Mobile Ivy Bridge in Summary

Wrapping things up, we’ve got two items to discuss. We’ll start with the Ivy Bridge aspect before shifting over to the ASUS N56VM laptop. On the CPU side of the equation, Ivy Bridge isn’t all that different from Sandy Bridge, but it’s still clearly faster and this shows up in our benchmarks. In some cases Ivy Bridge may only be a few percent faster than Sandy Bridge, but there are cases where the i7-3720QM is up to 23% faster than the i7-2820QM. Considering the i7-2820QM already managed to nearly double the performance of the Clarksfield i7-820QM, adding another 23% is nothing to scoff at.

Elsewhere, the picture with Ivy Bridge is a bit more hazy. Compared to other retail laptops with quad-core Sandy Bridge, it looks like Ivy Bridge should offer similar or slightly improved battery life. Under heavier loads, Ivy Bridge on the desktop is a lot more frugal than Sandy Bridge, but light loads are basically the same. There are Sandy Bridge laptops that have better normalized idle and video battery life compared to the ASUS N56VM, but it does come out on top in the normalized Internet battery life results. Given the early nature of the hardware we’re not ready to draw any firm conclusions, but we’re pretty certain Ivy Bridge won’t be substantially worse than Sandy Bridge; it's just not substantially better either.

Where Ivy Bridge really comes into its own is in the Quick Sync and graphics benchmarks. Starting with the former, Quick Sync is mostly about convenience rather than quality—providing “good enough for YouTube” transcodes in less than half the time it would take a high-powered desktop CPU. I could live without it, but for people that like to upload videos of their kids for friends and family, it’s a nice feature. The biggest complaint I have with Quick Sync is that you have to shell out for software that supports the feature (e.g. ArcSoft MediaConverter or CyberLink MediaEspresso), which means a lot of laptop users will never actually benefit from Quick Sync. There’s definitely an opportunity for laptop manufacturers to add some useful software (instead of the usual bloatware) by pre-installing one of these applications. As for performance, while Sandy Bridge’s Quick Sync was the fastest way to transcode, Ivy Bridge nearly doubles the speed. I was able to transcode a 3:30 minute 1080p24 clip into a 720p video in just 12 seconds!

Moving on to the graphics side of things, you’ll still get better gaming performance from a discrete GPU, but for entry level laptops and ultrabooks HD 4000 is another large jump in Intel IGP performance. Sandy Bridge’s HD 3000 was enough to sometimes manage reasonable frame rates at 1366x768 and low to medium detail, but there were plenty of games where it simply came up short. With HD 4000 providing roughly 50% better performance on average along with DX11 support, most games will run at >30 FPS at medium detail settings, and only the most taxing games will be unplayable (e.g. Battlefield 3 and The Witcher 2). Intel still needs to work on their drivers—if I can find two driver issues in one week of testing, certainly there will be more to come—and geometry and tessellation are areas where Intel’s IGP appears to fall well short of the competition. If each generation continues to improve at this rate, however, another couple generation and NVIDIA and AMD GPUs will really only make sense for the hardcore gamers.

So would I recommend users upgrade to an Ivy Bridge laptop? That’s a different matter. If you already have a Sandy Bridge laptop, particularly one with switchable graphics, Ivy Bridge would be faster but not really necessary for most users. In fact, even late last year there were plenty of dual-core AMD Turion/Athlon notebooks for sale at the various retail outlets, and I know more than a few people who purchased such a laptop and are happy with the result. The truth is that laptops and computers are becoming commodity items, and only enthusiasts and demanding users are likely to care much about the latest and greatest hardware.

For the price conscious, I suspect outgoing Sandy Bridge laptops along with AMD Llano and incoming AMD Trinity offerings will continue to attract a lot of less demanding users. Short of AMD hitting a homerun with Trinity on the CPU front, which seems unlikely, Ivy Bridge laptops will be the new kings of the mobile hill for the next year. They’ll also be more expensive than last generation products and AMD’s budget oriented offerings. If you’re happy with your current laptop, there’s no need to rush out and purchase something new, but if you’ve been holding off on that upgrade, Ivy Bridge will make for a potent laptop that should last four or five years (provided the laptop doesn’t come apart at the seams). That brings us to the second part of the conclusion….

ASUS N56VM: Great, Provided They Ship the Right Display

From the moment I first opened the package and pulled out the N56VM, I have been impressed with ASUS’ latest hardware. The silver palm rest is a nice change of pace from all the black laptops I’ve tested during the past few years, the keyboard is comfortable to use, and the display is a great improvement over all the low quality 1366x768 displays we—and our readers—have been complaining about. Dustin and I have seen all the “I stopped reading your review after seeing it was another 1366x768 display” comments of late, and while it’s frustrating as a writer to see such comments, I’m also largely in agreement with that sentiment. When you can purchase the LG Philips 1080p display we tested in this laptop for $80 online, there’s simply no reason for laptop manufacturers to continue shipping $60 1366x768 panels, especially for 15.6” LCDs! The question is: what will ASUS actually ship in the N56VM? Will there be higher-end models with this 1080p display, along with lesser models that save a few dollars off the BoM costs and go the 1366x768 route? Unfortunately, my magic eight ball says: “Signs point to yes”.

It’s almost impossible for any single product to be perfect, and there are still bits and pieces I would change with the N56VM I’m testing if I could. For starters, I want a backlit keyboard—I’ve been exclusively using laptops with backlit keyboards for a couple years now, and they’re very convenient in low-light situations. Second, I still like to play games, even on a laptop, and the GT 630M (aka GT 540M, aka GT 435M with a clock speed increase) just isn’t that exciting these days. In a world where we’ve seen what mobile Kepler has to offer—even when held back by DDR3 memory and a ULV CPU—I really have no interest in a Fermi-derived chip that uses more power while delivering less performance. Those are really the only two items on my wish list for the N56VM, and word is that ASUS will have some flavor of N56V that addresses both items.

If our readers could go out and purchase the exact laptop I tested for $1100 right now, even without a backlit keyboard and with the GT 630M I’d still give this a Gold Editor’s Choice award. Get me a Kepler GPU like the GT 640M or GT 650M and I’d even be willing to pay $1200 ($1250 or so with Blu-ray). That award is almost entirely contingent on the current 1080p display being part of the package, however, and since this is a pre-release laptop custom ordered by Intel, you can’t actually buy it just yet. We can't give an award to a product you can't buy, but when we've got the full rundown on the retail models we'll see what ASUS decided to actually ship.

Assuming the only changes ASUS makes with the retail offerings are a switch to the i7-3610QM in place of the i7-3720QM, along with potential differences in HDD, RAM, and DVD/Blu-ray options, I’m still more than happy to highly recommend the N56VM. Just steer clear of any low-cost 720p models (unless screen quality doesn’t bother you) and you should be fine. Hopefully we’ll see the N56VM (or the N56VZ, which is supposedly the same chassis with a higher spec GPU) on sale in the very near future, but we haven’t seen final pricing or specifications for either laptop yet so we’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Now we just need to see how many other Ivy Bridge laptops we can get in for review, and whether the other OEMs are able to clear the bar that ASUS is setting with the N56V series. We’re also still waiting for AMD’s Trinity launch, and if you can hold off for a few more weeks at least you should be able to see how AMD matches up against Ivy Bridge. Intel has fired the first shot now, but they’re also readying dual-core Ivy Bridge and ULV parts so we have quite a few more product launches still waiting in the wings. It’s certainly shaping up to be an exciting summer and back to school season for laptop enthusiasts.

The LCD: One of the Better Offerings
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  • krumme - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    There is a reason Intel is bringing 14nm to the atoms in 2014.

    The product here doesnt make sense. Its expensive and not better than the one before it, except better gaming - that is, if the drivers work.

    I dont know if the SB notebooks i have in the house is the same as the ones Jarred have. Mine didnt bring a revolution, but solid battery life, like the penryn notebook and core duo i also have. In my world more or less the same if you apply a ssd for normal office work.

    Loads of utterly uninteresting benchmark doest mask the facts. This product excels where its not needed, and fails where it should excell most: battery life.

    The trigate is mostyly a failure now. There is no need to call it otherwise, and the "preview" looks 10% like a press release i my world. At least trigate is not living up to expectations. Sometimes that happen with technology development, its a wonder its so smooth for Intel normally, and a testament to their huge expertise. When the technology matures and Intel makes better use of the technology in the arch, we will se huge improvements. Spare the praise until then, this is just wrong and bad.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Seriously!? You're going to mention Atom as the first comment on Ivy Bridge? Atom is such a dog as far as performance is concerned that I have to wonder what planet you're living on. 14nm Atom is going to still be a slow product, only it might double the performance of Cedar Trail. Heck, it could triple the performance of Cedar Trail, which would make it about as fast as Core 2 CULV from three years ago. Hmmm.....

    If Sandy Bridge wasn't a revolution, offering twice the performance as Clarksfield at the high end and triple the battery life potential (though much of that is because Clarksfield was paired with power hungry GPUs), I'm not sure what would be a revolution. Dual-core SNB wasn't as big of a jump, but it was still a solid 15-25% faster than Arrandale and offered 5% to 50% better battery life--the 50% figure coming in H.264 playback; 10-15% better battery life was typical of office workloads.

    Your statement with regards to battery life basically shows you either don't understand laptops, or you're being extremely narrow minded with Ivy Bridge. I was hoping for more, but we're looking at one set of hardware (i7-3720QM, 8GB RAM, 750GB 7200RPM HDD, switchable GT 630M GPU, and a 15.6" LCD that can hit 430 nits), and we're looking at it several weeks before it will go on sale. That battery life isn't a huge leap forward isn't a real surprise.

    SNB laptops draw around 10W at idle, and 6-7W of that is going to the everything besides the CPU. That means SNB CPUs draw around 2-3W at idle. This particular IVB laptop draws around 10W at idle, and all of the other components (especially the LCD) will easily draw at least 6-7W, which means once again the CPU is using 2-3W at idle. IVB could draw 0W at idle and the best we could hope for would be a 50% improvement in battery life.

    As for the final comment, 22nm and tri-gate transistors are hardly a failure. They're not the revolution many hoped for, at least not yet. Need I point out that Intel's first 32nm parts (Arrandale) also failed to eclipse their outgoing and mature 45nm parts? I'm not sure what the launch time frame is for ULV IVB, but I suspect by the time we see those chips 22nm will be performing a lot better than it is in the first quad-core chips.

    From my perspective, to shrink a process node, improve performance of your CPU by 5-25%, and keep power use static is still a definite success and worthy of praise. When we get at least three or four other retail IVB laptops in for review, then we can actually start to say with conviction how IVB compares to SNB. I think it's better and a solid step forward for Intel, especially for lower cost laptops and ultrabooks.

    If all you're doing is office work, which is what it sounds like, you're right: Core 2, Arrandale, Sandy Bridge, etc. aren't a major improvement. That's because if all you're doing is office work, 95% of the time the computer is waiting for user input. It's the times where you really tax your PC that you notice the difference between architectures, and the change from Penryn to Arrandale to Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge represents about a doubling in performance just for mundane tasks like office work...and a lot of people would still be perfectly content to run Word, Excel, etc. on a Core 2 Duo.
    Reply
  • usama_ah - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    Trigate is not a failure, this move to Trigate wasn't expected to bring any crazy amounts of performance benefits. Trigate was necessary because of the limitations (leaks) from ever smaller transistors. Trigate has nothing to do with the architecture of the processor per se, it's more about how each individual transistor is created on such a small scale. Architectural improvements are key to significant improvements.

    Sandy Bridge was great because it was a brand new architecture. If you have been even half-reading what they post on Anandtech, Intel's tick-tock strategy dictates that this move to Ivy Bridge would be small improvements BY DESIGN.

    You will see improvements in battery life with the NEW architecture, AFTER Ivy Bridge (when Intel stays at 22nm), the so-called "tock," called "Haswell." And yes, tri-gate will still be in use at that time.
    Reply
  • krumme - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    As I understand trigate, trigate provides the oportunity to even better granularity of power for the individual transistor, by using different numbers of gates. If you design your arch to the process (using that oportunity,- as IB is not, but the first 22nm Atom aparently is), there should be "huge" savings

    I asume you BY DESIGN mean "by process" btw.

    In my world process improvement is key to most industrial production, with tools often being the weak link. The process decides what is possible in your design. That why Intel have used billions "just" mounting the right equipment.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    No, he means Ivy Bridge is not the huge leap forward by design -- Intel intentionally didn't make IVB a more complex, faster CPU. That will be Haswell, the 22nm tock to the Ivy Bridge tick. Making large architectural changes requires a lot of time and effort, and making the switch between process nodes also requires time and effort. If you try to do both at the same time, you often end up with large delays, and so Intel has settled on a "tick tock" cadence where they only do one at a time.

    But this is all old news and you should be fully aware of what Intel is doing, as you've been around the comments for years. And why is it you keep bringing up Atom? It's a completely different design philosophy from Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge, Merom/Conroe, etc. Atom is more a competitor to ARM SoCs, which have roughly an order of magnitude less compute performance than Ivy Bridge.
    Reply
  • krumme - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    - Intel speeds up Atom development, - not using depreciated equipment for the future.
    - Intel invest heavily to get into new business areas and have done for years
    - Haswell will probably be slimmer on the cpu part

    The reason they do so is because the need of cpu power outside of the servermarket, is stagnating. And new third world markets is emergin. And all is turning mobile - its all over your front page now i can see.

    The new Atom probably will provide adequate for most. (like say core 2 culv). Then they will have the perfect product. Its about mobility and price and price. Haswell will probably be the product for the rest of the mainstream market leaving even less for the dedicated gpu.

    IB is an old style desktop cpu, maturing a not quite ready 22nm trigate process. Designed to fight a BD that did not arive. Thats why it does not impress. And you can tell Intel knows because the mobile lineup is so slim.

    The market have changed. The shareprice have rocketed for AMD even though their high-end cpu failed, because the Atom sized bobcat and old technology llano could enter the new market. I could note have imagined the success of Llano. I didnt understand the purpose of it, because trinity was comming so close. But the numbers talk for themselves. People buy an user experience where it matter at lowest cost, not pcmark, encoding times, zip, unzip.

    You have to use new benchmarks. And they have to be reinvented again. They have to make sense. Obviously cpu have to play a less role and the rest more. You have a very strong team, if not the strongest out there. Benchmark methology should be at the top of your list and use a lot of your development time.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    The only benchmarks that would make sense under your new paradigm are graphics and video benchmarks, well, and battery life as well, because those are the only areas where a better GPU matters. Unless you have some other suggestions? Saying "CPU speed is reaching the point where it really doesn't matter much for a large number of people" is certainly true, and I've said as much on many occasions. Still, there's a huge gulf between Atom and Core 2 still, and there are many tasks where CULV would prove insufficient.

    By the time the next Atom comes out, maybe it will be fixed in the important areas so that stuff like YouTube/Netflix/Hulu all work without issue. Hopefully it also supports at least 4GB RAM, because right now the 2GB limit along with bloated Windows 7 makes Atom a horrible choice IMO. Plus, margins are so low on Atom that Intel doesn't really want to go there; they'd rather figure out ways to get people to continue paying at least $150 per CPU, and I can't fault their logic. If CULV became "fast enough" for everyone Intel's whole business model goes down the drain.

    Funny thing is that even though we're discussing Atom and by extension ARM SoCs, those chips are going through the exact same rapid increases in performance. And they need it. Tablets are fine for a lot of tasks, but opening up many web sites on a tablet is still a ton slower than opening the same sites on a Windows laptop. Krait and Tegra 3 are still about 1/3 the amount of performance I want from a CPU.

    As for your talk about AMD share prices, I'd argue that AMD share prices have increased because they've rid themselves of the albatross that was their manufacturing division. And of course, GF isn't publicly traded and Abu Dhabi has plenty of money to invest in taking over CPU manufacturing. It's a win-win scenario for those directly involved (AMD, UAE), though I'm not sure it's necessarily a win for everyone.
    Reply
  • bhima - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    I figure Intel wants everyone to want their CULV processors since they seem to charge the most for them to the OEMs, or are the profit margins not that great because they are a more difficult/expensive processor to make? Reply
  • krumme - Tuesday, April 24, 2012 - link

    Yes - video and gaming is what matters for the consumer now, everything is okey as it will - hopefully - be 2014. What matters is ssd, screen quality, and everything else, - just not cpu power. It just needs to have far less space. Cpu having so much space is just old habits for us old geeks.

    AMD getting rid of GF burden have been in the plan for years. Its known and can not influence share price. Basicly the, late, move to mobile focus, and the excellent execution of those consumer / not reviewer shaped apus is a part of the reason.

    The reviewers need to move their mindset :) - btw its my impression Dustin is more in line with what the general consumer want. Ask him if he thinks the consumer want a new ssd benchmark with 100 hours of 4k reading and writing.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Monday, April 23, 2012 - link

    No, the finer granularity is just a nice side effect (which could probably be used more aggressively in the future). However, the main benefit of tri-gate is more control over the channel, which enables IB to reach high clock speeds at comparably very low voltages, and at very low leakage. Reply

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