It’s official: The first Ivy-Bridge-powered laptops are now for sale at a variety of online retailers or direct through many manufacturers. These new laptops are often similar or identical to the older models, but the pack new hardware under the hood.
Our first full reviews of Ivy Bridge laptops are still on the way, but in the meantime, we have had the chance to run benchmarks and enjoy hands-on time with several models running the new Ivy Bridge Core i7-3720QM processor. This is a mid-range quad that’s likely to appear in many mainstream multimedia and gaming laptops with prices between $1,000 and $1,500.
This processor also carries Intel HD 4000 graphics, which will be available with all Core-branded mobile processors no matter the number of cores they contain. We’ve been able to evaluate the new IGP, too – and its performance may surprise you.
Ivy Bridge provides a nice boost
Intel’s architecture is what’s known as a die shrink. It means the architecture is the same, but it’s being produced on a smaller production process. This typically improves power efficiency and performance. Ivy Bridge also introduces an entirely new transistor design (the “tri-gate”) so you can think of this as a die shrink on steroids.
Even Intel seemed conservative with the performance figures it was quoting, so we were surprised when the Core i7-3720QM returned a SiSoft Sandra Processor Arithmetic score of 99.09 GOPS. This is almost exactly 20 points better than what we squeezed out of the Toshiba Satellite P755, a mainstream 15.6-inch laptop with a Core i7-2670QM processor. It’s also better than some old Sandy Bridge desktop parts – systems like the HP TouchSmart 520 and Acer Aspire M3970 can’t hope to match this new mobile quad.
Our 7-Zip benchmark told the same story. We achieved a combined score of 20,333 MIPS, which once again trounces the Satellite P755’s score of 15,903 and also beats some of the slower desktop systems we reviewed.
High clock speeds seem to be the greatest advantage of the new products. The i7-3720QM has a base clock of 2.6GHz and a Turbo Boost clock of 3.6GHz. To beat this you’d have to line up an Intel Core i7-2960XM, the fastest mobile processor of the last generation.
We saw a performance increase of 15 to 25 percent overall, which is excellent and in excess of what we were expecting. Buying a laptop with an older Sandy Bridge processor looks like a bad move unless the laptop is being sold at a deep discount.
The integrated graphics processor is even better
Ivy Bridge’s IGP is the most significantly revised portion of the product. Intel has tweaked the internals by adding four more execution units, upping the number to 16. The processor giant has also added DirectX 11 support and worked to provide better drivers.
The results are astounding. We received a 3DMark 06 score of 7,259, which is nearly double what we usually receive from a system using Intel HD 3000. 3DMark 11, which can run on the new IGP, turned in a score of 843. That is only 20 percent less than an Nvidia GT 540M and on par with a basic discrete GPU like the Radeon HD 6470.
We played several games on our test systems and found that most were playable at 1366 x 768. Even Battlefield 3 could be enjoyed at low detail — a major improvement over HD 3000, which usually returned an average framerate of under 15 with the same settings.
Intel has finally achieved a goal it’s been chasing for some time: parity with low-end discrete GPUs. Serious gamers will still want a discrete graphics option, but if you generally play games like Starcraft II or Team Fortress 2 there is absolutely no need for a discrete graphics solution. You’ll enjoy a smooth experience with Intel HD 4000.
Portability is a guess, but cooling isn’t
We ran some battery life tests on the Core i7-3720QM-powered laptop, but we feel the results are inconclusive. The system we handled was saddled with a small battery and did not include some power management software we’d normal expect to see. Despite these disadvantages, it turned in results on par with previous Core i7-QM processors. It’s hard to say if Ivy Bridge sips power more conservatively based off such limited data.
Though a verdict on battery life eludes us, we can say with certainty that we expect Ivy Bridge laptops to run cooler and quieter than previous models. Every Ivy Bridge laptop we’ve handled so far has performed well in these areas. The greatest improvement will likely be in mid-range multimedia and gaming systems. They will benefit from not only the enhanced power efficiency of Ivy Bridge but also the better efficiency of Nvidia’s new Kepler-based discrete GPUs.
We were impressed by the Core i7-3720QM. Its processor performance is significantly improved and the integrated graphics processor is in some cases almost twice as quick as the prior version.
Does this mean you should buy a new laptop immediately? Not if you weren’t already looking, but if you’re in the market now or in the future you should keep in mind the benefits of Ivy Bridge.
Although there is some availability of laptops with the new components today, widespread adoption will take a few months. If you’re already looking it’s wise to wait before buying – late June and July will be the perfect market thanks to widespread availability of Ivy Bridge processors combined with seasonal back-to-school sales.