Nehalem, meaning every design win can easily be lost if the fit isn't right.

With Haswell, Intel will finally deliver what Apple and other customers have been asking for on the GPU front. Until then Intel had to do something to move performance forward. A simple tick wouldn't cut it.

Intel calls Ivy Bridge a tick+. While CPU performance steps forward, GPU performance sees a more significant improvement - in the 20 - 50% range. The magnitude of improvement on the GPU side is more consistent with what you'd expect from a tock. The combination of a CPU tick and a GPU tock is how Intel arrives at the tick+ naming. I'm personally curious to see how this unfolds going forward. Will GPU and CPUs go through alternating tocks or will Intel try to synchronize them? Do we see innovation on one side slow down as the other increases? Does tick-tock remain on a two year cadence now that there are two fairly different architectures that need updating? These are questions I don't know that we'll see answers to until after Haswell. For now, let's focus on Ivy Bridge.

Ivy Bridge Architecture Recap


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  • dagamer34 - Thursday, March 8, 2012 - link

    Most players who game at 1920x1080 also have graphics cards that cost more than $100. That's not what this was testing. Reply
  • kensiko - Thursday, March 8, 2012 - link

    Man you won't believe the difference :)

    Get an SSD with that.
  • dagamer34 - Thursday, March 8, 2012 - link

    You're going to seriously start wondering why you didn't upgrade sooner. Just don't hurt yourself too much when you slap your own face. Tech has advanced astronomically in the last 10 years.

    Heck, I'm pretty sure the iPad 2 is faster than your Northwood Pentium 4.
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, March 8, 2012 - link

    uhh.. i don't think that's true. graphics intensive applications are not the only ones that benefit from fast CPUs. Reply
  • krumme - Thursday, March 8, 2012 - link

    Where does Charlie claim to be biased?

    But i agree, this sacred, aura, "this is not sanctioned by Intel" is a pain to read. It makes thesse articles a little bit difficult to start reading :)

    But how profitable, and how good a business do you have if you dont have "good conections"? - charlie uses his for underhand information, anand his to get info before the others. Its very obvious for us to interprete Anands article because we know the obvious, - it have to be profitable for both anand and Intel. But what about Charlie, what is the motives for the people leaking info to him? - its not quite so obvious and transparrent.
  • awg0681 - Thursday, March 8, 2012 - link

    "Sure, he was comparing Intel graphics to Intel graphics, except he wasn't, because he himself threw Llano in there to compare."

    By the same token, if he had not included Llano results people would be wondering where they were and complaining that they weren't included. Puts Anand in a catch 22 when deciding whether or not to include Llano.

    There is validity to the complaint about the numbers being incorrect. Those should be looked at and corrected. Glossing over the results and no mention of Llano being more capable, again, this was mainly to compare Intel v Intel in a preview of their new chip and improvements they've made since last gen. Sure, he could've been more thorough with the AMD v Intel side, but that's not really what this article was about. We could also go to a steakhouse and complain there's not a large vegetarian meal selection too.
  • Azeraph - Thursday, March 8, 2012 - link

    it doesn't really matter if the igp isn't that great most people don't buy them for their graphics power.I get the feeling that maybe intel is just putting them out there to keep it's base solid against AMD,Not that it needs it and i'm an amd fan. i found something the other day that will possibly change how tomorrows processors will use light instead of electricity.
  • arno - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    ...hi everybody.

    I'm an electrical engineer, doing intensive "spice" simulations.
    I want to know if, as it requires a lot of floating point calculations, does it worth to wait for Ivy Bridge instead of buying right now a laptop with a quadcore Sandy Bridge? I expected Ivy Bridge for March and i've been waiting since last december :(.
    To buy now would be very comfortable, as i'm in the simulaiton phase of my project. To buy later, I believe, would make more sense in term of pure performances . But how much sense is the question....

    Thanks for sharing

    PS (another thing is also theuse of 1600 memory instead of 1333, which might be doing it for another software I use)
  • arno - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    I wonder how IvyBridge perform in term offloating point calculations as I do intensive electrical simulations.
    I urgently need an upgrade and would definitely go for a Ivy Bridge. But I've been waiting a long time now and Ivy Bridge may again been delayed.
    Does anyone have an advice about it?

    Thanks for sharing.
  • Nomorehero - Friday, March 9, 2012 - link

    How about OC? Info please?
    Is hard to decide wait until IB or get SB now because the how well IB can OC.

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